3.26.2008

And the legend continues...to be not heard about, by anyone

There’s a bit in some Sherlock Holmes story where Watson discovers that Holmes doesn’t know that the earth orbits the sun. “How can you not know that?” says Watson (only that’s not exactly what he says because I'm paraphrasing). “Everybody knows that!” And then Holmes qualifies what he said by explaining that he probably once knew it but he’s forgotten it because it’s not important to what he does. Memorizing the color and consistency of all the different dirts surrounding London is important to what he does. But the fact that the earth orbits the sun is irrelevant.


I just read a book that I would like to forget for the same reason: it is irrelevant. It’s called The Alchemist and it’s what we’ll be discussing during the May meeting of the RS book group. When the book was announced, one of the members said, “Don’t let it shake your faith.” That statement kind of intrigued me, but it also annoyed me. How could a mere book shake my faith?


I must report that, after reading the book, the only thing about me that was shaken was my head, back and forth in disbelief that the claptrap I was reading was another bestseller. It shouldn’t surprise me, though. I’ve had enough experience with reading to know that a book being on the bestseller list usually means nothing more than that an awful lot of people have really bad taste.


The Alchemist is the story of a young Spanish shepherd named Santiago who, while keeping his flock for the night in the ruins of an old church with a sycamore tree in or near it, has a dream about going to Egypt and finding a treasure. He is told by a gypsy and an old man who says he is Melchizedek (the king of Salem) that he has to follow the dream (or what the author insists on calling one’s Personal Legend) to the pyramids of Egypt to get his treasure. The old man also gives Santiago two stones, a black one and a white one, that he says are called Urim and Thummim. They will help him make decisions because the white one means “yes” and the black one means “no.” Or the black one means “yes” and the white one means “no”. I forget.


When I told this to Gary, he says the old man should’ve just given him a Magic 8-ball. I agree. Not only would it take up less room in Santiago’s pack because it’s 2-in-1, but he’d also get more options, like “better not tell you now” and “don’t count on it” that provide scope for conflict and plot development.


So anyway, Santiago sells his flock and uses part of the money to cross the Strait of Gibraltar to Tangiers or someplace like that where he gets robbed, so he goes to work in a crystal shop to earn money and then he joins a caravan and crosses northern Africa to an oasis where he meets a lovely girl named Fatima. He also meets an alchemist who teaches him how to follow his dream and some other silly stuff, and then the boy goes to the pyramids and digs in the sand until some thieves come and want to know what he’s up to and they beat Santiago almost senseless. Then he tells them he’s digging for treasure, so they think he’s nuts (so do I, but for other reasons) and decide he doesn’t have anything else worth stealing, and one of the thieves says “Oh, you’re a fool. It’s just like a dream I had of going to some ruined church in Spain with a sycamore tree and finding a buried treasure. How stupid is that.” So the boy goes back to Spain and finds the treasure buried at the church where he started out. The end. Oh, except he’s going to go back to Africa to find Fatima at the oasis. The end.


The first question I had upon reading this book was why didn’t Santiago just buy passage to Alexandria and then take a quick camel ride to Giza? He could have saved himself a lot of trouble.


The second question I had upon reading this book is, who the heck cares? I know, I know. This is supposed to be a book about following your dream and not letting anyone or anything dissuade you from achieving your goal, or Personal Legend. The author tells us that in the introduction. So why not just stop with the introduction? Why waste paper and ink and people’s time with the rest of it?


As I read the book, I started marking pages with blue slips of paper with the intent of later going back and quoting passages that I found particularly inane or meaningless. By the time I finished, however, there was a forest of blue slips sticking up from the book. It would take too long and probably be some kind of copyright violation to quote them all. So I’ll just stick to a couple. (Quotes from the book are in red.)


The alchemist’s words echoed out like a curse. He reached over and picked up a shell from the ground.


“This desert was once a sea,” he said.


“I noticed that,” the boy answered.


