Jan 31: A short passage from Don Quixote

I hope you’re ready to rollick, because my favorite copywriters promise that “Worlds of fun and killing satire are in this absorbing story of Cervantes.”

I know, because I’ve read about Don Quixote (without actually reading Don Quixote), that this is a very important book in our Western Literary Tradition, so I’m pleased to find that it gets a volume all to itself. I have to say that the HC also does a pretty good job of including foreigners – I realize that’s part of the cachet (so is saying “cachet”), though; and besides, in 1910 I’m not sure what Americans they would have included. I have a feeling that the 19th century people we like (Dickinson, Twain, Whitman) would have been on their list.

Okay, volume 14, chapter VIII…it’s the windmills! Now that’s a classic. And Cervantes dives right in – the windmills are the first thing mentioned.

It’s an extremely brief encounter – just one sentence long:

And, after saying this, and commending himself most devoutly to his Lady Dulcinea, desiring her to succor him in that trance, covering himself well with his buckler, and setting his lance on his rest, he spurred on Rozinante, and encountered with the first mill that was before him, and, striking his lance into the sail, the wind swung it about with such fury, that it broke his lance into shivers, carrying him and his horse after it, and finally tumbled him a good way off from it on the field in evil plight.

And it’s all stage direction. It’s remarkable. It’s like when you go to a movie set for the first time and you realize how small it is. Helpfully, however, my favorite copywriters haven’t built up this one incident, and Don Quixote quickly moves on.

I really don’t have much to say just because this work is so famous and it’s so direct. It’s comedy – these characters always work. A tall thin guy and a short fat guy – what more do you need? I’m surprised it’s not on a cave painting. Simplicity is one of the great satisfactions of comedy (I think it’s why some comedians get tired of it).

The only other thing I’ll note in passing is that the Don and Sancho fulfill one of my requirements for comic characters, which is that they think well of themselves. I once worked for a guy who’d say, “Depressed people aren’t funny,” and the more characters think well of themselves the easier it is for us to look down on them. (There are exceptions, of course.)

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