don’t know how this all came to be. Miguel de Cervantes had his first smash hit (the original Don Quixote). Then, fifteen or so years afterwards, he came out with his second one. But this was two years after someone poached in his preserve and wrote their own sequel. Given that he bitches and mocks this trespasser all the way through his effort, I’ve got to figure that this sequel was a direct response to the incursion.
But I found it interesting to see how much Cervantes’ powers of a writer had grown in that time. Book 1 was just a lot of episodes, little stand-alone clownflops by the befuddled knight and his hapless squire. In Book 2, it has expanded into a larger story arch. Don Quixote takes to the road again, to face adventure, so save innocents, to expand Christianity, to right wrongs. But this time, it’s different – there is a longer stay with the Duke’s and Duchess’s estate. There is a section of the novel devoted to Sancho and his ruling of “an island” where he shows his competency with common-sense and blunt practicality.
And I’ll say this – one sentence relieved me in this novel. You see, the Duke and Duchess love playing tricks on the hapless knight and his faithful yet goofy squire. They devote the wealth and people of their estate to playing with Quixote, making him dance to their tunes and laughing at their success. They even manage to convince the befuddled yet well-meaning old fellow that if Sancho flails himself 3300 times across the back (something that might actually kill him) the enchantment against Quixote’s Dulcinea of El Toboso will be lifted. Me, I really thought this pair (the Duke and his wife) were a couple of pricks. Really, they pissed me off, playing these amusing little games with this well-meaning old man. But was I not reading this in the context of the time – did Spanish readers in the 1600s feel anything like this, or was it cruel humor? But then, in passing, Cervantes notes that they were, in their own way, just as insane was the guest they abused. So thanks for that. I guess it wasn’t just me.
But overall, a great book, possibly greater than it’s original (with all the humorous asides to the author who attempted to lift an unauthorized sequel out of it). And in the end, when the old knight returns home, defeated and despondent, when he takes to bed and slowly fades into the darkness, Cervantes permits the old man a final moment of clarity, when his delusions are lifted and he can thank his squire for his services and reward those who put up with him on his mad crusade. It was a sweet end to a 896 page epic.
And Cervantes, bless him, even comes out and tells all those who might think of other sequels that he means for his hero to stay dead.
Classic literature I found very moving. But you’ll need to work to get through this. Worth every page.
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