Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Two books, really, one written ten years after the super-popular sensation of the first three Sallies of our intrepid Knight Errant, the collected stories here are something really special.
It doesn't even matter that I read a translation from the Spanish of 1605. Or that the numerous references to Chivalry are half-super obscure or relegated to fantasy (or possible fantasy, for you historical purists and hopefuls).
Once we start this comic masterpiece, it becomes something a lot more than a chivalric romance tempered by sheer sarcasm, optimism, delusion, realism, or idealism writ large. It cleverly becomes anything you want as a reader. :)
For idealists and the imaginative at heart, Don Quixote is the hero that never gives up on his dreams no matter what anyone says. Assumed mad by everyone around him, he still manages to be perfectly rational about EVERYTHING except the idea of Chivalry. It consumes everything he does and while it does get him into a LOT of trouble... like getting beat up by a windmill... it also charms the living hell out of almost everyone he meets. The pursuit of his dream fascinates everyone even as they laugh at him.
For the sarcastic and the sardonic among us, we laugh at Don Quixote for the way he shines a spotlight on our own stupid crap and we are shocked and amazed when we discover that he might be RIGHT in his decisions when compared to what "normal", "regular" society thinks and does. His lunacy is almost a divine lunacy. Satire? Absolutely.
For the realist in us, we despair because NO ONE lives by sane rules. Not our neighbors, society, nor the holy idealists that shoot their arrows into the void of absurdity. Sancho Panza fights and fights, trying to keep his old friend alive despite everything, getting beat over the head repeatedly by the lunacy... until he gives in. Broken. And just goes along with reality, taking whatever scraps he can in hopes that the emperor's new clothes will start to fit him.
Gorgeous stuff. Any of us could take any kind of read we want out of this, and there's a lot more than just these three ways to read it. But above all, it's all funny as hell, timely even now, and smart in a way that only the most brilliant books are smart. And timeless.
Anyone upon reading this can see how it influences a vast stream of books that came after. Or TV shows. I think of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Confederacy of Dunces, and even American Psycho.
Of course, I'm sure most people will think of more standard titles, but from TS Eliot to the Dark Tower to Spaghetti Westerns to the Seven Samurai, the influence is still insanely clear. :)
A true classic.
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