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  • Mounting his skinny steed,

  • the protagonist of Don Quixote charges an army of giants.

  • In his eyes, it is his duty to vanquish these behemoths in the name of his beloved lady, Dulcinea.

  • However, this act of valor is ill conceived.

  • As his squire Sancho Panza explains to him time and again, these aren't giants;

  • they are merely windmills.

  • Don Quixote is undeterred,

  • but his piercing lance is soon caught in their sails.

  • Never discouraged,

  • the knight stands proudly, and becomes even more convinced of his mission.

  • This sequence encapsulates much of what is loved about Don Quixote,

  • the epic, illogical, and soulful tale of Alonso Quijano,

  • who becomes the clumsy but valiant Don Quixote of la Mancha, known as the Knight of the Sorrowful Countenance.

  • Originally published in two volumes,

  • the narrative follows Don Quixote as he travels through central and northern Spain fighting the forces of evil.

  • Despite Don Quixote's lofty imagination,

  • his creator, Miguel de Cervantes, could never have imagined his book would become the best-selling novel of all time.

  • Barring 5 years as a soldier,

  • and 5 more enslaved by pirates,

  • Cervantes spent most of his life as a struggling poet and playwright.

  • It wasn't until his late 50's that he published his greatest creation:

  • an epic satire of chivalry novels.

  • At this time,

  • medieval books chronicling the adventures of knights and their moral code dominated European culture.

  • While Cervantes was a fan,

  • he was weary of these repetitive tomes,

  • which focused more on listing heroic feats than character development.

  • To challenge them, he wrote Don Quixote,

  • the story of a hidalgo, or idle nobleman, who spends his days and nights reading chivalry novels.

  • Driven mad by these stories,

  • he fashions himself a champion for the downtrodden.

  • Everyone in his village tries to convince him to give up his lunacy,

  • going so far as to burn some of the lurid books in his personal library.

  • But Don Quixote is unstoppable.

  • He dresses up in old shining armor,

  • mounts his skinny horse,

  • and leaves his village in search of glory.

  • Cervantes' novel unfolds as a collection of episodes detailing the mishaps of the valiant knight.

  • Yet unlike the chivalry books and perhaps all other prior fiction,

  • Cervantes' story deeply investigates the protagonist's inner life.

  • Don Quixote matures as the narrative develops,

  • undergoing a noticeable transformation.

  • This literary revelation has led many scholars to call Don Quixote the first modern novel.

  • And this character development doesn't happen in isolation.

  • Early on, Don Quixote is joined by a villager-turned-squire named Sancho Panza.

  • Sancho and Don Quixote are a study in opposites:

  • with one as the grounded realist to the other's idealism.

  • Their lively, evolving friendship is often credited as the original hero and sidekick duo,

  • inspiring centuries of fictional partnerships.

  • Don Quixote was a huge success.

  • Numerous editions were published across Europe in the seventeenth century.

  • Even in the Americas,

  • where the Church banned all novels for being sinful distractions,

  • audiences were known to enjoy pirated editions.

  • The book was so well received that

  • readers clamored for more.

  • After a rival author attempted to cash in on a fake follow-up, Cervantes released the official sequel in response.

  • Now published alongside the first volume as a completed text, this second volume picks up where the original left off,

  • only now Don Quixote and Sancho have become folk heroes.

  • Just as in real-life, Cervantes included his novel's success in the world of his characters.

  • This unconventional meta-awareness created philosophical complexity,

  • as the knight and his squire ponder the meaning of their story.

  • Unfortunately, Cervantes had sold the book's publishing rights for very little.

  • He died rich in fame alone.

  • But his treatise on the power of creativity and individualism has inspired art,

  • literature,

  • popular culture,

  • and even political revolution.

  • Don Quixote argues that our imagination greatly informs our actions,

  • making us capable of change,

  • and, indeed, making us human.

Mounting his skinny steed,

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B2 US TED-Ed quixote sancho knight squire chivalry

Why should you read "Don Quixote"? - Ilan Stavans

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    April Lu posted on 2018/10/18
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