It's not always necessary to include an author's preface in the summary of a book. But we've decided to include it here because Miguel de Cervantes explains point-blank why he wrote Don Quixote.
And why is that, you ask? He wrote this book because stories about dragon-slaying knights (or "books of chivalry") were by far the most popular form of literature during his time. He was annoyed, though, by how these books never actually focused on any real-world concerns or consequences.
What would actually happen, Cervantes asks, if a person tried to dress up as a knight and seek out adventures like the ones in chivalry books? That person would be considered crazy and get him- or herself locked up. Or beaten up.
So, with that in mind, Cervantes says that he wants to give all of our favorite adventure stories a little dose of reality…
Part 1, Book 1, Chapter 1
We pan in on a village in the Spanish region of La Mancha. The author won't name the exact village, because he's worried that everyone will try to claim the hero of this book as their own native son.
We hear that there was once a dude who had quite a bit of money and never had to work because he was getting on in years. In other words, he had nothing to do all day but try to amuse himself and fight off boredom.
It turns out that in 17th-century Spain, nothing warded off boredom more than a good rousing tale about knights and dragons and all that stuff you're still likely to see in movies.
But as the dude gets older and more bored, he get really, really into his books until one day, poof, he decides that he wants to become a knight himself.
The first thing he does is go into a closet and fish out an old suit of armor that belongs to his great-grandfather. He doesn't have a proper helmet, so he just makes one out of some thin wood that he ties to a metal hat. It's already looking pretty sad.
Next, the old dude goes to look at his horse, which is basically an old bag of bones—just like the old dude himself, really. But when the great Don Quixote (that's our old dude) looks at this sorry excuse for a horse, he sees a noble stallion. He's kind of living in a post-fact world at this point. For kicks, he also decides to rename the horse Rocinante. Why? Just because he thinks it sounds cool.
Okay, so now Don Quixote has some armor, a noble steed, and a name for himself. According to the rules of those knight books he likes so much, all he now needs is a woman to fall in love with and to admire from afar. So just like that, he decides that he's going to love a girl from the nearby town of Toboso. He's never actually seen the girl, but he's heard that she's pretty enough. He also decides to rename her Dulcinea del Toboso because it sounds more like a princess's name than whatever her name actually is.
Part 1, Book 1, Chapter 2
Now that he has all his stuff together, Don Quixote rides off into the countryside so he can do good in the world and be a hero.
Don Quixote rides around all day but doesn't really stumble onto any grand adventures. Go figure.
As the day draws to a close, Don Quixote decides that he should try to find an inn (or better yet, an enchanted castle) where he can spend his evening. Of course, he eventually finds an inn. But what the heck, his brain tells him that he's actually arriving at a castle with a huge moat and drawbridge.
A couple of ladies see him and start to run away because of his armor (they probably think he's a medieval cop or something). But when they see his grizzled old face, they realize that he's probably just a crazy person and start laughing at him.
Eventually, the keeper of the inn shows up and decides to have pity on Don Quixote. He talks to him as if he were actually a knight an invites him inside his (snicker) castle.
As part of the act, the women pretend to be castle damsels and help Don Quixote take off his armor for the night. Then they ask if he'd like to eat something.
There's just one last thing that's nagging Don Quixote: he can't officially become a knight until someone else dubs him one.
Part 1, Book 1, Chapter 3
At first, Don Quixote doesn't want to pay for his stay at the inn, because he can't think of any book he's ever read that describes a knight having to pay for staying in a castle.
After the innkeeper convinces him of the need to have money, Don Quixote goes outside, sets his armor in a pile, and stands guard over it.
It turns out that Don Quixote's armor is right beside the water trough, where people come to get water for their mules and horses. One guy comes by for this very reason, and Don Quixote knocks him out cold with his lance, thinking he was trying to steal the armor.
Soon after, a second guy comes along, and Don Quite knocks him down, too.
People hear this second row and come running out of the inn to see what's up. They find Don Quixote standing over the two fallen men, looking as proud as a cat does when it brings you a dead bird.
Some people who are friends with the fallen guys grab every rock they can hold and start whipping them at the Don. Quixote tells them that they're a bunch of scoundrels and that he'll kill them all, and the people stop throwing stones because they realize that this guy is definitely off the rails.
