Friday, August 10, 2012

Adios, Signor Quixote

            I believe I read somewhere that there are two different kinds of fairy tales.  I'm sure there are far more than that, but the two types serve my purpose well here.
            Often people flippantly say that all fairy tales are morality tales, but that is patently not true.  The only moral to be gained from Jack and the Beanstalk is that it's a good idea to break into the houses of people who are infinitely stronger than you are.  The only moral to the Frog Prince is that you will be rewarded for being a little bitch.  You could sarcastically argue that these morals are actually true, but these stories were not told to children to make them good.  Like religious stories, fairy tales are told from a certain perspective from which you will read certain characters as protagonists; this does not make them good in the sense that most parents wish their children might occasionally be.
            So there are morality tales ("Steal and God will strike you dead"), and there are the more complicated stories, which I might call metaphorical tales.  The kinds of stories where we give the listening child a character to identify with, and then guide them through a story which will, we hope, help equip them to deal with the complexities of childhood and adolescence and adulthood.
            I swear this relates to the ending of Don Quixote.  Just give me a minute.
            Don Quixote is defeated.  He is defeated in a fair fight, and the consequence of his defeat is that he is sworn to return to La Mancha to spend a year in retreat from the life of a knight-errant.  Defeat, and its subsequent enforced sedentary life, breaks Don Quixote.  What's more, he begins to see things are they really are: pigs are not an army, but simple pigs; an inn is no longer a castle, but a humble inn.
            However, on their way home, he begins a new scheme.  He plans for Sancho and himself, and hopefully also the barber and the curate, to embark upon a life pastoral.  In other words, he has decided to take up another literary-allusion-as-guiding-life-principle.  They will be shepherds, roaming the fields and woods, and pining after their assorted lady loves.  Quixote will become Quixotiz, and Sancho will become Pancino, lover of "Teresona, which will fit her fatness to an hair, as well as be agreeable to her own name Teresa," (Ibid., p. 1047).  Quixote tells his friends the curate and the batchelor (student) Sampson Carrasco of his plans, and they, lost in the face of this new species of madness, go along with it.  Thus far, though he is sad, and though he is seeing things as they are, we still clearly have an imaginative man before us.
            But then suddenly, Don Quixote develops a fever.  He remains in bed for six days.  A physician is called, and he foresees the worst.  Quixote falls asleep shortly after the doctor has come.  Waking, he announces, "I now enjoy my judgment undisturbed, and cleared from those dark shadows of ignorance, in which my understanding hath been involved, by the pernicious and incessant reading of those detestable books of chivalry.  I am now sensible of the falsity and folly they contain," (Ibid., p. 1085).
            To be clear, I'm sort of belligerently devoted to reality, so Quixote is no hero of mine.  I don't doubt that Quixote was insane.  I also think he was a bit of a jerk sometimes, and it often felt as though he consciously knew what he was doing, and how ill-suited his actions were to reality.
            What bothers me here is that it feels like a placation of the audience.  Like a movie or an opera where the bad guy has been so well-developed, and so intelligent, and pointed out so many flaws in, oh, I don't know, maybe a political/economic system, that his or her death in the end feels like the wrong kind of fairy tale.
            Up until the end, I feel like I've been reading the weird, wobbly-ethical-lines kind of fairy tale: how can the Sleeping Beauty fulfill fate only by disobeying those she is supposed to submit to, those who are sworn to protect her from, um, fulfilling her fate?  How can it be right for Don Quixote to wreak havoc at Juan Palomeque's inn, destroying his property and ruining his wine in an effort to vanquish a monster?  And more pointedly, how can it be right for it to be necessary to the story for him to do this?  For it is necessary.  Necessary for many reasons, not the least of which is bringing one Don Fernando to his senses enough that he chooses to honor his marriage to Dorothea (long story).
            And now Cervantes has decided to wrap things up into a different kind of fairy tale.  Now Don Quixote is dying, and he willingly denounces all the weirdness, all the insanity, all the interest.  Suddenly, he denounces the very reason we are reading his story and declares his books to be detestable.  Does that make this book detestable, at least in his eyes?
            I suppose the complicating factor here is the question of which comes first: the immanence of the knight's death, or his return to sanity?  Does one cause the other?  Or do they arise simultaneously, necessarily part of the same event: the transformation of Don Quixote back into Alonso Quixano?

1 comment:

  1. First of all, your description of fairy tale morals cracks me up. Good stuff!

    On that ending of DQ: Yeah. I had a really hard time with it. As frustrating as the Don's character choices were throughout both parts of the novel, having him completely disavow them at the end just didn't feel right. I would rather Cervantes had left things open: maybe he's sane now, but maybe he'll find another adventure that is worthy of his talents. Of course, then he couldn't die. Death is a real commitment.

    So, yes, I also wouldn't have killed him off at the end. And I didn't, in my version. But hey, he's Cervantes, and I'm not.