It has been said so many times that in any given journey, the destination is not the most important aspect of the trip or the quest. The most important aspect of the quest or journey is in the act itself, the process of journeying from Point A to Point B enables the traveler to learn about himself or acquire knowledge along the way. At the end, the truth is revealed that indeed, the destination is not the most important part, because the traveler experienced something remarkable, something that he or she did not anticipate to occur.
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Although it is true that in the movie The Wiz and in Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist both readers and movie audiences are being encouraged to take on a trip or adventure, there is one thing that people oftentimes fail to mention when discussing the wonderful benefits of taking on a quest. In the context of the film and the book, self discovery only occurs when characters were forced to take on a journey, and the successful resolution of problems became like keys opening secret chambers in the heart, exposing hidden talents, capabilities, and desires.
The Normal Way of Interpreting The Wiz and The Alchemist
When someone says that there is a normal way of looking at The Wiz and The Alchemist, this does not suggest that there is one way of looking at these two types of artistic works. It simply means that it is easy to take a superficial view of the film and the book. This further means that the critique simply spent a few moment internalizing the book and the film and create a connection with reality in order to make the conclusion that the author and the filmmaker encourages their respective readers or audience to take on a journey.
There is nothing wrong with this assertion, because these two works of art intersected when it comes to personal quests or a journey that changes the traveler’s life. In the case of Santiago his journey started from his homeland and it brought him to an exotic country (Coelho 1). In the case of Dorothy her journey started in a rural area and she was able to reach an exotic or magical location. In other words, they were pilgrims not only in an act of traveling from Point A to Point B, but they were also in a quest of self-discovery.
It is not difficult to reach the same conclusion, because popular works of literature and even the popular media continue to make indirect remarks or direct allusions to the powerful idea of breaking free from the mundane realities of life in order to experience a metamorphosis. The said transformation occurs when the pilgrim steels his heart in order to take on a journey.
These are popular ideas, and those reading The Alchemist or viewing Lumet’s film are reminded by these concepts or images related to the idea of a life-changing quest. For example, in Mathias Malzieu’s book entitled The Boy with the Cuckoo-Clock Heart, the protagonist went on a journey of self-discovery when he pursued his one true love, a girl named Miss Acacia (Malzieu 1). The same thing can be said of the best-selling novel The Little Prince, the narrator in the story had a time of his life when he went on a journey that brought him to the Sahara desert (Saint-Exupéry 1).
The same idea was suggested in Walter Wangerin’s book entitled The Book of the Dun Cow. In this story, the protagonist did not go through a personal quest, however, a key character in the story finally experienced happiness and contentment when she decided to leave her oppressive and depressing world in order to live under the dominion of Chauntecleer (Wangerin 1).
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Revealing Something More than a Journey
An in-depth analysis of Coelho and Lumet’s work reveals that the life-changing experiences of Santiago and Dorothy must be attributed to other factors aside from the journey itself. One can argue that the hidden element was the unforeseen circumstances and challenges that made the journey difficult or at one point unappealing. In other words, in a normal way of interpreting these stories, the storyteller or narrator oftentimes create a romantic world that seems to suggest that trips to far-away lands are life-changing activities and people must prepare to take a journey at least once in their lifetime. However, in real life, the average person does not consciously plan to take on a quest in the same magnitude or importance as the one embraced by Santiago.
There is a good reason for the hesitation to go on a quest, people instinctively understand the price that they have to pay and the challenges that they need to overcome. Thus, it is imperative to introduce the oftentimes ignored element in Santiago and Dorothy’s narratives. It is none other than the idea that they were compelled or forced by circumstances to go on a quest, into a journey to personal discovery. In other words, no one in his right mind attempts a life-changing adventure, because in most cases, the quest is forced on him or her.
In the case of Santiago he was compelled to go on a quest because of a dream that bothered him. However, this is just the first part of his journey. On the next chapter of his journey he was forced to travel in a certain way because robbers came to steal all his valuable possessions.
Therefore, at this point in the quest, Santiago no longer had control over his life. He needed to find employment in order to either finish the quest or go home. It was in this difficult stage when Santiago was able to enter into a deeper plane of experience, and it allowed him to go through a phase of self-discovery. The problems that he encountered allowed him to open the hidden chambers in his heart, and he learned something about himself.
In Dorothy’s case, she had totally no control over the quest that was forced on her, because a magical whirlwind transported her from a rural setting into a sophisticated and exotic land (Lumet). She was forced to grow up. She was forced to learn things and to exercise her newfound abilities. Thus, the journey of self-discovery was fulfilled in her life. However, she was compelled to do these things. Just like Santiago, the problems that she was able to overcome gave her the capability to unlock the hidden chambers in her heart. She discovered capabilities and talents that she thought never existed.
It is interesting to note that the other stories mentioned earlier supports the idea that people are reluctant to go on a journey, and if they do accept the challenge, it is due to circumstances that are out of their control. The journey becomes a life-changing experience because the characters had to overcome several challenges. However, it all begins with a problem that alters their natural course.
For example, Jack was forced to leave his homeland because he did something terrible. The narrator in The Little Prince did not plan on meeting the prince in a lonely Saharan desert, he was forced to land in that particular spot because his aircraft had engine trouble. The same thing can be said about a key character in Wangerin’s book, the hen was forced to leave her homeland because of the oppressive environment created by a tyrant.
It has been made clear that the average person will not volunteer on a life-changing journey. The transformation that takes place, similar to a worm transforming into a beautiful butterfly occurs as product of compelling factors. Thus, if people are left on their own they are not going to pursue their dreams. There are times when unexpected problems are like unlikely friends or counsellors that guide people into a journey of self-discovery.
It is not enough to simply say that Coelho and Lumet’s intended message was to encourage people to embark on a journey of self-discovery. It has to be made clear that after reviewing artistic works with similar themes, it was discovered that the journey to self-discovery oftentimes begin as something that was forced upon the hero or the protagonist of the story. It is true that Santiago was eager to go on a quest.
However, he only made up his mind when a dream nagged him to go. Nevertheless, the most important part of his journey, the phase where he learned a great deal did not occur in the beginning, but it happened after he lost his valuable possessions to robbers. Dorothy’s story was similar in terms of how she was forced to go through this journey after she was transported into a foreign land. It is interesting to point out that this idea is repeated indirectly in the other works. People are forced into a quest, and it is by confronting and resolving problems in the quest that they are able to experience a journey of self-discovery.
Coelho, Paulo. The Alchemist: 10th Anniversary Edition. HarperCollins, 2005.
Lumet, Sidney, director. The Wiz. Universal Studios, 1978.
Malzieu, Mathias. The Boy with the Cuckoo-Clock Heart. Vintage, 2010.
Saint-Exupéry, Antoine de. The Little Prince. Chivers, 1989.
Wangerin, Walter. The Book of the Dun Cow. HarperCollins, 2003.
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