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Visually challenged

The textual adaptation by Derek Ruiz lacks the effusive charm of the novel.

books Updated: Jul 02, 2011 00:02 IST
Trinankur Banerjee

The Alchemist:
A Graphic Novel
Paolo Coelho; Adapter: Derek Ruiz, Art: Daniel Sampere
HarperCollins
Rs 399 pp 246

Santiago, a shepherd in Andalusia, finds his calling in a dream while spending the night in a derelict church. Guided by a series of omens which he wearily, yet inevitably, follows, he launches himself into an unsure quest for hidden treasures buried near the pyramids in Egypt. As he progresses in what proves as much a philosophical quest as a hunt for treasure, the journey increasingly becomes more important than its end. On the way, he meets interesting characters who guide his thinking and actions: Melchizedek, the king of Salem, inspires him to leave all to meet his destiny while the Alchemist teaches him to find his own answers and a couple of love interests.

This phenomenal parable by Paolo Coelho has now been translated into 71 languages and has sold 40 million copies, but one fears the latest translation into visuals fails to do precious more than extend the franchise. The graphic story sinks in the fissure between its mystic and metaphorical proclivities and the brawny visual representation that could be more suitable for superhero lores than a tale of spiritual training. The figures, though pencilled with mastery, are too wide or too voluptuous, chiselled to unrealistic perfection. The merchant’s daughter and an assortment of goddesses are way too sensual and most men are endowed with the physique of bouncers.

Daniel Sampere, the illustrator, voices this fear in his preface: how to draw a novel that has no fast-paced action or superheroes? The result is a book where visuals try hard to supply the action that the text lacks, though the text probably didn’t require any to start with. The textual adaptation by Derek Ruiz lacks the effusive charm of the novel, thus losing the obscurity around some central, unlikely convictions that bind the novel: that there is a force that wants one to realise ones “personal legend”, that this is called the “principle of favourability”, that it is the world’s greatest lie that “at a certain point in our lives, we lose control of what’s happening to us”. To pass these aphorisms as true requires the fervent evangelical tone that the novel has, but the graphic novel squarely fails to achieve.

Somebody tired of long texts and easily given to the charms of the visual could find this a suitable way to read The Alchemist. I would still recommend the novel.