My rating: 4 of 5 stars
What’s the difference between Don Quixote de La Mancha, the Knight of the Rueful Countenance, later dubbed the Knight of the Lions, and his faithful Housekeeper?
The Housekeeper waits at home. And Don Quixote? He seeks adventure.
Not only does he profess and articulate a profound knowledge of knight-errantry, history, lore, and philosophy, he understands that life is not to be wasted, that life is to be treasured, that life is to be renamed, as he himself claimed the title of Don, and in such a clearly written novel, one he was privy too, estimating “thirty thousand copies of [his] renowned history are already in the hands of the public, and, if heaven does not think proper to put a stop to it, in all likelihood, there will be a thousand times as many more” (Cervantes 527).
In all the literature in all the world, never was there a character like Don Quixote to have predicted his own fame. And such lessons, we feeble writers, who take the hand more of Sancho Panza, the indolent squire more inclined to beer, women, and bed than to adventure, are ever disinclined to listen to the wildness within ourselves in order to move, to imagine, to dream, and to awaken within us the madness that invokes the world to follow.
Who am I to contest to such livery of authorship as Cervantes has done with me?
In 1605, the first book of Don Quixote exalted to fame, becoming translated years later into English and the other many popular languages of the time, and only to be desired a sequel in 1615.
I am none other than Sanson Carrasco, the Knight of the Wood and the Knight of the Mirrors, tempted to contest the knight-errant on the field of battle, only to be found to be overthrown and vowing my honor to the Doña Dulcinea del Toboso (in which, I admit, dear reader, I occasionally voice an incompetent song to the heavens and to the ears of my beloved, but disenchanted listener, namely my muse, whom I, too, call Dulcinea).
This is done, more so to the acclaim of my victor, Don Quixote, the character so enthralled in the hearts and minds of people world round that his name is known among many Vietnamese university students and his creator is not.
How too shall I establish lively protagonists that live amongst the modern world in their own proclivity?
The answer: first, action; second, sentences remaining true to their purpose.
In the first book of Don Quixote, uncensored in 1605 unlike its follower ten years later which was scrutinized by the Spanish Inquisition, action is the animation that beckons the mind into contemplation and deep-rooted memory.
The knight-errant undertakes as many adventures as there are in any modern novel, and teaches my own work of fiction to be more considerate of verisimilitude and the acts of which mankind has taken and is willing to take.
As Don Quixote challenges wind-mills, fulling-mills, two clans of sheep enchanted as opposing armies, or vice-versa, and the ungrateful galley-slaves freed by the invincible arm of the valiant knight, a writer must always be aware that non-stop action plays to the favor of its readers, cherishing each curse and damnation by the humorous Sancho, upon his ass, boldly named by Tobias Smollett as Dapple, is not to be discounted as pure imagination, but a more likely history of an unlikely event.
By the second book of Don Quixote, apparent movement becomes a more established mode of transportation of the two characters, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, not physically embarking on their third sally until the start of chapter eight.
By this time, Miguel de Cervantes evokes a recapitulation of Part I where the preceding characters recount the legendary movements and transactions of Don Quixote and Sancho through dialogue, most of which can be found having taken place in the bed chamber of the valiant, but encumbered knight.
When, finally, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza embark on their journey, having already been famed throughout their country by a fictitious, yet historically accurate, book recounting the tales of the knight-errant and errant squire, much of what transpires is done through the imagination and machinations of others, for example, the Duke and Duchess, who conspire their own adventures, more for jest than any other aim, for the chief characters; thus making Part I superior to Part II.
In essence, Part I is filled with more wild adventures and never lets up through the some 434 pages; whereas, Part II becomes saturated with recounting of Part I and philosophy, specifically the role of families in civilization (chapter VI), poets in society (chapter XVI) and a series of instructions by Don Quixote to Sancho on how to govern an island (chapters XLII, XLIII, and LI, respectively).
