Miguel de Cervantes
Don Quixote
Book Review by Author/Illustrator Ross Anthony

The name has been referenced in films, books, even songs (Nik Kershaw). It was that last reference that really stuck with me. It left me wondering why Don Quixote shouted at windmills. Much later I happed upon an excellent documentary called “Lost in la Mancha”, in which one of my favorite writer/directors (Terry Gilliam) fails to bring Don Quixote to the big screen. My curiosity grew until finally after seeing the play version “Man of La Mancha” here in Southern California … I was completely motivated to seek out this book and read for myself what Don was all about. First I wiki’d it and was quite surprised to find it was written over 500 years ago … and that it’s widely considered the first modern novel. Wow. I also did some modest research of reviews looking for an English translation that maintained the humor with which Cervantes meant it to have. Oh, did I mention, it’s a comedy? … A satire actually.

Once, acclimated to the flowery elaborate wording, Cervantes' humor comes right out and smacks you in the nose. The first 100 pages are the funniest, at times, laugh out loud funny. Cervantes can be very clever, he’s a Spanish Mark Twain. In fact, there are other comparisons that could be made between Don Q and Huck F.. But, I digress. The baroque wording serves all the more to set up the joke.

From the aspect of reflecting on the very human ability to record language in the written word, I’m absolutely fascinated that an individual who walked the Earth ½ a millennium ago, could make me laugh heartily with his thoughts. That’s how cool writing is. He’s not just communicating an idea, he’s making me laugh -- and that’s after translation, 500 years after the fact. Wonderful!

However, like Twain in Finn, Cervantes digresses into another story. Actually, a side character finds a book and starts reading it to the other characters for 30 whole pages! (That’s roughly 7% of the novel.) And this “other story” -- yeah, sure it applies, but applies really to a subplot not so related. It’s not bad, but it is rather soapy in a Shakespearian sort of way. Curiously enough, William S. wrote a bunch of plays and sonnets right about this time in history as well. I wonder if he and Cervantes were familiar with each other?

Again, I digress (how apropos). Anyway, to finish off the point of this love triangle story of 30 pages, Cervantes treads in the subplot (rather void of Quixote and Sancho) for about 100 pages. Isn’t that interesting ¼ of the first novel of D.Q. is really a Shakespearian type of love soap opera. It’s well written, it compelling, it even has a subtle humor -- but it’s not as outrageously funny as Don. When Don gets going on the topic of chivalry, his misguided assuredness is simply hysterical. It’s so ironic that nowadays it’s not terribly uncommon to see Don Q. referenced as a symbol of Chivalry, when, in fact, Cervantes was spoofing not just fans of the supposed nobility of the knights of the many books on the topic, not just poking fun of the knights themselves, but ribbing the whole idea of classical chivalry. Don’t believe me? Here’s what wiki says… “Historically, Cervantes's work has been said to have 'smiled Spain’s chivalry away,' suggesting that Don Quixote as a chivalric satire contributed to the demise of Spanish Chivalry.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quixote)

Structurally, besides the old English style, the translation I read puts entire dialogues into one paragraph. This makes it difficult to determine who’s speaking. Further, there are a handful of quotation mark errors (missing or otherwise) that make navigating the dialogue even more difficult. To complicate the matter even further, quite often the descriptive phrase “He said” is included in the quotation marks of the actual dialogue.

Still, I greatly suggest reading this amazing piece of literature. It’s proof that people weren’t as serious as we lazily think they were back in history. It’s proof that they weren’t somehow more simple-minded. On the contrary, it appears they were just as comically clever as our modern comedians.

Upon the conclusion of the romantic triangle excursion, pages wax philosophic comparing the worth of a soldier to that of a student. Mildly interesting, but if satire was meant to be enjoyed there… it was lost on me.

The Last two hundred pages also slide into the well woven stories of other characters, most are again love webs, but one is a story of a learned soldier taken as a slave and imprisoned over seas -- wiki says that's likely somewhat autobiographical. I don't know, it's rather fantastical. I'm not sure why all these non-Quixote side stories are included except that Perhaps Cervantes is poking fun of the standard storytelling of the time. Or perhaps every humble goatherd or mad man running amuck in the backwoods really did have an enchanting story of love involving the most beautiful maiden in the village to tell.

Eventually, the book returns to Don Q, but he's somewhat worn by then, maybe by his misadventures, maybe tired by all the aside storytelling --though he always complements the teller (that is, if he was awake to even hear the story). To conclude, a respectful "bowing out" (literarily-speaking) replaces the standard climax and resolution, and a sequel is hinted at.

Cervantes did pen a book II. But it takes him 10 years to get around to it and even then it seems he was prompted in response and anger by another writer who took the liberty to complete it for him.

Quixote rationalizes a lost battle… "He did not, however, look upon himself as unhappy, because his misfortune was, in his opinion, peculiar to knights-errant, and that he was not able to rise on account of his innumerable bruises he had received, he ascribed entirely to the fault of his horse."

Quixote vomits in Sancho's face… "Sancho accordingly approached so near, as to thrust his eyes, as it were, into his master's mouth, just at the time when the balsam began to operate in his stomach, which with the force of a shotgun, discharged its contents full in the beard of the compassionate squire."

Quixote extends his hand to a woman… "I do not present it [the hand] to be kissed; but that you may contemplate the contexture of its nerves, the knittings of the muscles, the large and swelling veins; from whence you may conjecture what strength must reside in the arm to which it belongs."

Read more Book Reviews by Author/Illustrator Ross Anthony.


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Copyright © 1998-2016 Ross Anthony, Author - Speaker - Solo World Circumnavigator In addition to reviewing films and interviewing celebs at HollywoodReportCard.com, traveling the world, composing great music, motivational speaking, Mr. Anthony also runs his own publishing company in the Los Angeles area. While traversing the circumference of the planet writing books and shooting documentaries, Mr. Anthony has taught, presented for, worked &/or played with locals in over 30 countries & 100 cities (Nairobi to Nagasaki). He's bungee-jumped from a bridge near Victoria Falls, wrestled with lions in Zimbabwe, crashed a Vespa off a high mountain road in Taiwan, and ridden a dirt bike across the States (Washington State to Washington DC). To get signed books ("Rodney Appleseed" to "Jinshirou") or schedule Ross to speak check out: www.RossAnthony.com or call 1-800-767-7186. Check out his other sites too: Author*Illustrator*Speaker, Motobookothon 2009, M9, Write Triangle, TwT. Go into the world and inspire the people you meet with your love, kindness, and whatever it is you're really good at. Check out books by Ross Anthony. Rand() functions, Pho chicken soup, rollerblading, and frozen yogurt (w/ blueberries) also rock! (Btw, rand is short for random. It can also stand for "Really Awkward Nutty Dinosaurs" -- which is quite rand, isn't it?) Being alive is the miracle. Special thanks to Ken Kocanda, HAL, Jodie Keszek, Don Haderlein, Mom and Pops, my family, R. Foss, and many others by Ross Anthony. Galati-FE also deserves a shout out. And thanks to all of you for your interest and optimism. Enjoy great films, read stirring novels, grow.


Last Modified: Tuesday, 09-Oct-2012 08:49:57 PDT