Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Inns and Castles

            Among other confusions, Don Quixote is prone to view inns as castles.  One night, at one particular, resting-place/noble abode, four men on horseback arrive and ask for entrance.  Don Quixote (fairly justifiably) points out that it is ridiculously early and they should stop making a ruckus at such an ungodly hour and wait for the king to wake up.  They object to the notion of royalty residing in said building, one of them declaring that "in such a sorry inn, without any sort of noise or stir, I cannot believe that any persons of such note would lodge."
            "You know little of the world, replied Don Quixote, since you are so ignorant of the events that happen in knight-errantry."
            Quixote has many such comical "fall-backs" as it were.  Here, as in other places, he responds to others questioning his interpretation of a situation by attributing the conflict in views to the ignorance of others.  I.e., I have read more than you, and therefore understand this situation far better.  An expedient I have known more than one professor (or pseudo-intellectual such as myself) to fall upon.  But aside from these diversions, this scene starts to get at my ambivalence towards Quixote.
            The part of me that is all nostalgia — the part of me that gets completely nailed by Woody Allen in Midnight in Paris — can't help but sympathize with Don Quixote.  I am always wanting a different time and place, and I chafe at the texture of the world I find myself in.  Quixote has decided to do away with the chafing altogether, and somehow change reality, insofar as he is able through a movement of consciousness.  But this, I think, is where I begin to feel a slight disgust at the apparently logical conclusion of my own nostalgia.
            I cannot countenance such a denial of reality.  When I was younger, I would have found it romantic.  I was insecure enough to want art and religion to manipulate reality, to make it into something less frightening and less painful than it is.
            But now, even if the reality is that life is ambiguous and unsatisfactory, frightening and painful, and, God, so humiliating...even then, I would like to face up to it with some honesty, and to hopefully not cause anyone else pain while doing so.
            I know this is idealistic, in a sense, and probably sounds very proud and self-righteous.  Also, it is easier said than done.  But I spent most of the book not liking Don Quixote.  I felt about him the way one might feel about a friend, whom one loves, but doesn't really trust to have any common sense.
            But how can I say I didn't like Don Quixote, when I absolutely adore Don Quixote?  There is no book without the star-gazing madman.
            Before I read the book, I had him romanticized into a hero of my own rose-colored glasses tribe.  But having read the book, and seen the fallout of his actions and misguided violence, my feelings changed considerably.  There was the initial revulsion, of course, followed by the adolescent's "I'm not going to be like that anymore!"  Which mellowed into something weirder and more complicated.   (That last sentence seems to be the theme of my thirties so far.)
            I can't help wondering how Quixote is viewed by people who know him through the book, versus those who know him by reputation only.  For those who haven't read the book, is he a figure of nostalgic heroism?  Or of pity?  Something else?  And for those who have read it, was there a change in your view of him? 

1 comment:

  1. I will speak as one who has read the book. And, like you, I took my time with it. (Hooray for slow readers!)

    Yes, I certainly found a marked difference between my image of the Don before and my experience of him when actually reading. And a lot of it was frustrating. I mean, there are times when he's presented with overwhelming evidence of his folly, and he refuses to see it, and his refusal is not all that admirable.

    The other thing I noticed was that there didn't seem to be a big character arc in the story, which foiled my expectations. The plot unfolded in a non-progressive way; the story didn't build in the way a modern novel is expected to. It was just one damned thing after another. I picture the story structure like spokes coming out of a wheel.

    But then, as many times as I was frustrated by his delusions and lack of progress, I got very attached to him, especially in those moments when he came out with these bits of world-defying wisdom. So the thing that bugged me most was the ending, where he renounces it all. It's too harsh, as though he just saw no value in any of it.

    When I engaged a version of his character for my modern retelling, I changed that, both in the ending, and throughout the book. I wanted him to have all these seemingly crazy ideas actually turn out to be right. And in the end, his own analysis of his heroic career is left open. He's way more lucid than anyone gives him credit for, and while he sees that he might be hurting himself and his friends with his adventures, his ultimate goal is to do good, and the adventures may well help with that.

    Looking back at my own writing then becomes a very telling exercise in how I reacted to Cervantes, because it's a clear record of what I wanted to embrace and what I wanted to change.