As I said late last night (or early this morning as the case may have been), I finally finished Don Quixote. Great book, full of poetry and humor and provocation. The story itself provokes: consider the fact that a well-to-do couple stages elaborate scenarios to engage Don Quixote’s madness and Sancho Panza’s simplicity, and they do this in order to amuse themselves. Cruel, right?
On the flip side, there are moments in the scenarios in which our heroes are as alive and happy as they’ve ever been. The cruelty is dulled by the fact that the heroes don’t seem to be experiencing it as cruelty. (Although a few times I wondered if Quixote was truly mad, or just “living his dream” …)
From a writerly perspective, it provokes, too. Cervantes brings himself (personally, and under various guises) into the narrative and draws attention to his craft. Audacious! Plus, my translation kept my head spinning with questions about the original text and the challenge of translating humor. When Don Quixote uses the word “syntax” and Sancho replies something like he’ll regret the “sin” and take a pass on the “tax” – was that a play on words in the original Spanish? Homophones don’t translate, do they?
Beyond these points, here’s my Top Three Things To Love List for Don Quixote:
- A Man Living By An Outdated Code. One of my favorite literary and film themes, e.g., Mr. Blue and Ghost Dog.
- You Always Mock the One You Love. To me, the love of Cervantes for his subject matter is clear. All of the tales within the tale are well done, layering romance atop romance. The bad poetry is appropriately bad, and the good, appropriately lovely. The chivalry-hating priest cannot bring himself to burn all the books, and those who seek to help the knight to sanity mourn his madness when it passes. I’m writing a fractured fairy tale right now, so I like this approach.
- What Is the Nature of Madness? Don Quixote’s lunacy-versus-lucidity was interesting, but I loved the more subtle madness of Sancho and his wife. Who hasn’t seen that PowerBall jackpot and dreamed of what they’d do with it? These two (and DQ to boot) roll the dice, then get caught up in the bounces!
Complaints? Only the length, but it helps to keep in mind that the two volumes were published 10 years apart. People who read the first volume were hungry for more. Today, to paraphrase my good friend Jinglebob, we are fed, not a forkful of hay, but the whole load at once.