The alchemist told the boy to place the shell over his ear. He had done that many times when he was a child, and had heard the sound of the sea.


“The sea has lived on in this shell, because that’s its Personal Legend. And it will never cease doing so until the desert is once again covered by water.”


They mounted their horses, and rode out in the direction of the Pyramids of Egypt.


The sea has lived on in this shell? The sea has lived on in this shell?? What the boy hears is enhanced environmental noise, not the sea. The sea is busy living on elsewhere, like at the actual sea.


All right, then there’s this part where the alchemist and the boy get captured by some Tusken Raiders or something who are going to kill the alchemist and the boy. So the alchemist tells the raiders that the boy can turn himself into the wind. If I’d been the boy, I would have said “Turn yourself into the wind.” But instead, the boy goes and talks to the desert, the wind, and the sun. The conversations he has with these three characters are stupid, stupid, and stupid.


“What do you want here today?” the desert asked him. “Didn’t you spend enough time looking at me yesterday?”


Pardon my interruption, but I think the desert is being just a bit touchy here.


“Somewhere you are holding the person I love,” the boy said, “So, when I look out over your sands, I am also looking at her. I want to return to her, and I need your help so that I can turn myself into the wind.”


Okay, right here, if I were the desert, I would have said, “Turn yourself into the wind?! Are you insane?” But instead, this is the desert’s response:


“What is love?” the desert asked.


Then the boy goes on about falcons and eating game, and the desert says:


“So is that what love is?”


“Yes, that’s what love is. It’s what makes the game become the falcon, the falcon become man, and man, in his turn, the desert. It’s what turns lead into gold, and makes the gold return to the earth.”


“I don’t understand what you’re talking about,” the desert said.


Yeah, no kidding.


So then the boy starts talking to the wind and the wind says the boy can’t be the wind, and the boy goes on about Personal Legends and love, and he says:


“When you are loved, you can do anything in creation. When you are loved, there’s no need at all to understand what’s happening, because everything happens within you, and even men can turn themselves into the wind. As long as the wind helps, of course.”


The wind was a proud being, and it was becoming irritated with what the boy was saying.


I'm not that proud, but I was also becoming irritated with what the boy was saying. There’s more, though. Somehow the sun gets dragged into this scheme, and the boy says to it:


“You are wise, because you observe everything from a distance,” the boy said. “But you don’t know about love. If there hadn’t been a sixth day, man would not exist; copper would always be just copper, and lead just lead. It’s true that everything has its Personal Legend, but one day that Personal Legend will be realized. So each thing has to transform itself into something better, and to acquire a new Personal Legend, until, someday, the Soul of the World becomes one thing only.”


The sun thought about that, and decided to shine more brightly.


Well that’s just lame.

5 comments:

Shannie said...

tres drole.
this book sounds oh-so-very-silly. any nonsensical, but not in the funny way, at all.

eric & adrien said...

wait, did you change the title of this entry? i thought it had something to do with chocolate...

Janeite42 said...

I did change it. I had thought about using this one originally, but decided not to and used the chocolate one instead. Then I changed my mind because I thought this one was a little more to the point. And funnier.

Baxter Bugs said...

I notice mostly just your supportive offspring make comments. This got me thinking, does no one else appreciate your posts? I love them so much they make my insomnia something to look forward to. But wait, I have never made a comment either. Perhaps all your readers feel as I do: dull in comparison to your hilarity. Perhaps if you were Ms. Winspear we'd all be chickens. Nevertheless, if you could hear how often I laugh while reading your posts you would probably be happy. Thanks.

jared & megan said...

yeah, I was going to read this book for the last meeting at my extinct book club. What *is* it with book clubs and thinking they must read books like this?? But I'm glad I didn't read it. It would have bugged the crap out of me, I can tell. See, I say things that sort of mean the same thing as what you said, but with much less poetry. That's what I meant by intimidation... kinda.