The Valkyries is my third Coelho. I asked for it for Christmas, having picked a Coelho title at random, and now that I’ve read it, I think that it’s perfect that I read this one third, after By The River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept and The Alchemist. This is the incredibly personal, true story of Paulo Coelho’s life journey from Satan worshiper to spiritual magus, to an emotionally frantic man searching for his guardian angel.
To understand this book, you have to have some background knowledge of Coelho’s “religion,” a Christianity-based theology called “the Tradition” that combines spiritual magic and faith in a Christian god. Coelho, in this memoir, recounts his journey to speak to and see his guardian angel. It is a process that involves intense spiritual trials and the ability to challenge your inner demons. It’s about forgiveness, the complexity of the human condition, and the ability to overcome your biggest fears and your most destructive flaws. In these ways, the book excels. It speaks to the human condition in the way it reminds us that each of us has the tendency to “kill what we love the most.” But this is about Coelho specifically, and the book almost never strays into the general: this novel is all about Coelho and his past.
In the beginning of the novel, Coelho meets with his master, a man called J. He receives directions to travel from Brazil to the Mojave Desert, to speak to and to meet his angel in person. This feat is a huge accomplishment for Coelho, and he’s anxious to achieve it. He’s proud and impatient, displaying an arrogance not apparent in the writing style of his other novels.
Coelho brings his wife Christina with him on this 40-day journey, for he fears that his dissatisfaction with married life will be dissolved if he manages to meet his angel and therefore change his flawed personality. Coelho has the tendency to “kill what he loves the most” and before he succumbs to this weakness and leaves his beloved wife because of boredom or childishness, he wants to confront his demons and hopefully reverse the self-destructive path he is on. It’s a brave journey, but it also displays Coelho’s huge weaknesses, and the novel is almost too personal in the way it describes his marriage to Christina.
I have won important things for myself, but I’m going to destroy them, because I tell myself they have lost their meaning. I know that is not true. I know they are important, and that if I destroy them, I’ll be destroying myself, as well.
So where do the Valkyries come in? The Valkyries is a traveling band of leather-wearing, motorcycle-riding women who preach up and down the Mojave Desert and its surrounding areas. Led by a woman named Valhalla, the Valkyries adopt Coelho when they realize he is of their “Tradition” and guide him through the trials necessary for him to finally meet his angel. Valhalla also tests his fidelity and his dedication to his wife. And Christina, who never really believed in her husband’s magic at all, begins to feel her worldview changing and widening, engaging in her own spiritual journey that seemed to me more rich and rewarding than Coelho’s.
They had seen the same mountains, and the same trees, although each of them had seem them differently. She knew his weaknesses, his moments of hatred, of despair. Yet she was there at his side. They shared the same universe.
I thought this novel afforded me singular access to Coelho’s spiritual journey, his personality, his struggles, his magic, and his humanity. His humanity included his many, many flaws, such as his boredom in marriage and his tendency to “kill what he loves the most.” But I appreciated his struggle and that he had the forethought and the self-awareness to break the self-destructive path he was on to preserve those things he knows he will regret abandoning. I felt in the first half of the novel that I had gotten to know Coelho as a man rather than just a novelist or spiritual figure. This novel is like reading a journal. Or a blog 😉
However, I found myself relating to Christina more than Paulo. Her spiritual journey is less about proving her power than it is about discovering herself and who she wants to be. Her journey was graceful, open-minded, and not the frantic, chaotic journey Coelho has. I think that’s the point: Christina is written as an incredibly forgiving, strong character willing to stand by her husband despite her flaws, despite her sense that their marriage is indeed crumbling.
Reading this novel did shatter that blind admiration I had for Coelho after reading those first two novels, but it also elicited a strong feeling of respect. Penning this book required a huge amount of courage and self-awareness, knowing that your personal life and past indiscretions will be read by all your fans. This novel let me discover Coelho the man more than the other two I’d read, and it makes me eager to read his other novels now, knowing what I know about the author. This closeness is what separates Coelho from other authors: the work is almost indistinguishable from the man, which makes for an altogether different reading experience. It is a bit like reading a diary, albeit slightly fictionalized.
In the end, I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I enjoyed The Alchemist because the reader cannot so easily understand the arcane trials and Coelho’s personal “Tradition.” You can’t be the “boy” in this book as you could with The Alchemist. And while the tone comes off as both apologetic and rebellious, I did gain new insight into a new favorite author and found the experience rewarding. More Coelho in future 🙂
Coelho, P. The Valkyries. (1996) New York, NY: HarperCollins.