Editor’s note: The following is the next in a long line of book reports assigned to the staff. Don Quixote is a personal favorite of mine. After all, what is the practice of journalism in the Eastern Sierra but a tilting at windmills?
How one gets through college without having read Don Quixote is beyond me …
‘Don Quixote’ by Cervantes is long. The full title is long: ‘The Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote de La Mancha’. Cervantes’ full name is Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra.
The Penguin Classic edition is translated by John Rutherford. The edition has an introduction, a translator’s note, a chronology of Cervantes’ life, and another note about translation all before the prologue. Also, it was published in the first decade of the seventeenth century. At a glance, the book entices as a door stop or shelf filler. It was made harder to start when this reviewer’s previous encounter with Don Quixote had been translating chapters from the original Spanish for a tenth grade Spanish class.
Don Quixote is a book about Don Quixote, a man so obsessed with books about chivalry that he declares himself a knight, abandons his village on his stag, and searches for adventure in service of the chivalric code. He takes a squire Sancho Panza and finds a lady, as all knights do, Dulcinea del Toboso.
In reality, or beyond Don Quixote’s imagination, his stag is an old sway-back named Rocinante, too old for the glue factory. His squire is a fool. And the fool rides a mule. And his lady, he invents her when pressed in conversation. In reality, Don Quixote is an upper middle class man having a mid-life crisis. Laugh at Don Quixote as he mistakes windmills for giants, as he attacks a herd of sheep, as proclaims a barber’s basin a king’s helmet. The man is mad.
In reality, Cervantes lambasts reality. Are those back in Quixote’s village praying to ensure the security of their souls in the next world sane? Is the normal Spanish life not as crazy as a man swinging at windmills? Sanity is insanity with a critical mass. What’s the critical mass’s minimum? More than two.
Sancho Panza tags along on the promise that Quixote will win him an island kingdom. Panza is a man from central Spain, who by generous estimate, has seen the ocean a few times. That mythical kingdom, fame, and fortune keep Panza entrusted to Quixote. When disaster piles up and gold ducats don’t, love keeps him loyal.
Panza explains to a wench that “a knight adventurer…is someone who’s being beaten up one moment and being crowned emperor the next. Today he’s the unhappiest creature in the world, and the poorest too, and tomorrow he’ll have two or three kingdoms to hand over to his squire.”
He is the realist. Quixote, the romantic.
Quixote blames, corrects, and berates Panza. Quixote’s proclamations consume pages and often end up in the same place: a knight must have a lady. Yet, he is a man without a woman or children; he has a niece and a housekeeper.
In one of his many delusions, Quixote imagines a knight meeting a lady: “She will fix her eyes upon the knight and he will gaze into hers…and without understanding how it has happened they will find themselves caught and enmeshed in the tight-knit nets of love and with great anguish in their hearts, not knowing how they can contrive to speak and make their feelings and desires known to each other.”
Romantic and full of hope, until the end. Then, he renounces his lunacy. So the moral is that death clears the mind of lunacy and fictions … or is it that meaning is relative?
The narrators, the reporters of the histories that comprise the novel, abstain from explanation or moralization. But they insist that t their stories about Quixote are true, just as Don Quixote insists the characters from his books are true.
… Until they are false and the reader is assured of death and that the book he holds is heavy.