Friday, June 29, 2012

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes

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.


Sherry said...

I still haven't made it all the way through DOn Quixote, but I think maybe it's better in small doses--a series of vignettes in which you get to know Don Quixote and Sancho Panza and love them in spite of their insanity.

Barbara H. said...

This is one of those books I've always heard of and been mildly curious about but not enough to check out. Sounds like I'll be saving myself the effort. :-) I wonder what Cervantes' purpose was in writing the book.

Beth said...

I have to admit that I cheated on this book. I found an updated retelling on audio which was enough to give me a good flavor for the book. I don't think I could have read the original unabriged book. I agree that Don Quixote is pretty insane. I did feel great pity for his poor servant who seemed to have been blessed with the most sense.

Cathy said...

I love this review, Hope!
I'd like to recommend a book not a "classic" in the true sense but one that's so very lovely - "Prince of Foxes" by Samuel Shellabarger. I think you could call it a modern classic (1947), it has the elements. He was an author of popular fiction of that time - I happen to have it because my Father was a reader and somehow I managed to hang on to it over the years. It's set in 16th Century Italy.
Cathy in Chicago

hopeinbrazil said...

Cathy, Thank you for this recommendation. I am not familiar with it and look forward to exploring its contents.

And Sherry, I agree with you that DQ might be better in small doses!

Melora said...

I read the Martin Jenkins/Chris Riddell of Don Quixote adaptation aloud to my kids and they Loved it. All 350 pages (which really isn't So much when you figure in all the wonderful illustrations and large font & margins). I still found it a little repetitive, but it was interesting.