82 chapters into Don Quixote

October 7, 2020

Don Quijote has taken up many roles now that are actually knightly in their way.  During the Basilio story he becomes something of a marriage-counselor at arms.  He stops an incipient brawl at the wedding, which probably counts as the single best thing he’s done.  He tries to be a peacemaker in the braying-villagers’ war, invoking both just-war concepts and Christ’s humility, prompting Sancho to call him a theologian.  Several times he’s made his Christian faith clear, unlike in Vol. I.  At one point he even goes in for a little social criticism, denouncing those who free their black slaves when they’re old and then refuse to care for them.  Here he seems as modern as anyone in the novel.

So as I said, there’s a lot more to like and admire now.  He’s sensible enough to recognize an inn as an inn, instead of a castle; he takes Sancho’s most vociferous and insolent objections patiently, rather than defending the honor of his ego; he pays restitution, twice (at the inn, and at the river mills), in contrast to the way he stiffed the innkeeper in Vol. I.  And thus far in Vol. II he hasn’t physically hurt anyone, only puppets.

But his charging the puppet show really, really brought him back down.  Worse, he then flees when he faces real opponents, abandoning poor Sancho.  Don Quijote may now appear to be an intellectual, but that cuts two ways:  he’s inspired to make fine speeches and to serve others, but he’s tempted also into cowardice when faced with physical, material dangers.  And then like an intellectual he can generate smooth-sounding excuses, about how such a retreat is not really a retreat but rather a wise preservation of himself so he can fight another day.  Meanwhile he’s berating Sancho, never giving him an apology; and he responds to Sancho’s justified anger by calling his squire, three times in one long denouncing sentence, a donkey.

And poor Sancho is beaten by this, and goes back with his master.

Vol. II so far is mostly men, apart from the women briefly seen in La Mancha (Sancho’s wife, Don Quijote’s niece and his housekeeper), the 3 village peasant girls we see briefly on the road, and the duchess whom we’ve just met.  We hear about love but mostly off-screen, so to speak, and not a lot.

Vol. II is definitely different.  It felt like a sequel right from the start and continues to feel that way, except for a brief interlude, where Don Quijote goes back to his usual M.O. and sees flour mills on the river as dungeons in which noble persons are kept.  That episode feels like a rehashed formula by now.  But perhaps our knight’s reversion to old behavior is unsurprising.  It comes right after the departure of Basilio’s cousin, the debacle of the puppet show and the near-falling out with Sancho.  Now he’s back out in the wilderness, with no audience but Sancho. 

The duchess has read Volume I, so it’s confirmed without any doubt that the printed history is real, and not invented by Samson.  The narrator tells us that the duchess and duke intend to indulge Don Quijote’s madness, and they greet him with great reverence and respect.  So maybe this is what Samson had done too, upon first meeting our knight.  The printed history, apparently, is a lot like our novel:  it makes clear that Don Quijote is not quite right in the head.

The Cave of Montesinos is a beautiful and haunting tale, romantic to the core, but poetic and moving all the same.  The episode makes you think of many things.  All those visits to the underworld, from Odysseus to our time.  Elly, in Carl Sagan’s “Contact,” explaining that she has been away for at least a day, while those watching from outside the Machine saw them leave – if they left at all – only for 20 minutes.  Indiana Jones meeting the Knight of the Crusade, deep in that cavern at the end of “The Last Crusade.”  And countless other things I’ll think of later.

Cervantes’ book was taken over by another author before he could come out with his own Volume II.  This reminds me of how the miniseries of Larry McMurtry’s “Lonesome Dove” was given a sequel mini-series, “Return to Lonesome Dove,” before McMurtry wrote his sequel, “Streets of Laredo,” which in turn was made into another movie:  very different from the earlier sequel and in my opinion a better one.

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