Published on September 11th, 2013 | by Michaela Buckley0
Don Quixote of La Mancha
The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha is considered one of the first ever novels and was published in two parts, the first in 1605 and the second ten years later in 1615, the author is commonly known as Cervantes but his full name is Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra and he is credited often as the father of the Spanish language due to his profound influence through the novel Don Quixote, such as terms like “Quixotic” and “Tilting at Windmills” entering not only Spanish but English usage.
The novel is named after and follows Alonso Quixano, a moderately wealthy gentleman of a small village in Spain, who adopts the moniker and title of Don Quixote, after he is profoundly (and by profoundly I mean madly) inspired by books about knights and chivalry, to become a Knight-errant himself, a man who roams the country as a knight searching for rogues and performing noble deeds.
So Don Quixote rallies up the necessary requirements of a knight by finding a battered old horse and naming him “Rocinante” his trusty steed, bothering an innkeeper who he falsely believes is a knight, into “knighting” Don Quixote, so he can start being one, then he returns to his village and finds a squire by promising a farmer of the village an Island in return for his service.
The only problem with all of this is that Don Quixote has clearly lost his marbles and everyone knows it, that is except his squire, Sancho Panza, who is as simple as he is stout.
Translated from Spanish, the original novel featured differing styles and versions of the language as often Don Quixote would speak in old tongue in order to sound more like his Knight-errant heroes, often this would lead to characters not understanding him and looking at him in amazement, while they themselves spoke in modern Spanish.
As an early novel, often argued as the first ever European novel, there are usually some expectations one has when reading for the first time, the novel is going to be a hard read, with lots of archaic language and some questionable structure, old and somewhat outdated themes and some terrible pacing. I’ve read enough of later novels to know that there isn’t much to recommend for your average young reader and it can be hard to talk about without sounding pretentious. But Don Quixote is different, and is quite possibly the most hilarious novel I have ever read. It was written after books of chivalry became popular and was intended to parody them by portraying a man that people would realistically consider mad if attempting such feats, against the backdrop of La Mancha, an area of Spain which was very dry and desert-like and not ideal for tales of Knighthood.
The novel invented the now cliché setup of one man and his sidekick, who questions but respects him, with the stupid squire vs intelligent master, the sane subordinate vs insane superior and fat sidekick vs thin main character dynamics. The whole novel is set into two parts or “sallies” as Don Quixote leaves his village on two adventures, much to the dismay of his family who just want him to stop reading his silly novels and gallavanting off pretending to be a knight and come home. Throughout the narrative there are many little adventures and stories from people he meets, all of whom doubt his sanity, which adds even more to the humourous story, with Don Quixote appearing to be relatively profound right up until the moment he utters some sort of absurdity and then the listener realises he isn’t quite all there.
The character of Don Quixote is a man who is able to deduce and think clearly and precisely on all elements of thought and is able to converse and express himself well, when concerning Knights-errantry he can become obsessive and almost violently defensive of his pursuits, especially that of “Lady Dulcinea del Toboso” a supposed Princess from El Toboso who Don Quixote has decided will be his lady which he serves and admires above all else and would defend her honour with his life, despite never having met her, her only role being to fulfill being the required maiden of a knight. She is presumed to just be a simple woman who darns n’ farms and isn’t a princess of the sort at all.
Sancho Panza is the simple yet down to earth farmer who frequently pulls up Don Quixote when he is acting mad, he also doubts why he is with him on many occasion but he remains loyal, especially in the hopes of receiving an island for his work, although he doesn’t know what an island actually is. All of the funniest situations in the novel are due to Sancho and his actions, he is fairly incompetent and often spouts nonsensical proverbs unnecessarily.
The only problem with the novel is that it is simply too long. I started reading this on a e-book reader and so didn’t know how long the book was until I finished a chapter and realised it had only gone up by a percent. It turns out it’s over 1000 pages long and the narrative is stringed together making it coherent but not incredibly engaging, despite the language being relatively simplistic.
The first part has lots of characters with many interesting stories to tell about themselves, however they do take ages to get to the point and sometimes there are songs and poems in that can be a little distracting from the story. It got to the point in one such story that I forgot how it came about and who was telling it, so lost were the points in the tales concerning the plot of the main novel.
I would love to see this book made as a TV series for children/adults, like Mysterious Cities of Gold, as the small adventures would work really well in an episodic format. It would be the perfect adventure show that seems so lacking in kids TV today, it’s funny and innoffensive while also being unrepresented in other media dispute its reputation. It could even work as an ongoing comic… hmm…