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Don Quixote

I finished reading Don Quixote this weekend. For the most part, it was a very enjoyable read.

It is of course, a very iconic book, especially the episode where he does battle with the windmills. People who have never read the book know what the phrase "tilting at windmills means." In fact, this episode inspired  the title of the 1971 film They Might Be Giants ( which  is where the band  got their name.)

Reading it gave me an even stronger sense of how influential  it is. There was an incident with Don Quixote's helmet that made me think "so that's where Laurel and Hardy got that idea". The occasional mock historic style made me think of the anime episode of Southpark.

I also got the sense that modern readers don't always take from the book what Cervantes meant for them too. I have never seen Man Of La Mancha, but I cannot see how a musical with a song like "The Impossible Dream" can possibly reflect the spirit and tone of this novel.
Don Quixote does NOT "march into hell for a heavenly cause". He marches across the country creating problems because he is a nut. While he is shown occasionally to have redeeming qualities, his madness is not romanticized.

He does create real problems. He frees what he believes is a galley of slaves that turn out to be criminals on their way to prison. And as is always the case in great comic masterpieces, pandemonium later ensues. In another place he stops a man from beating his servant. This actually is a noble goal, but because of Don Quixote's ineptitude, it turns out badly for the servant.

In spite of all his blunders and misadventures, Quixote remains a sympathetic character even when he is not admirable. There are clearly people who care about him. His family and neighbors go to extraordinary lengths to cure him. One gets the sense that there must have been something lovable about him before his madness to make them want to do this.

He is also capable of profound insights in his lucid moments. In one episode, a traveler he meets expresses concern that his son wants to study poetry instead of medicine and law. Don Quixote responds with an erudite defense of poetry and the merits of studying it. At first blush, it seems out of character. But someone who read so many books it drove him insane (and by the way, I don't like the way the book characterizes middle-aged men who read too many books!) would certainly have a lot to say about poetry. And importantly,  his wisdom is shown to exist in spite of his madness, not because of it.

So Don Quixote is a surprisingly well-rounded, almost realistic character. Considering that this is the first novel ever written (according to most opinions) that's a neat trick.



for some reason i have read the first part of Don Quixote twice, but never the 2nd part. I must agree with you on all of your points. I especially loved how (if you can get through the wordiness of it) the humor is actually quite close to modern. A true southpark moment was when they are standing in the dark terrified by a sound...and Sancho can't stop the call of nature.
Both parts are worth reading, but the first part is better and stands alone very well (as it had to for about 10 years.)

In the second part, someone has actually written a history of Don Quixote and he has become famous. Since he's famously nutty, it brings out lots of people playing tricks on him.

If you liked the part about Sancho's "call of nature" I am pretty sure you would really enjoy Garangtua And Pantagruel. It's full of stuff like that (no pun intended.)