In recent years I have become obsessed with “Don Quixote de La Mancha.”
The book, published in two parts some 400 years ago, follows the exploits of Alonso Quijano, who imagines himself a knight-errant dedicated to acts of chivalry and takes on the name Don Quixote as well as a sidekick, Sancho Panza. The book was written by Miguel de Cervantes, known but not admired in the literary world back then. Yet on its release in Madrid it spread throughout Europe, made its way to the New World, and far beyond. It fascinates me for its content and for its enduring popularity.
I see elements of comic books, Hollywood screenplays, Chaplinesque slapstick, parody, soap opera, Shakespeare (Cervantes’ contemporary), and theatrical monologues. Cervantes has his characters talking about him and discussing their rising popularity with others they encounter. Academics call this post-modern, or meta-fiction. I simply call it clever writing, and its elements have made “Don Quixote” a text of
profound interpretation, whether for moral imperatives, feminist analysis, or other understanding.
Over the centuries it has spawned innumerable spinoffs — plays, puppet shows, short stories, animations, satires, and, of course, translations.
In traveling through Spain I have seen more than a hundred versions including Braille, Cymraeg (Wales, thank you), and Huarani. One book that reprints Quixote-related posters showed a Hebrew advertisement for “Man of La Mancha.” In fact, it is fair to say that “Don Quixote de La Mancha” is the most translated novel in the world (except, I suppose, for the Bible). In pueblos throughout La Mancha, tourists, having bought into the reality of the fiction, ask locals, “Where was Don Quixote buried?” Well, the simple answer is that since it’s a novel he couldn’t be buried anywhere. But I’ve come to know better: Don Quixote lives.
Tom Miller is an award-winning Tucson author. His books include “The Panama Hat Trail” and “Revenge of the Saguaro.” He is currently writing “Don Quixote’s Trail: Through the Wilds and Windmills of the World’s Best Loved Novel.”