The Alchemist



The prologue is told from the point of view of the alchemist. He reads a version of the Greek myth of Narcissus, in a book left by someone in a caravan. The twist is that after Narcissus falls in the lake, the lake itself mourns because it misses seeing its own reflection in Narcissus’s eyes. The alchemist declares this “a lovely story.”

Analysis: We may assume that this alchemist who is introduced on page one is the alchemist of the title; however, this character will not reappear until halfway through the book, and the rest of the story concerns Santiago, the shepherd boy. So, why is the book titled The Alchemist? By the end, we will discover that Santiago, too, is an alchemist.

The alchemist appears to be reading Oscar Wilde’s poem in prose, “The Disciple,” which concludes, “But I loved Narcissus because, as he lay on my banks and looked down at me, in the mirror of his eyes I saw ever my own beauty mirrored.”

The myth of Narcissus is commonly invoked as a cautionary tale against excessive self-regard, so why does the alchemist declare it lovely? This version of the story is not the classical one. The alchemist’s response suggests that there is virtue in narcissism. One of the themes of The Alchemist is that in pursuing one’s Personal Legend, a certain degree of single-minded focus—ignoring the needs of others—is required. The term “Personal Legend” suggests that each person is the epic hero of his own legend; an Odysseus, a King Arthur, or Luke Skywalker embarking on a historic quest. Self-importance and grandiosity should be embraced if we are to achieve our dreams.

There is also foreshadowing of themes that will recur—for example, all things being one. Narcissus and the pool are not just connected, but parts of a whole.

The use of the Narcissus myth announces the tone, style, and some of the “rules” that the book will follow. The Alchemist is a timeless fable or parable wherein...

Sign up to continue reading Prologue >

Essays About The Alchemist