Don Quixote was a steel-drivin’ man

I’m afraid I’m not going to make it through Don Quixote. It started out pretty well, except for the dedicatory poems, which probably lost most of their funniness in the last four centuries and lost the rest when translated into English doggerel. The Don’s initial sally has a certain demented dignity: the publican and prostitutes whom he takes for a castellan and noble ladies find that accommodating his fantasies is amusing enough without needing to humiliate him (the innkeeper even gives him the excellent advice to bring some money along the next time he goes erranting).

The Don himself shows some courtesy, though he also shows the first signs of his arrogance and his tendency to treat everyone he encounters as an enemy. The first time he challenges some random passer-by in his stilted, pompous manner, and then gets his ass kicked, is mildly entertaining, the windmill thing has a kind of grandeur, and nobody gets hurt except the Don himself.

There is also the mock Inquisition in which DQ’s friends and niece burn his books. The modern reader is likely to be creeped out by the knowledge that these were the people, more or less, who gave us the real Spanish Inquisition, making the scene a rather dark farce.

But so far as I can tell, Cervantes ran out of ideas about a hundred pages in. DQ heads out on a second journey, equipped with money which he ends up refusing to use, and encounters some very civil goatherds and then a bunch of aristocrats pretending to be shepherds, like the characters in one of those dreadful pastoral poems (the English ones often feature Colin Clout blowing his oaten reed, lamenting the cruelty of the fair shepherdess, etc.). Cervantes deserves credit for giving the fair shepherdess the chance to tell the shepherds where they can stick their oaten reeds, but otherwise this episode is a snore-fest.

Then we begin to get repeats of Quixote’s previous adventures, only instead of humor, this time there’s nothing but brutality, stupidity,, ugliness, and lots of puking.

 

DQ and Sancho get beaten up (this time Rocinante gets beaten up too), then they come to an inn, where they bed down in filth and are further beaten up by one of the guests and a spectacularly ugly member of the staff. DQ prepares a healing balsam consisting mostly of rosemary, which sounds harmless enough; anyway, it makes him throw up and then sweat, but later he feels better (it’s very hard to tell Renaissance medicine from a lampoon of Renaissance medicine). After a while Sancho drinks some too, but at first he goes into a sort of seizure instead of vomiting. Then…

By this time the beverage began to work to some purpose, and the poor squire discharged so swiftly and copiously at both ends that neight the rush mat on which he had thrown himself nor the blanket with which he covered himself were of the slightest use to him.

Nice. Sancho gets beaten up some more before they finally head out in search of adventure, which they find when DQ mistakes some sheep for embattled armies. He rides in and kills a bunch of the sheep, until the shepherds (real ones this time) start pelting him with rocks:

At that instant a smooth pebble hit him in the side and buried two ribs in his entrails. Finding himself in such a bad way, he thought for certain that he was killed or sorely wounded, and remembering his balsam, he took out his cruse and raised it to his lips. But before he could swallow what he wanted, another pebble struck him full on the hand, broke the cruse to pieces, carried away with it three or four teeth and grinders out of his mouth, and badly crushed two fingers of his hand.

Well, if that doesn’t have you in stitches, then I don’t know what can be done for you. (Btw, I am not sure about the spelling of cruse, or what the proper ENglish word for it is—it’s some sort of little pot.)

Sancho runs up to see how his master is doing, and the Don asks him to look into his mouth and tell him if he has any teeth left:

Sancho went so close that he almost thrust his eyes into his mouth. And it was precisely at the fatal moment when the balsam that had been fretting in Don Quixote’s stomach came up to the surface, and with the same violence that a bullet is fired out of a gun, all that he had in his stomach discharged itself upon the beard of the compassionate squire.

Sancho for a moment thinks that DQ is vomiting blood, but quickly recognizes the odor of the balsam:

…and so great was the loathing that he felt, that his own stomach turned, and he emptied its full cargo upon his master, and both were in a precious pickle.

Yes, I too thought the balsam had been shot out of his hand before he had time to drink it. But that is by the way.

Can someone tell me it gets better than this, a lot better? Does Don Quixote get more like a real novel, with plot and interesting characters and comedy that might entertain a reader who has successfully completed toilet training, instead of the what appears to be the novelization of Itchy & Scratchy?

 

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One Response to Don Quixote was a steel-drivin’ man

  1. Mary White says:

    Haven’t read it and won’t after that.

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