I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE classic literature. Yes, it takes a little more concentration than your average bestselling novel, but it’s always worth it. Some books are easy to love: Jane Eyre, and Pride and Prejudice for example. Some take more effort, but pay off in the end. The Count of Monte Cristo and Middlemarch are titles that come to mind. Pilgrim’s Progress and The Warden are as comforting to me as teddy bears. But Don Quixote is a bust. After 328 pages I was still only mildly interested in the outcome.
If you’ve read G.K. Chesterton’s definition of a true fairy tale, you know that a good tale describes a sane hero in a world gone mad (with witches or dragons or what have you.) Heroes are “brave, full of faith, reasonable, respect their parents, keep their word, rescue one kind of people and defy another kind, etc.” (quoted in Tremendous Trifles)
Quixote is described as a man with “an invincible heart and stupendous courage,” but the problem is that even though he is honorable, he is also insane. And he doesn’t defy the right kind of people. He defies windmills and folks who have done no wrong. Most people know the story of the windmills because it’s one of the first in the book. Maybe they read no farther because the dozens of additional stories are never quite as interesting. Not only is Quixote’s ongoing silliness annoying, the story-lines (of mistaken identities and plots to get him home again) all begin to sound the same. Cervantes must have recognized this because every once in a while he throws in an episode involving star-crossed lovers to regain the reader’s attention. These were the only bright spots in the book for me.
I believe that classics endure for darn good reasons. And I am willing to be proven wrong about this book. However, since the purpose of my blog is to encourage the reading of the world’s greatest literature, I implore my readers to begin with some other book, one that will ignite rather than extinguish their passion for the best books.