Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Don Quixote (Book One) - Cervantes

The basic idea behind Cervantes' brilliant 'Don Quixote' is well known.  An older man has read so many of the books on romantic chivalry that he loses his mind on the subject.  He goes out and decides to become one of the knights he has read about.  After a brief outing to be knighted by an innkeeper, he returns home and hires a neighboring peasant, Sancho Panza, to be his squire.
His misadventures start immediately.  He sees a plain with windmills on it and perceives them as giants.  He charges off and Sancho can't stop him.  He is dumped from his horse by a windmill arm.  He tells Sancho that this has been the work of an evil enchanter who has changed the giants to windmills (or vice versa).  This 'enchanter' becomes the method of his madness throughout.  This is Quixote's explanation for why things look different to him than to everyone else. 
Early on, he promises great riches to Sancho Panza.  The great knight will doubtlessly win a kingdom or two during his adventures and grant governorship of an island or something to his squire.  This is the way it is in his great 'histories' and no doubt it will happen again.  Sancho becomes fixed on the idea and is willing to go to great lengths for his future governorship.
Again and again they run into trouble.  Quixote sees some group of harmless tradesmen on the road and decides that it is an evil group with a captive princess.  He charges at them and causes some damage.  As soon as one of them catches his wits, he beats Don Quixote from his horse.  (Often Sancho Panza suffers a beating as well.)  They retreat and lick their wounds while blaming everything on evil enchanters.  This basic conflict is repeated again and again.
Meanwhile, all around them, actual romantic adventures are occurring.  Lovers are cheated from each other.  Money is taken and recovered.  Villainous men are brought to justice.  At one point, a romantic story is introduced as a lost manuscript, even though it has nothing to do with the actual story that is going on.  It's all quite entertaining.
Finally, some men from La Mancha find Don Quixote and, while entertaining his madness, bind him up in a cage and transport him home.  This is also explained as the work of enchanters and Quixote goes along with it, despite Sancho's efforts to clue him in on the trick.  The great knight is returned to his home and his worried niece and housekeeper.

I enjoyed this a great deal.  The storyline is a bit repetitive, but entertaining.  Cervantes goes to great lengths to find new ways of getting Don Quixote into trouble and then getting him out of it again.  Sancho Panza is wonderful, simply wonderful.  He is a trying hard to deal with an obvious madman but failing at each point.  He tries to point out the holes in Quixote's stories but gets no where.  And then greed takes over and he starts to find reasons to believe in the enchanter nonsense.
It's easy to see why the book was popular when it was written.  I found myself smiling often while reading it and even laughed out loud a few times.  I also had to share bits of it with my wife.  This is a very fun read.

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