Study Guide

Don Quixote

Don Quixote Introduction

The wealthy Alonso Quixano likes a good adventure story. In fact, he spends all his days and nights reading books about medieval knights and their dragon-slaying, princess-saving journeys. One day, though, this guy's brain totally snaps and he decides to dress up in a dusty suit of armor and ride around the countryside looking for adventures.

Sound crazy? Well, that's kind of the point.

When Part 1 of Don Quixote was first published in 1605, it was an instant hit. In fact, people might have liked the book a little too much, because some unscrupulous jerk decided to write a sequel to the original Don Quixote... without Cervantes's permission. This irked ol' Miguel so much that he went and published his own sequel in 1615, which turned into Part 2 of the Don Quixote we all know and love today. In fact, some critics speculate that Cervantes might not have even written his sequel if it weren't for the upstart knock-off artist.

So yeah, when you're grumbling about how insanely long this book is, you can thank that dude who wrote Don Quixote fan fic back in the 17th century.

If the text of Don Quixote ever strutted into an office and applied for a job, its résumé would include a few impressive entries. For starters, the book is considered by many to be the first example of the modern novel. On top of that, most agree that it's the most important work of literature to ever come out of Spain. Aw, what the heck, let's go ahead and say that it just might be the best book ever written.

What's that? You think we're exaggerating? Well, according to a 2002 poll of 100 famous authors from 54 countries, Don Quixote truly is (ahem) "the best book of all time". And it's not like the thing was being stacked up against lame competition. To win this honor, the book beat out the greatest works by Shakespeare, Homer, and Tolstoy.

It's not surprising that Don Quixote has received this kind of support. The novel is such a big deal that it's directly referenced in other classic novels like The Three Musketeers, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Madame Bovary, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, to name just a few. And you know you've made it when you're being referenced by other classic books.

Respect, yo.

What is Don Quixote About and Why Should I Care?

Apart from the fact that the world's greatest living authors have voted Don Quixote the "best book of all time," there are plenty of reasons to care about the book. For starters, the idea of a regular person wanting to dress up and become a superhero is probably even more popular today than it was in Cervantes's time.

After all, just look at how many Batman movies they're making. Batman and Don Quixote are both wealthy dudes who use their fortunes to fund their crime fighting. The only difference is that we're supposed to take Batman seriously, while Don Quixote gives us a more realistic view of what would happen to someone who tried to be a superhero. A better comparison to the Don would be a character like Kick-Ass.

With the popularity of superhero movies today, maybe this generation could use its own Don Quixote to help bring audiences back down to earth. It's great walking out of a superhero movie and feeling like you can do anything. But it doesn't hurt to remind people that they live in the real world, with real-world limitations. Not to burst anyone's bubble, but as Cervantes shows us, maybe it's wisest to wake up every morning and be our best selves in a realistic way, rather than always escape into the world of pure fantasy.

To clarify, Don Quixote is an important book for many reasons, but mostly because it was the first book to bring legitimate real-life consequences into the world of literature. Before it, you just read about people going around chopping off dragons' heads. But in Don Quixote, we realize that challenging people to duels all the time is going to get you beaten up or murdered really quickly. In short, Don Quixote introduced the world of literature to a pesky little thing called reality.

Don Quixote Resources

WEBSITES

Don Quixote.com
You know, because it's the most obvious thing to type into your address bar.

Don Quixote Text for Free
Follow this link to a free copy of e-book version of Don Quixote, courtesy of Project Gutenberg.

Digital Exhibit of Translations and Illustrations
Many people over the years have tried to illustrate or represent the great Don Quixote. Here is an online exhibit of some of these efforts.

MOVIE OR TV PRODUCTIONS

Adventures of Don Quixote (1933)
One of the first major film adaptations of the novel. Worth a watch if you can ever find a copy. We recommend starting with local libraries.

Don Quixote the Musical (1972)
Actually, they call it Man of La Mancha. Maybe you've heard the song "The Impossible Dream"? It comes from here.

Nureyev's Don Quixote (1973)
Don Quixote wasn't only a popular book. It was turned into a successful ballet, too.

Don Quixote by Orson Welles
Orson Welles is kind of a big deal. But sadly, he wasn't able to complete this 10-year project before he died.

Don Quixote's Made-for-TV Movie
Starring John Lithgow and Bob Hoskins, this is the most recent major production of Don Quixote. If you're looking for something recent and watchable, it's best to start here.

ARTICLES AND INTERVIEWS

The Knight in the Mirror
In a piece for The Guardian, critic Harold Bloom argues that Don Quixote is without doubt the first (and best) modern novel.

Don Quixote and the Facts of Life
This article does a great job of explaining why Don Quixote remains such an important piece of work. Because it brought reality and real-world problems into the world of literature.

Centuries of Don Quixote
Writer Juan de la Cuesta gives his take on the general impact Don Quixote has had over the centuries.

Quixotic
No, it's not the title of the next Disney movie; it's the title of a piece by Edith Grossman, the most recent translator of the novel, on Don Quixote and the challenge of translating it anew.

VIDEO

Don Quixote Ballet
Don Quixote takes on his biggest villain yet… the art of dancing. Mwahahahah.

1933 Don Quixote
This video is really grainy, but it gives you the entire 1933 version of Adventures of Don Quixote.

1972 Man of La Mancha
This musical brought the story of Don Quixote to many audiences who never would have taken the time to pick up the original and read it all the way through.

AUDIO

Gordon Lightfoot's "Don Quixote"
Yup, the famous Canadian folk artist wrote a song about the guy.

Don Quixote Audiobook
It's hard to believe that a person who sat down and read all of Don Quixote out loud was ever able to talk again.

"Don Quichotte" by Magazine 60
Yeah, we've never heard of them, either. But they made a song about Don Quixote.

IMAGES

Don Quixote vs. Windmill
For the love of God, man. It's not a giant. It's just a windmill.

Setting Out
Don Quixote and Sancho on their way to some new adventure.

Don Quixote, by Picasso
Even the big P himself is in on the action.

Don Quixote's Craziness
A phenomenal visual representation of Don Quixote's insane obsession.