Book # 992
“I have seen no book of chivalry that creates a complete tale, a body with all its members intact, so that the middle corresponds to the beginning, and the end to the beginning and the middle; instead, they are composed with so many members that the intention seems to be to shape a chimera or a monster rather than to create a well-proportioned figure. Furthermore, the style is fatiguing, the action incredible, the love lascivious, the courtesies clumsy, the battles long, the language foolish, the journeys nonsensical, and, finally, since they are totally lacking in intelligent artifice, they deserve to be banished, like unproductive people, from Christian nations.”
As this long quotation from Don Quixote makes clear, romantic books of chivalry are terrible. So author Cervantes wrote Don Quixote in 1605 to satirize the form. And he does it well, taking each negative about books of chivalry he lists and, through comedy and wordplay, turning it into a positive. The result is a long, epic novel in two parts that is about chivalry but anything but terrible. After all, “The benefit caused by the sanity of Don Quixote cannot be as great as the pleasure produced by his madness?”
While very over the top, Don Quixote is a wonderful reading experience. Don Quixote is a fantastic character, with a stubborn streak that lets him truly believe in his own inventions. He even manages to convince one other person, his squire Sancho Panza: “Sancho Panza is one of the most amusing squires who ever served a knight errant; at times his simpleness is so clever that deciding if he is simple or clever is a cause of no small pleasure.”
Sancho was my favorite character. He waxes and wanes between knowing his master is crazy and utterly believing in his inventions and adventures. Sancho is somewhat prone to malapropism, but not to the extent of, say, Mrs. Slipslop in Henry Fielding’s Joseph Andrews. His more extensive verbal tendency is using endless proverbs, some more apt than others in any given situation. Here’s an example of Sancho’s speech: “Because in a well-stocked house, supper is soon cooked; and if you cut the cards, you don’t deal; and the man who sounds the alarm is safe; and for giving and keeping, you need some sense.”
Sancho keeps things moving, adding humor to situations where Don Quixote’s ridiculousness might just seem sad. Above all, I loved the scenes where Sancho carried out his duties as ‘governor.’
I did feel that the novel could have been shorter – some of Don Quixote’s adventures are a bit repetitive. He basically attacks anyone and anything, demanding they admit his beloved Dulcinea is the most beautiful woman in the world – there are only so many ways to make this amusing. I also found the ending a bit of a let-down; it was clear that Cervantes just wanted to make certain no one else would ever write about Don Quixote. That said, this is a 400-year-old novel – it’s literally exemplary.