The First Sally
The story of Don Quixote is one that plays itself over and over again. In real life and in literature, to the point where it is hardly clear where one story ends and another begins.
Manager: Customer renewal rates!
Me: Señor, are you referring to those windmills.
A story of a person fighting metaphysical monsters only he can see. At this very moment, I’m typing this review as if it’s the most important thing in the world. Meanwhile, a mere ten feet away, my boss in contemplating other things – operating expenses, renewal rates – that to me seem fantastic, the ramblings of a lunatic.
Don Quixote is raging against the death of chivalry. My own quest is to preserve that which is beautiful and sacred in the written word.
The book does bring up uncomfortable questions about the nature of one’s reading life to one’s real life. What happens when the stories you read become more real than the real world? (These days, people tend to worry more about kids playing video games or becoming absorbed in social media).
It’s fitting that the book begins with Don Quixote neglecting the matters of his day on account of books. Books are what draw him into his fantasy world and into the ideal life of chivalry.
Toward the end of the book, especially, we see Don Quixote, the fan-boy of chivalry and adventure, on full display with his knowledge of history and chivalric know-how. So much so, that I want to abandon my suit and tie and don full armor just like Don Quixote.
The old question – who is to say who is the lunatic and who is the realist? For me, the fantasy of books is necessary to validate the mundane lunacy of an office environment.
The Second Sally
The tale of Don Quixote has gotten me interested in other reality/fantasy hybrids – Joe the Barbarian, I Kill Giants, Tough Girl, The Wizard of Oz. At the foundation of these stories is the idea that there is something fundamentally wrong with the world as it is presented. Their stories are one of redemption by a lonely outsider. (Think Batman! You will see many similarities between Don Quixote and Batman!)
When I was growing up, there was an oil painting in my living room. It showed Don Quixote with his brilliant lance and shining armor facing a field of windmills. By his side was his trusty Sancho Panza (Alfred Pennyworth!). My thought was that this was “classical” romantic literature.
I actually had no idea what classical literature was. I also wasn’t very romantic. I was only in third grade at the time. But that Christmas I received a box set of illustrated kid’s versions of classical literature. And there my adventure began! Huck Finn, Wizard of Oz, Oliver Twist…
My mom, being from Cuba, had of course read Don Quixote many times in its original Spanish. That was why the picture was on our wall. And that’s also why – and this I kid you not – in an earlier house we had a suit of knight’s armor. (I don’t know what happened to it. And we didn’t have it long enough for me to grow into it.)
I wanted to read this book partly for my mom; partly to make my workday feel normal. It’s fitting that I stole 10 minutes here, 15 minutes there to read this book. It’s fitting that I neglected adult life to do this.
My mom would be proud.
Jason, a reviewer on Goodreads, writes: “I’ve discovered that Don Quixote is not a bumbling idiot – far from it, in fact. He is highly intelligent, highly perceptive and observant, and most surprisingly, and in spite of all his delusions of being a knight-errant, he is actually self-aware.” This makes me feel better about the lunacy that is my life. After all, I’m in my mid-thirties. I’m unmarried; have cultivated a romantic anti-career, and have fed my book addiction in a way that would make Mr. Quixano blush.
And yet, I am self-aware. I realize that books have driven me further and further to the fringes – like other lunatics of fantasy. And without the crutch of a Sancho Panza or Alfred Pennyworth.
If I am a lunatic, I am a self-aware lunatic. And while my writing and reading habits have made me quite poor and circumspect to managers who look at renewal rates and other such seemingly realistic fantasies, they also make me better.
Of his chivalry affliction, Don Quixote said, “For myself I can say that since I have been a knight-errant I have become valiant, polite, generous, well-bred, magnanimous, courteous, dauntless, gentle, patient, and have learned to bear hardships, imprisonments, and enchantments; and though it be such a short time since I have seen myself shut up in a cage like a madman, I hope by the might of my arm, if heaven aid me and fortune thwart me not, to see myself king of some kingdom where I may be able to show the gratitude and generosity that dwell in my heart.”
And now I find myself a king! These words – found on the Gutenberg digital library – have given me a kingdom to myself.
The mad king in his mad kingdom finds willing participants in the manufacture of passages such as these: “the reason of the unreason with which my reason is afflicted so weakens my reason that with reason I murmur at your beauty;” and, “the high heavens, that of your divinity divinely fortify you with the stars, render you deserving of the desert your greatness deserves.” Yes, I know why Don Quixote donned the armor.
To what other kingdom can these treasures be exported?
If these passages sound so beautiful in translated English, to think what they must sound like in the original Spanish. As I say these words, I am happy to read this book and think of my mom, who came from Cuba loved this book and read it frequently in Spanish.
Not Dulcinea. No, her name was just Dulce.
The Third Sally
The history of the third sally to this book review could not be found. It is thought that there were many historic deeds done during this third attempt at a book review. However, due to poor historical records, the writer of this actual book review has only hearsay. Some say that he developed a callous on his right middle finger from all the typing he was doing and had to apply for worker’s compensation or some other such fantastical concept that could only exist in the 21st century before the rise of Literary Society as we know it today.
The book ends with Don Quixote apologizing for all the harm he has caused and forswearing anything to do with chivalry or knighthood. It is an ending decisively against the idealism and fantastic adventures that the reader has indulged in with Don Quixote. One wonders what to make of it.
Despite this finale, I like to imagine the book hanging on a razor’s edge between proselytizing the virtues of idealism and warning against its dangers. I also imagine it questioning who the realist is and who the madman.
But first, dangers! For there are many dangers in our age. For every benign lunatic like me, there are other idealists, some of them rulers of real kingdoms living in bizarre fantasy worlds denying some realities (climate change, electoral results) while extolling their favored fantasies (media conspiracies); these people would reverse the usual order of these words as we know them and claim us of the literary society as the lunatics.
An appreciation of the relativism of lunacy, truth, fact, and other not so trivial things (artistic or otherwise) only works in their favor.
The battle is not new.
Manager: Look at these renewal rates. What do you see?
Me: Nothing. Nothing in comparison to the heartfelt tale of this man of La Mancha (Don Quixote / Miguel de Cervantes). Nothing in comparison to the tale of Joe and his trek amongst the barbarians (Joe the Barbarian / Grant Morrison). Nothing in comparison to the epic story of the girl and toughness (Tough Girl / Libby Heily). Nothing compared to my own adventures in the land of literature.