The innkeeper realizes that he really needs this Quixote weirdo to be on his way. So he picks up the first book he finds and blesses Don Quixote as a knight. There, now that that's done, Don Quixote can leave the inn and be on his way... The innkeeper doesn't even care if Don Quixote pays for the food that he and his horse have eaten.
Part 1, Book 1, Chapter 4
After he leaves the inn, Don Quixote hears some feminine-sounding cries coming from nearby. For joy! It sounds like it's finally time to have an adventure.
Don Quixote soon rides into a thicket of trees where he sees a middle-aged dude whipping a young boy. By the sounds of things, the boy is the guy's servant and has messed up on his job because of carelessness.
The Don isn't going to stand for something like that, though, because it's always the job of a knight to fight for the underdog. He points his big ol' lance at the older man and orders him to pay the boy all the wages he owes him and then some. Of course, he also orders the guy to untie the kid and let him go.
The man is disappointed, because he was just getting his whipping arm all nice and loosened up. But the man unties the kid. Don Quixote also makes the man promise to go to the village of Toboso to tell Quixote's damsel, Dulcinea, what a brave thing Don Quixote has done. The guy promises, and Don Quixote rides off.
The second Don Quixote has left, the man just grabs the kid and whips him twice as hard as he would have if Don Quixote had never shown up. Obviously, he doesn't think much of Don Quixote's threats to come find him if he doesn't do what he's told.
Don Quixote rides off thinking about how lovely Dulcinea del Toboso is. For the time being, he decides to just let Rocinante (his horse) roam wherever he wants and see if they come upon some adventure.
Soon, Don Quixote comes across a caravan of merchants and tells them to stop, by the name of the great Dulcinea del Toboso. They realize right away that he's crazy and decide to humor him.
Don Quixote says he'll only let them pass if they admit that Dulcinea is the most beautiful woman in the world. The men say that they've never seen her, so they can't say one way or the other. The Don doesn't care whether they've seen her or not. He just wants them to agree with what he's saying.
To Don Quixote, this all comes across as a great insult to Dulcinea, so he charges them on his horse. But Rocinante is such a bag of bones that he trips and falls on the way. Don Quixote goes flying onto the ground and can't get up because of the weight of his armor. The merchants just continue on their way, while Quixote shouts after them, "Don't you dare walk away from me, you scoundrels." It's all pretty hilarious for everyone but Don Quixote.
One of the dudes in the crew, though, doesn't like Don Quixote's big mouth. So he walks back, breaks Don Quixote's lance into pieces, then starts wailing on the guy with them until Quixote has a few broken ribs to show for his trouble.
Eventually, the guy stops laying a beat down and walks away with his group. Don Quixote is in so much pain he can't get up. But he's happy to think that this is all part of the job when you're a wandering hero.
Part 1, Book 1, Chapter 5
As Don Quixote lies in the dirt, he tries to think of some episode from one of his knight books that might help him get back to his feet after taking a beating. But when he can't think of any, he just starts singing some old tunes from these books.
Luckily for him, a plowman happens to be passing at this moment. The dude finds Don Quixote and asks him what's wrong. Don Quixote just answers with a bunch of jabber that makes the guy realize he's crazy.
The guy comes over and pulls the wood off of Don Quixote's helmet. He recognizes Don Quixote and figures that something must be terribly wrong. The guy lifts Don Quixote onto his own donkey and brings him, the suit of armor, and Don Quixote's horse back into Don Quixote's home village.
When he gets back to the Don's house, everything is in confusion. No one knows where Don Quixote has been, and the people most worried have been his niece and his housekeeper.
The housekeeper has noticed the missing suit of armor and has figured out that Don Quixote is trying to act out all of those books of knight-errantry he has been reading. She puts two and two together and blames the books for what has happened. She has seen Don Quixote gradually pretending more and more that he is a knight himself, but she hasn't taken it seriously until now.
The housekeeper says all of this to a religious man or "curate" named doctor Perez, who decides that the best thing to do is to burn all of Don Quixote's books about knights and their adventures.
