Don Quixote is 768 pages long. At least my copy of it is. It’s a long book. In fact, other than the Bible, it may be the longest book I’ve ever read.
Of course, the Lord of The Rings trilogy is long. It might be more than 800 pages long. I’ve read it multiple times. There are other series that are also long and I’ve read them. What makes me point out Don Quixote’s length? Because it felt long.
You are no doubt familiar with the story. Don Quixote thinks he’s a knight errant. And he, along with his squire Sancho Panca, roam around the Spanish countryside getting into hilarious adventures.
Have you ever played Dungeon & Dragons? Really any role playing game. But, D&D is the archetypical role playing game. In D&D you play a a knight. Maybe you have a squire. You roam around the countryside having adventures.
Sound familiar? Yeah. It did to me too.
When my brother and I used to play D&D as kids we tried to write some of the stories down. After all, it was really exciting to play D&D. We’d play for hours.
But, you know what? The stories were boring. They were unreadable, even considering they were written by teenagers. Because it was the “same story, different day.” Your character would show up, fight a monster, get the gold and then move on to repeat it at the next encounter.
What makes literature interesting, engaging, is growth. Lord of the Rings isn’t just stories of hobbits and dwarves and orcs and wizards. Frodo is a much different person at the end of the story than he is at the beginning. In fact, the events break him. He stumbles to the end, rather than running.
Every good story is the same way. Harry Potter, the boy who lived, is much different at the end of the seventh book and eighth movie than he is when we first meet him.
And that was my biggest problem with Don Quixote. After 700 pages, he was the same person that we met on page 1. Sancho is just as stunted. He’s an interesting character, and certainly as the link between reality and madness, the key figure in the story.
He spends the first 600 pages hoping that Don Quixote will win him a governorship. In a surprising turn of events, he actually gets it around the 600 page mark. And we see, amazingly, growth from the perpetual sidekick. He has to learn to govern. Previously he’d been fond of dropping platitudes and parables. Now we see that his wisdom was actually genuine. He rivals Soloman in some of his judgements.
It was really interesting. And then? Cervantes takes us right back to Sancho the side-kick. But, it was a really interesting 100 pages.
Cervantes wrote his masterpiece (and it really is a masterpiece, more on that in a minute) in the 16th century. A couple hundred years later P.A. Motteux translated Cervantes into English.
So, the words and stories we read in Don Quixote are 500 year-old stories translated into 300 year old English. And still we laugh at Sancho’s antics. We smile at Quixote’s naïveté. The stories read very much like short stories, loosely collected into a larger narrative.
If you “study” Don Quixote, you learn that Cervantes was writing a social commentary. His story was a response to certain contemporary writers and popular stories of his day. I’m sure when viewed in its historical Context, Don Quixote is a brilliant work. And it’s obvious in reading it that you are reading something important. Like looking at a brilliant painting, but having no idea what makes it special, only that it doesn’t look like a woman, weeping or otherwise to you.
What I Liked
The writing was amazing. The actual stories that Cervantes tells are each interesting and engaging. He describes his characters and his settings in wonderful detail. When you consider his narrative was translated, it’s even more a complement to his amazing skill.
What I Didn’t
About 550 pages of it. Not that it wasn’t entertaining. Just that it was like eating potatoes. . .everyday. . .for 768 days. As I already mentioned, the characters has no growth. Don Quixote was a caricature of himself for the entire book. He was an idea more than an actual person.
What It Means To You
If you are studying classic literature, you MUST read Don Quixote. If you don’t have to, you can get the story from the excellent movie “Man of LaMancha.” And it has very memorable music.
Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.
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