was actually stunned, a few weeks ago, when I mentioned to someone I was reading Don Quixote and the person had no idea of the reference. Really? Good heavens but I didn’t think a 500 old book, one of the building blocks in what is now the modern novel, would be so forgotten.
Well, for those who don’t know, Don Quixote is a tale of an old gentleman, a threadbare noble, living in a small hacienda in the Spanish countryside. To pass his idle time, he reads books of chivalry, of knights, the tales of adventure and nobility (wildly popular in that time). In fact, he’s accumulated quite a collection, one so vast that it’s evidently unraveled his grasp on reality. Suddenly, he is a knight and the world needs him. Digging up some old corroded armor from the attic, arming himself with lance and sword, and tugging his old swayback horse from its sleepy stable, Quixote sallys forth to fight monsters and save princesses and all those knightly things. At his side, Sancho Panza (general dirt-poor farmer and hoping to be a governor of an island, given Don Quixote’s promises). And out they journey into a world unsuspecting that it requires saving.
Early on, we find the classic Don Quixote moment, when he sees some windmills and imagines them as giants. Charging forth, he is quickly unseated. This will be the first of many painful defeats for our brave knight. In fact, at some places, I actually felt sorry for the guy – possibly in an earlier era readers found the buffeting of a senile old man funny. Still, he flounders about, attacking everyone he encounters on the slimmest of pretenses.
I was particularly interested in the development of the author, Miguel de Cervantes, as he churned through 434 pages. At first, it’s just Don falling off his horse, of Sancho whining and the world generally winning. But how many times can you find humor in befuddlement? So, Cervantes begins to explore other avenues of storytelling. Characters begin to be introduced, generally star-crossed lovers who have failed at love and now shepherd their days (literally). But through coincidences and happenstance, things to work out, the mini-side-adventures resolving to the happiness of all parties. So, perhaps Don Quixote is making the world better and more noble after all.
I really enjoyed this book overall. Yes, its a slow read and the footnotes in my edition are invaluable. For you students of writing, you should have a go. It shows how novels (and writing, and the efforts of a solitary author) progress. Quite interesting (and a lot of fun, too!).
Coming soon – Book 2!