Likewise, praises to the Roman Catholic Church find their way into every imaginable happenstance and dialogue in Part II. What intrigued this writer more about Part I is how the chapters rolled by with things happening to Don Quixote because of his own actions rather than Part II where things begin happening to Don Quixote by outside forces and are of no direct fault of the protagonist; what Douglas Bauer in The Stuff of Fiction explains as consisting of the difference between “What happens next? What happens next?” and “In what way is that one event still happening…[and] How is it, now, continuing to happen” (127)?
Part I of Don Quixote exceeds its counterpart, specifically Part II, in this manner of fiction writing, and has much more to do with the influence of censorship at the time of the latter’s publication than the author’s initial intention of providing a proper sequel to Don Quixote’s erratic adventures in Part I.
Keeping true to sentences which allow the reader to become more immersed in the story and characters rather than causing the reader to take notice in how the story is being told is the second key point to be more considerate in any written undertaking.
Bauer, in The Stuff of Fiction, asserts that “the supreme success of sentences in their aggregate occurs when they combine their workaday responsibility with an intermittent, punctuating beauty” (33) and creates a distinction which produces language that “says to the reader, in effect, ‘Look at the world I’m depicting,’ and language that says, ‘Look at me looking at the world I’m depicting” (34). One example from Don Quixote of the former illustration of Bauer’s observation is found in the following passage (note: Don Quixote has just freed the galley-slaves who later turn on their savior):
The donkey and Rocinante, Sancho and Don Quixote, were the only persons remaining on the field. Dapple, with his head hanging down in a pensive attitude, and every now and then shaking his ears, as if he imagined the hurricane of stones that whizzed about them, was not yet over; Rocinante lying stretched upon the ground, to which, like his master, he was humbled by a pebble: Sancho in his doublet, terrified at the thoughts of the Holy Brotherhood; and Don Quixote excessively out of humour, at seeing himself so ill requited by those people whom he had served in such an essential manner (172).
In this short paragraph, the characters are quickly established in their setting and circumstance when Cervantes incorporates, through subtle language, the technique of romantic narration, providing the reader with the thoughts and feelings of the two characters. “The object,” Jon Franklin argues in Writing for Story, “is no longer to write clearly but to see clearly” (212). And in Cervantes’s passage the reader is able to clearly perceive, in a short space on the page, exactly what has happened, what is happening, and what is likely to proceed from these events and feelings.
Franklin goes on to argue that “each time [a writer] sits down to write he discovers he must once again choose between a precious belief and the integrity of his story” (212).
In regards to Don Quixote, Cervantes clearly demonstrates the integrity of his story by providing clearly defined action and even clearer forms of language through well-crafted sentences which draw more attention to the characters and events of the story than to the writer’s talent or use of flowery language.
These two forms, action designed to serve as a cause-effect dynamic to propel the reader into a pleasurable reading experience, and the use of clean sentences which form a clear and purposeful experience that enhances the story rather than detracts, are some of what all fiction needs more of in its over-reaching goal of incorporating elements of commercial fiction with literary fiction.
Bauer, Douglas. The Stuff of Fiction: Advice on Craft. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2006. Print.
Cervantes, Miguel de. Don Quixote. Translated by Tobias Smollett, and revised by Carole Slade. New York: Barnes & Noble Classics, 2004. Print.
Franklin, Jon. Writing for Story: Craft Secrets of Dramatic Nonfiction by a Two-Time Pulitzer Prize Winner. New York: Plume, 1994. Print.
CG FEWSTON has been a Visiting Fellow at Hong Kong’s CityU, and a Visiting Scholar at the American Academy in Rome (Italy). He has a B.A. in English, an M.Ed. in Higher Education Leadership (honors), an M.A. in Literature (honors), and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing & Fiction. He was born in Texas in 1979 and now lives in Hong Kong.
He’s the author of several short stories and novels. His works include A Father‘s Son (2005), The New America: A Collection (2007), Vanity of Vanities (2011), A Time to Love in Tehran (2015), and forthcoming: Conquergood & the Center of the Intelligible Mystery of Being; Little Hometown, America: A Look Back; and, The Endless Endeavor of Excellence.
You can read more about the author on Facebook @ cg.fewston – where he has 350,000+ followers