The Archer – Paolo Coelho

The Archer by Paulo Coelho

Imagine a metaphorical blender. Drop a dollop of Heraclitus and his wisdom into it. Toss in the findings of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, as captured in his seminal book, “Flow”. If two is company, then aim for a crowd. Into the blender go Richard Bach and “Illusions”. To make the concoction eclectic, throw in a mob next. Charles Duhigg on Habits, The Bhagavad Gita on responsibility, the Upanishads on the way of life and whatever management, leadership, self help and spiritual work that comes to mind. Do not hold back. Be as generous and liberal as possible, but without compromising the capability and capacity of the blender. Put on the plug. Watch the churn for a few minutes. Turn off the plug, and pour out the contents of the blender. Voila! You have a “Bow and Arrow” Smoothie. This, in short, is Paolo Coelho’s latest feel-good fable “The Archer.”

“The Archer” is a pot-luck of cobbled wisdom, collected ideas and collated thinking. Tetsuya is a carpenter plying his wares in a non-decrepit manner. A stranger, who also happens to be an accomplished archer arrives in the city in search of Tetsuya. Upon getting the relevant directions from a curious boy, the duo make their way to Tetsuya’s workplace. The archer, paying his respects to Tetsuya, requests the latter for an opportunity to demonstrate the former’s prowess as an archer. Subsequent to obtaining Tetsuya’s accord, the archer proceeds to shoot an arrow through a cherry forty meters away. Tetsuya then picks up his own old and worn bow and leads both the archer the by now singularly curious young boy to a large crevice between two rocks that allows a gushing river. The two opposing banks of which are connected only by a precariously fraying bridge. Nonchalantly walking to the middle of the bridge, Tetsuya draws his bow and pierces a peach twenty meters away and requests the archer to emulate him. The archer distracted by the terrifying depths below the rickety bridge misses his target.

What follows is an exposition of wisdom concisely addressing various aspects of life from aspirations to attachment, from equanimity to the power of positive thinking, and the futility of haste against the virtue of patience. This wisdom is imparted using the metaphor of an archer, his bow, the fletched arrows, the position and posture adopted before shooting, the target itself and the agony of missing. Borrowed precepts and entrenched awareness permeate every page of this extremely short book. While for the unsuspecting – whose definition of “alchemist” represents a transformation artist who changes basic substances (such as metals) into other substances – the book might serve as a handy companion and a nudge to initiate incremental changes in thought and deed, for Coelho fans who deem The Alchemist” as their go-to talismanic book, “The Archer” would be a disappointment hitting them like a ton of bricks.

Testsuya is no Donald William Shimoda. However, to give credit to Testsuya’ s creator, neither does he profess to be one. Doling out mellow doses of wisdom, Testsuya chooses the tried and tested over the innovative and ingenious. However, the fact that he attempts to do this in plain speak without couching his words in indecipherable metaphysical jargon is one optimistic point scored in favour of Coelho. The book could have been a collection of thoughts or an adage a day bookmark.

“Join with all those who experiment, take risks, fall, get hurt, and then take more risks. Stay away from those who affirm truths, who criticize those who do not think like them, people who have never once taken a step unless they were sure they would be respected for doing so, and who prefer certainties to doubts.”

“There are two types of shot. The first is the shot made with great precision, but without any soul. In this case, although the archer may have a great mastery of technique, he has concentrated solely on the target, and because of this he has not evolved, he has become stale, he has not managed to grow, and, one day, he will abandon the way of the bow because he finds that everything has become mere routine. The second type of shot is the one made with the soul. When the intention of the archer is transformed into the flight of the arrow, his hand opens at the right moment, the sound of the string makes the birds sing, and the gesture of shooting something over a distance provokes—paradoxically enough—a return to and an encounter with oneself.”

However, the redeeming feature of the book lies in its illustrations. Pictures of an archer in equipoise, the curious student and the teacher adorn its pages. Christoph Niemann, an author, artist and animator who regularly features on the covers of illustrious publications such as National Geographic, The New York Times Magazine, and The New Yorker, lends his magical contribution to “The Archer.” These illustrations induce a nod of admiration in the reader.

Perhaps if “The Archer” was intended to be a picture book of a feel good fable, it might have accomplished its purpose.