Coelho’s idea might be nice: a fairy story for adults about a simple shepherd boy who learns – from his travels through a fantasy land not far from the reality where we live – to be more in tune in with the world. But sadly it simply promotes a new age philosophy, along the lines of us all being here to seek out some kind of harmony or balance with something vaguely defined as ‘the world’. It’s easy to see why the message touches so many people, as so many people feel out of touch with nature; that is to say, alienated.
However, this is a mystic philosophy where astrology holds true, guardian angels constantly intervene and where there really is gold at the end of rainbow. It’s an unobtainable dream world that some feel safe in and like to escape to. It doesn’t identify or attack the cause of people’s alienation; it merely plays up to it.
Sadly, Coelho’s many fans seem to misunderstand that human society is natural and that their alienation comes not from being so very different from the beasts. It comes from having absorbed that central tenet of Christianity, Judaism and Islam that a god created humans quite separately and gave us dominion over nature.
In short, the task of the Alchemist is not to change base metal in gold, but dreams into reality. It succeeds only in describing the dream.
(originally posted to Amazon February 24, 2004)