At this point, the plowman announces that he has brought Don Quixote home. When Don Quixote is carried in, he asks everyone to send for a magician or wizard to cure his wounds.
As they bring Don Quixote to bed, he keeps saying crazy stuff that just makes the curate even more certain that burning Quixote's books is the best thing to do. To help out, he calls up a local barber named Mr. Nicolás.
Part 1, Book 1, Chapter 6
This entire chapter just gives us a laundry list of all the books from Don Quixote's library that the curate and the barber decide to burn. For the most part, they decide to burn the books that are totally fictional and not based on anything real. It's kind of like your parents burning you kid's fantasy novels but keeping their unabridged biography of Richard Nixon. Blech.
When the curate and the barber decide to burn a book, they just chuck it out the window onto a pile on Don Quixote's lawn.
One thing that the two guys decide to spare is Don Quixote's poetry collection. They don't really have an issue with poetry.
Guess what happens then? The barber actually pulls a book from the shelves that was written by Miguel de Cervantes, the author of Don Quixote. So how's that for a twist? The curate says that they shouldn't burn the Cervantes book because they aren't really sure whether it's good or not. Is this Cervantes wondering about his own abilities as a writer?
Part 1, Book 1, Chapter 7
While recovering in bed, Don Quixote starts getting really agitated and hallucinates again. When the Curate and barber burst back into his bedroom, they see him fighting the air with his sword, thrusting and slicing in every direction.
This just makes the barber and curate speed up their work with the books, so they seal off the door to Don Quixote's library and tell him that some sort of sorcerer must have stolen an entire room off of his house.
Don Quixote decides that this won't stand, so he makes ready to dress up like a knight again and go off in search of adventures. His niece and housekeeper beg him not to, but he doesn't listen.
No one has the power to stop Don Quixote by force, so the dude just walks out his front door, dressed in his armor again.
This time around, the Don decides that it might be good to have a trusty sidekick or squire. A lot of other famous knights in books have them, you know. For this purpose, he gets a pudgy little dude named Sancho Panza from a neighboring village to come along on his adventures with him.
Why does Sancho go, you ask? Well, frankly, it's because Don Quixote promises him all kinds of riches, and the little man knows that Don Quixote has enough money to make this happen.
But the thing that really gets Sancho on board with the whole operation is Don Quixote's promise that one day, he'll give Sancho an entire island to govern. As in, he'll really be the governor.
To pay for his new adventures, Don Quixote sells one of his houses and mortgages another (both at a brutal financial loss).
When Don Quixote and Sancho hit the road again, all Sancho wants to talk about is the island that he'll be ruling over someday.
Part 1, Book 1, Chapter 8
Get ready for what is probably the most famous chapter in Don Quixote (probably because most people don't stick around to read the whole book). This is the chapter in which Don Quixote gets into a battle with a whole army of giants. The only problem is that the giants aren't really giants; they're just windmills.
As Don Quixote and Sancho Panza ride over the Spanish countryside, Don Quixote spies a field of windmills in the distance and decides that they are a bunch of evil giants.
Sancho glances toward the windmills and says they're just windmills, but the Don doesn't believe him. He charges the windmills with his new lance and gets totally clobbered by the blades of one of them.
When he finally realizes that he just tried to fight a windmill, Don Quixote decides that some evil magician must be playing tricks on him and turning giants into windmills. Sancho realizes that the whole explanation is nuts but eventually goes along with it.
Don Quixote and Sancho spend the night under some trees. The Don doesn't sleep at all, though; he just stands around pining for his beautiful Dulcinea.
The next morning, Don Quixote promises Sancho that they'll have all kinds of dangerous adventures. But Sancho isn't all that interested in danger.
As they talk, Don Quixote and Sancho see a group of holy monks approaching them in front of a covered carriage. Don Quixote assumes that the carriage must contain some sort of imprisoned princess. He stops the carriage and demands that the monks release the lady.
Don Quixote attacks the monks, who flee. But there's one dude in the group, a Biscainer, who's willing to go toe-to-toe with the Don. He pulls out his sword and gets ready to fight.
At this point, Cervantes hits us with the ol' cliffhanger routine, and we have to wait for the next chapter to see how this fight plays out.