Thank goodness Cervantes gives us a “First Part” division right at the halfway mark of this big book, because I need it. I have a huge number of galleys to read for review, and the Gone with the Wind readalong going on as well. So Don Quixote is getting a break. But, I am enjoying it and will be picking it back up! So, eventually, expect a Second Part.
For a chunkster, this is surprisingly easy reading. Don Quixote and sidekick Sancho are just goofily traversing the Spanish countryside, having haphazard and silly adventures which they view in different terms. At the beginning, Sancho’s perspective is that of reality, more or less, with an ongoing desire to please his master and see things his master’s way, and Don Quixote’s perspective is entirely fantastical, based on the novels of chivalry he has read until his brain became mush. (The perils of novel-reading, children!) As they continue their adventures, though, Sancho buys into the fantasy – mostly. He retains a more cynical view that his master, who is completely off his rocker where errantry is concerned.
I was definitely intimidated by its bulk, but these 900+ pages of story are split into little episodes only 2-3 pages long in some cases. What I’m saying is, if you’re intimidated by the bulk of Don Quixote, don’t be! It’s remarkably easy, and entertaining, reading.
Don Quixote is a gentleman of leisure living in the countryside of La Mancha. (This is Spain in, erm, the 1600′s or 1500′s? Published in early 1600′s. I’m not too clear on the precise setting in time, 16th vs. 17th century Spain, and the niceties thereof, not being a strong point in my education to date.) He becomes so obsessed with his novels of chivalry and the knights errant and their lady loves and great deeds, etc., that his mind becomes confused. He outfits himself in a comical assortment of bits and pieces and substitute parts, thinking he is an elegant knight. He roams the countryside on his tired old horse, with a squire named Sancho on a mule, imagining that he achieves feats of gallant and courageous battle and strength, when in fact he (famously) does battle with windmills, releases dangerous criminals from the King’s custody, gets himself and Sancho beaten repeatedly, makes promises he clearly will not be able to keep, and generally makes a fool of himself.
The book, which was originally published in two volumes (thus, two parts!), follows a meandering story line; it is more a series of small adventures, the kind that might be published serially. Some of these adventures leave Don Quixote and Sancho sidelined while we meet other temporary protagonists. These are a welcome respite when Don Quixote’s ridiculous behavior becomes tiresome. I get most excited and engrossed in his adventures when there are plenty of other characters milling about; just Don Quixote and Sancho together can get a little bit repetitive. It is easy to get annoyed with Don Quixote because he is exasperating; but this is intended. He is a ridiculous character.
I am surprised at what an easy and quick read this is turning out to be, and at how often I giggled aloud. Don’t fear the chunky Classic of Literature, friends. Although setting the book aside for now, I look forward to returning to it. Part the Second to come.