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The Alchemist | Study Guide

Paulo Coelho

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Course Hero’s video study guide provides in-depth summary and analysis of the Prologue of Paulo Coelho's novel The Alchemist.

The Alchemist | Prologue | Summary


Coelho divides the novel into two parts, with a prologue and an epilogue. This study guide further divides Part 1 and Part 2 by locations and actions.


The alchemist looks through a book left by someone in the caravan and comes across the story of Narcissus. He remembers the myth of the handsome youth who, contemplating his reflected beauty, falls into a lake and drowns. In this book, however, the tale ends differently. Some goddesses of the forest visit the lake and find it filled with salty tears. Asking the lake why it weeps, they are told, "I weep for Narcissus." The goddesses are not surprised; Narcissus was beautiful, after all, and the lake was able to gaze at him while he gazed at himself. The lake, however, has a revelation, saying it never noticed the youth was beautiful. What, then, is the occasion for these salty tears? The lake sadly explains that each time Narcissus knelt to admire his image in its waters, the lake "could see, in the depth of his eyes, my own beauty reflected." As he finishes reading, the alchemist thinks to himself that this is a "lovely story."


The alchemist's appreciation for this version of the Narcissus myth suggests that vanity, a form of love, may be a virtue—it can allow individuals to realize their own self-worth and their dreams. This realization, or an individual's pursuit of his or her Personal Legend, is established as a major theme. Because the book from which the alchemist reads this story was brought by someone in the caravan, the prologue foreshadows a journey undertaken by the novel's characters. Readers also get a preview of The Alchemist's allegorical elements through the appearance of woodland goddesses and a talking lake.

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