Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Summer of Reading #3: "The Alchemist" by Paulo Coelho

The Summer of Reading Series is one part commentary and one part analysis. Each post includes both a review of a book that I've recently read and, perhaps more importantly, the positive and negative aspects of the writing and the story within. The goal of this series is to learn lessons that will help make myself, and anyone reading this, a better writer and storyteller! Enjoy...

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

The Alchemist is both a fable-like tale of a simple boy's journey through an exotic land and an enriching spiritual journey into the unknown recesses of his own heart.

At its core, it's a New Age book about seeking knowledge and wisdom - about how the physical and spiritual worlds work, about the self, and about one's own heart and desires - encapsulated here as one's true calling, or "Personal Legend".

In terms of universal story archetypes, The Alchemist is the Hero's Journey manifest. After being intrigued by an Inciting Incident - a recurrent dream - a Point-of-Attack or Cataclysmic Event causes the Hero to meet a mysterious king and travel to far-off lands to satisfy his Yearning and resolve the Conflict within. Along the way, the Hero will meet a Sage, a Lover, a Thief, a Merchant... and even the voice of God.

Key Positives:
+ The author makes excellent use of story archetypes to create an impactful, touching, and memorable story
+ He also sends a message that we can all instantly relate to - trying to find our true calling in life
+ The story takes the reader to exotic worlds that help to create a sense of wonder

Key Negatives:
- The book is, unfortunately, much too preachy, and the author's message is much too obvious throughout. Readers should be able to learn the intended lessons themselves, by reading what happens in the story, rather than being told outright.
- The story is driven almost entirely by the narrator, rather than the characters, which decreases the reader's engagement significantly
- Many of the characters that are featured seem insignificant - they feel like pawns in the story, rather than role players

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