• By Zach Leonard
  • Posted Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Books We Like: Revisiting Cervantes' Don Quixote

Hail, Traveler, from wherever you may have ventured. Prepare to read a tale of a wandering knight whose misadventures are both heartfelt and humorous; whose feats are both courageous and comic; and whose common sense is...

Well, you get the picture.

You may have read it in English, in its original Spanish, or in another language, or if you’re like me, you are picking it up for the first time, but I invite you to give Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, a try. My old college professor said this book should be read three times in an individual’s life: once as a young person, the second at middle age, and the third as an older adult. This is my middle aged reading.

The book is about the life of Don Quixote, an elderly man who spent most of his time reading fictional books on knights and their adventures. The trouble with Quixote is that he believes them to be true. Along with his trusty “squire,” Sancho Panza, (a man whose hunger for power is only surpassed by his hunger for food), they travel the Spanish countryside constantly getting into trouble with the locals, receiving bumps and bruises in the process, but always coming out with an even deeper commitment to their quest. Quixote’s reason for his quest is to gain the attention of of his lady, Dulcinea -- a woman whom he loves, but has never seen. Sancho’s motivation is the island his knight has promised him.

Because this is my first reading, I had no idea what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised. This book is a laugh a minute; from Quixote’s exaggerated use of words, to Sancho’s simple observations, you will be chuckling nonstop. There is the famous scene of the windmills where Quixote charges at what he believes to be giants with long arms. Sancho, knowing full well the true identity of the giants, tries to convince his employer otherwise, but is so blinded by his own greed for an island, he only does so passively. And Sancho always addresses his employer in a deferential tone, saying “Your Grace,” or “Señor,” even when he thinks he is behaving foolishly, in order to ingratiate himself to Quixote. It is hard to tell who is more delusional - Sancho and his dreams of one day ruling an island, or Quixote, who anachronistically insists on living by the code of chivalry.

By many, this work is considered the first modern novel. It has all of the elements you will find in countless works of Western literature. Charles Dickens’ use of realism? Check. Mark Twain’s use of dialects? double-check. Terry Pratchett’s style of parody? Check, again. Terry Gilliam of Monty Python fame also has a new movie coming out starring the late John Hurt, called The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, slated for release in 2018. Cervantes was a contemporary of Shakespeare, and both were pioneers in their art form, as well as the development of their native languages. Cervantes’ book is chocked full of alliteration and puns. If you are reading it in English, the translation that my professor recommended is the one composed by Edith Grossman. This translator does a great job of trying to preserve Cervantes’ literary style and technique. She also provides great annotations for things that might seem a little vague for the modern reader.

If you are reading it as a young adult, you may identify with the passion for adventure and the desire to dream, which drives Quixote to embark on his journey. If you’re reading this at middle age, you may relate to the cautiousness of your actions, like the earthy Sancho, who is more grounded in reality. If you are reading it as an older adult, you may see in it that your own actions may be empowered with the fervor of Quixote, but tempered by the wisdom of Sancho. Whatever your glean from it, this book that will be a worthy companion as you venture through life.

So sally forth, Traveler, to your local library and pick up a copy of this timeless work. I guarantee that your quest shall not be in vain.