Paulo Coelho, author of The Alchemist, defines a personal legend as “… what you have always wanted to accomplish.” He elaborates, stating, “Everyone, when they are young, knows what their Personal Legend is. At that point in their lives, everything is clear and everything is possible.”
He continues to explain that the desire to accomplish this personal legend decreases, as people begin to oppose the person’s inclination to succeed. Santiago, the main protagonist, is led through many emotional and physical trials to fulfill his personal legend. Through these physical, mental, and emotional challenges, Santiago proves his adaptability towards unexpected circumstances.
As the story begins, Santiago is introduced as a shepherd from Andalusia, who begins to experience a recurring dream while leading his sheep through the southern towns of Spain: to travel to the Egyptian Pyramids, where he will find a hidden treasure. His adaptability is first defined as he travels to Tarifa., when he meets a woman that reads dreams: requesting one tenth of the treasure he finds in Egypt, a king speaking of the soul of the universe and personal legends: demanding one tenth of Santiago’s flock, and a crystal merchant: whom Santiago teaches to sell tea in his crystal glasses, earning Santiago enough pay to travel to the Pyramids.
The dream interpreter tells Santiago to go to the Pyramids, and the king Melchizedek tells him why – it is his Personal Legend, his destiny, if he lets the universe and its signs guide him. The crystal merchant, however, teaches Santiago to be wary of his trust towards strangers, and gives him the insight and courage to begin his travels towards Egypt. Santiago is forced to adapt to these situations, proving his adaptability, as he is placed in a new environment and surrounded by people who may or may not be looking out for his best interest.
Waiting for the caravan to Al-Fayoum, Santiago meets an Englishman in search of the Alchemist. The Englishman tells Santiago what he’s read: there is an individual language that every living thing speaks, although it is spoken without words, a language of action propelled by emotion: the same lesson Santiago learned from his sheep, and his experiences in Tarifa. Although Santiago does not understand who the Alchemist is, he does understand desire, and he understands that the Englishman is expressing it in his knowledge of alchemy and the universe.
At the caravan site, the Englishman begins to explain to Santiago the importance of knowing that nothing is a coincidence. However, Santiago already knows the lessons the Englishman is attempting to teach him.“The boy knew what he was going to describe, though: the mysterious chain that links one thing to another, the same chain that caused him to become a shepherd, that had caused his recurring dream, that had brought him to a city near Africa, to find a king, and to be robbed in order to meet a crystal merchant.”
The caravan trip shows Santiago more of the universal language. Each person following the caravan is headed towards the same compass point, the same destination, joined by hunger, fear, and yearning: be it for travel, for refuge, or for those they love and miss. If Santiago was not able to adapt to the harsh conditions in the desert, of the caravan trip itself, he would not have reached Al-Fayoum: he would not have reached his treasure. Reaching Al-Fayoum, Santiago meets a woman named Fatima, as well as the Alchemist. His first encounter with the Alchemist shows him that he has been correct to follow the path of his Personal Legend.
Although the information taught to him over his travels is confusing to Santiago, he believes it, and changes his thinking understand more of the world. With his understanding of the universal language, of the signs and signals, Santiago evades death. The Alchemist begins meeting with Santiago, teaching him more about the Soul of the World, saying, “The wise men understood that this natural world is only an image and a copy of paradise. The existence of this world is simply a guarantee that there exists a world that is perfect. God created the world so that, through its visible objects, men could understand his spiritual teachings and the marvels of his wisdom.”
Santiago uses his knowledge to accomplish many feats of physical and mental exertion: leading himself to the Egyptian Pyramids. Upon reaching his long strived-for goal, he discovers another sign, another path, pushing him towards the true destination of his treasure. He fights through each conflict, his passion to accomplish his Personal Legend stronger than his fear of failing. If Santiago hadn’t had an adaptable attitude towards each new situation, he would not have followed the right path to his treasure. His adaptability is the reigning factor in Santiago’s journey, leading him through each stressful and confusing new encounter.