Adventure, Cervantes, Miguel de, Satire/Comedy

Review of Don Quixote by Cervantes

Image result for don quixote edith grossmanPerhaps, I am being generous in my 4-star rating. Don Quixote could have been half the length. Still, most of the stories were entertaining, and our knight and his squire were pretty compelling characters. The brilliance of this work is in its narrative style. Don Quixote is a story within a story within a story. Cervantes published the first part years before the second part. Between the publication of the two parts, Cervantes was imprisoned. The story of Don Quixote was continued by Avellaneda without Cervantes’ permission. The narrator as well as the characters in the real story ridicule Avellaneda’s account. The narrator insists that the only true story about Don Quixote is the one we are reading. It was translated from the Arabic by the Moor Cide Hamete Benengeli. And of course there is Don Quixote himself who tries to imitate the knights errant described in popular Spanish courtly romances. To deceive Don Quixote, the other characters have to play into our knight’s delusions.

Don Quixote is a satire on Renaissance Spain. The speeches of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza are almost literally lifted from the writings of the Renaissance humanists. Despite Don Quixote’s insanity, his speeches are often quite moving. Sancho Panza loves stringing proverbs together, but he often cites them out of context. While this is certainly an entertaining work, it is also somewhat tragic. People take advantage of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza to serve their own selfish ends. But who can help Don Quixote? Most tragically, Sancho Panza believes in some of his master’s hallucinations and promises. Don Quixote means well, but he resembles a cult leader. Courtly romance and hagiography were two popular literary traditions in Renaissance Spain. By exploring the theme of heroism in both tradition, Don Quixote addresses the purpose of historiography.

Because this work is as much about the writing of Don Quixote as the story of Don Quixote itself, I cannot ignore the role Edith Grossman played in translating it from the Spanish. This is an astounding accomplishment. Based on the quality of the footnotes it is clear that Grossman spent a lot of time researching the literary and historical references in Don Quixote. My edition included an interview with the translator as well as an introduction by the literary critic Harold Bloom.

I do wish Don Quixote was shorter, but I know that I won’t forget Don Quixote or Sancho Panza anytime soon. With its commentary on truth vs. falsehood and wisdom vs. folly, the work feels particularly relevant to our social media age.

Favorite Quote

“In short, our gentleman became so caught up in reading that he spent his nights reading from dusk till dawn and his days reading from sunrise to sunset, and so with too little sleep and too much reading his brains dried up, causing him to lose his mind.”


7 Storytelling Pet Peeves

Below are a few of my storytelling pet peeves:

1) When magic saves characters. If magic is a normal part of the world the author has created, magic rules should be explained and then not breached to save a character’s life.

2) When characters seemingly come back to life. Unless resurrection is a major theme in the story, characters should die when it is reasonable for them to do so. That is my greatest criticism of The Lord of the Rings. Gandalf should have died on the Bridge of Khazad-dûm.

3) When female characters are sweet, precious angels. I am speaking to YOU, Johanna Spyri (author of Heidi), Charles Dickens, and Eleanor Porter (author of Polyanna).

4) When there is religious stereotyping. As a Catholic, this irks me to no end. Not all priests are awful people. Not all monks are assassins. Not every historical fiction novel set in Medieval Europe needs to have lovely Catholic characters, but I have met a few good Catholic priests. They exist.

5) When the Virgin can’t wait to be “sexually liberated”. This bothers me a lot. I know that sex sells, and that people have sex, but once in a while I’d like to read a book in which a female or male character chooses to be or is OK with being celibate.

6) When the single or married (but always female) secretary becomes de facto a love interest. This bothers me because I see it as a misogynistic trope. Why are secretaries always hit on by their bosses? Why do authors assume that a secretary wants to get into her boss’s pants?  Why are secretaries always female? Geesh. This needs to stop.

7) When there are glaring historical inaccuracies in a historical fiction work. The word “historical” is in the name of the genre for a reason.

What are your storytelling pet peeves?


Dickens, Charles, Victorian

The Most Appropriate Telling of A Christmas Carol

Today is Christmas, so I decided to start my blog with a post on Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.  I started reading the book last weekend, although I have seen both professional and university performances of the story.  Storytelling can take a variety of forms. And the telling of A Christmas Carol is no exception. The story has been retold through plays, live-action films, animated films, operas, and ballets. After reading the book, I can understand why.

Mr. Fezzwig's Christmas, frontispiece from 1843 Dickens' A Christmas Carol (Public domain)

Dickens’ work lends itself to performance. Ebenezer Scrooge literally watches scenes after scenes of his past, present, and future. Like the spectator of a play, Scrooge witnesses the unfurling of a story.  Indeed, A Christmas Carol often reads as a screen play rather than a novella. Dickens offers an in-depth description of such scenes as the Cratchit dinner, Scrooge’s nephew’s Christmas party, the burying of Tiny Tim, etc., but places little emphasis on what cannot be seen (the characters’ emotions, Scrooge’s internal conflicts, etc.).  What cannot be seen is inferred rather than thoroughly explored. The most appropriate medium for such storytelling is performance.