Tilting at the windmill of reading a book

For a classic novel, Don Quixote gets downright cartoonish. It starts with a brilliant, still-searing social satire about the destructive power of media-driven obsession — when we meet Don Quixote he is as addled by romance novels as the most Warcraft-obsessed 20-something you can imagine. Next comes perhaps the most famous moment in literature, Quixote tilting at windmills, followed by trenchant commentary on male/female relationships, with the bold Marcela pointing out that women are not to blame when men become so obsessed by them they go and do something stupid.

But then, things get a little loopy, for about 100 pages. You start to wonder if Cervantes will spend the rest of this massive book abusing our hero in sophomoric fashion. Perhaps the windmill scene is so famous because no one can read the rest of the book. I had read the novel in college, and got an A for the class I took on it, yet could remember nothing of it past the story of Marcela. I began to think there were good reasons for that.
At one point, Cervantes himself refers to the novel’s “tortuous, winding and meandering thread.” And I scribble in the margin “yes!” But the story has become rich again, as we read of Cardenio and Dorotea and their twin narratives on fidelity and friendship. Cervantes’ sly interpolated narrative on a man’s “reckless curiosity” stands in sharp contrast to the actual stories of our characters. There is also a slickly executed commentary on why some made-up stories feel more real than actual histories.
Cervantes even starts working in deep theological observations from the story’s equivalent of a fool, Sancho Panza. Like this line: “I’ve heard it said in sermons, we should love Our Lord: for Himself alone, not because we hope for glory or are afraid of punishment. But I’d rather love and serve Him for what He can do.”
[translations quoted from Edith Grossman’s 2003 translation]

I am restored in my enthusiasm for this novel and its glorious stories.

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