Study Guide

The Alchemist Fear

By Paulo Coelho

Fear

Part 1

He went on telling stories about his travels, and her bright, Moorish eyes went wide with fear and surprise. (1.17)

Fear seems pretty harmless when we first encounter it in the alchemist: it's how the merchant's daughter reacts to hearing about Santiago's adventures. Of course, we're talking low stakes here: her fear is like the kind you have when you read a horror novel. You're not actually fearing for your safety (uh, right?), but experiencing the fear along with the characters in the story.

Part 2

The boy noted that there was a sense of fear in the air, even though no one said anything. (2.156)

Just like love, fear is one of the unspoken languages of the desert. Santiago learns to sense it in the air, just like a rabid dog. Er, just like someone who can speak the Universal Language.

"The land was ruined, and I had to find some other way to earn a living. So now I'm a camel driver. But that disaster taught me to understand the word of Allah: people need not fear the unknown if they are capable of achieving what they need and want." (2.152)

When the camel driver lost his property, he was probably tempted to be very frightened of the unknown: How would he pay his bills? How would he feed his children? How would he access Netflix? But the camel driver is a resourceful kind of guy—and someone who's resourceful never has to fear the unknown.

"There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure" (2.600)

This is pretty much all the self-help books of the past century boiled down into one sentence. Why spend all your money and time reading through that list when you could get it in a format short enough to tattoo on your forearm? (Kidding. Please don't get that tattooed on your forearm. Your mother would kill us.)

"I want to see the greatness of Allah," the chief said, with respect. "I want to see how a man turns himself into the wind."

But he made a mental note of the two men who had expressed their fear. As soon as the wind stopped, he was going to remove them from their commands, because true men of the desert are not afraid. (2. 657-58)

Santiago's show of turning himself into the wind is pretty terrifying as tents are ripped from their pegs and turbans fly off of people's heads (okay, we made the last part up, but how cool would that be?). Still, the true men of the desert should be accustomed to the desert's power and never show fear. Good luck with that, we say.

He lost his fear, and forgot about his need to go back to the oasis, because, one afternoon, his heart told him that it was happy. (2.509)

Santiago's biggest fear is losing Fatima, and he thinks that if he goes back to the oasis he'll no longer have to feel that fear. But he knows that the Personal Legend is part of his love story, and as his heart gets accustomed to the separation he loses his fear. Plus, video chatting is so good these days, it's practically like being in the same room.

The boy knew the desert sensed his fear.

They both spoke the same language. (2.616-17)

Cue spooky voice: You are becoming onnnnnne with the desert. No, really, this is big: Santiago has learned to observe fear in others, and now he himself is emitting the signs of fear, just like some fear-pheromone that Axe isn't about to stick in a bottle. Nature isn't just a static landscape in The Alchemist; it can actively sense and influence human events.

Santiago

"You will never be able to escape from your heart. So it's better to listen to what it has to say. That way, you'll never have to fear an unanticipated blow." (2.508)

Santiago realizes that his heart is a little bit of a waffler. Half of the time it tells him it wants the treasure, but the other half of the time it's all boohoo and sob story. He learns that the more he listens to his heart and notices its changing emotions, the better prepared he'll be for sudden desires—because they won't be sudden.

The Englishman

"This is the first phase of the job," he said. "I have to separate out the sulfur. To do that successfully, I must have no fear of failure. It was my fear of failure that first kept me from attempting the Master Work. Now, I'm beginning what I could have started ten years ago. But I'm happy at least that I didn't wait twenty years." (2.298)

The Englishman crosses the desert to find the alchemist, only to learn that he needs to get his head out of the books and actually try to turn lead into gold. (That's the equivalent of straightening out your dollar bills and actually buying a lottery ticket.) The only thing the alchemist had to teach him was to stop being afraid.

The Alchemist

The boy was shaking with fear, but the alchemist helped him out of the tent.

"Don't let them see that you're afraid," the alchemist said. "They are brave men, and they despise cowards." (2.592)

Poor Santiago is constantly being threatened with death, and the alchemist wants him to just suck it up. Great. Real helpful, alchemist. Okay, okay, it's actually good advice—but it's even harder for Santiago to face death now, since he has Fatima to live for.