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Cinema & The Arts as Sermons: Don Quixote 400 Years of Narrative Illustrations

Updated: Jul 27, 2023

Video from pete beard

Don Quixote 400 Years of Narrative Illustrations

"Since it was first published more than 400 years ago, a whole host of illustrators have visually interpreted the story of Don Quixote de la Mancha, written by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra. Many consider it to be the first example of what we now call a novel. It has since become almost certainly the most read work of fiction in the world, and it's equally probable that it's also the most illustrated. Although I hope the content is suitably diverse it isn't intended to be comprehensive. I just selected editions or adaptations I either liked or thought were significant or interesting." from video introduction.

“Many people die with their music still in them. Too often it is because they are always getting ready to live. Before they know it time runs out.”

– Oliver Wendall Holmes

Don Quixote and the Via Delarosa

Times there are when readers will find books spiritual that were written with no intention of being spiritual books. The subconscious is often the best author, especially when it comes to the way divinity wends through the world it has woven. It is always good when books provide a revelation to their readers and writers alike. There is an unmistakable quality present when a novel strikes out to do or to discover something, and does and discovers something quite different. It is a quality that lends authenticity because it is true to life—and it is also true to Lent. Lent, like life, is a test to achieve and to bear up under the burdens that abound on the road despite difficulty and failure. There is a book about that road: the road of life, the road of Lent, the via dolorosa; or as Chesterton called it, “a straggling road in Spain, up which a lean and foolish knight forever rides in vain.” It is a book few would think of turning to for spiritual inspiration when ends become frayed, crosses heavy, and purposes blunted or even broken. The Adventures of Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes is that book, and it is a book that can bring the peace of divine madness to those tempted to surrender to worldly sanity.

Having lost his reason reading books of chivalry, Don Quixote dons armor, mounts his nag, Rocinante, and sallies forth on the dusty plains of Castile with his squire, Sancho Panza, to pursue all that he has perused, to live what he has loved. He rides in search of a glorious world as he upholds a forgotten code of honor, bravery, justice, and nobility, dedicating his heroic deeds to his imagined lady, Dulcinea del Toboso. Beyond his village, the self-proclaimed knight errant trots and trips headlong into Renaissance Spain with paradoxical delusions that try to resurrect a dead world. The result is a colossal confusion of logic and folly, of reason and madness, of laughter and tears. Flying wildly with horse, lance, and squire, Don Quixote takes the road seeking knights, wizards, ladies, kings, and castles. But the road carries him to hard knocks and harder realities. Don Quixote only encounters rogues, goatherds, convicts, chambermaids, and inns. Again and again, his imaginings are denied. His manners are ridiculed. His purposes are foiled. The Knight of la Mancha, the Knight of the Sorrowful Face, is beaten, buffeted, bruised, and broken at every turning. But Don Quixote is resilient. He continues to see giants where there are only windmills, and to challenge and charge them despite falls and despite scorn. He sees what he has trained himself to see. What Don Quixote brings to the Modern Age after failing to find the Middle Ages is an Age of Faith.

The quest of Don Quixote is the Lenten quest of every Christian soul: to bring harmony and order to times that are out of joint. What Don Quixote finds is that the world is sundered and senseless, and the work to rebuild among the ruins is treacherous. Though he is trampled and trounced time and again, Don Quixote resolutely rides on for the unity and wisdom of bygone days and is upheld by his vision as he battles through the divisions and disconnections of modernity. There is a wisdom that belongs to idiots. Truth can be elusive—even illusory. “The foolishness of God is wiser than men,” writes St. Paul in his letter to the Corinthians. Don Quixote may be mad, but there are forms of madness that are divine. Don Quixote may see things that are not visible, but only because he looks beyond the veil. The world is not broken. The pessimism that fragments reality is a falsehood. The world is not divided, but unified. Don Quixote is a hero of the indomitable power of Christian optimism, Christian imagination, and the glorious Christian folly that perceives the highest realities in the lowliest realities. Don Quixote is an icon of the chivalric Christian warrior because he has dreams that are out of reach, and he believes in them. He is a man of great faith. It is only when the illusion is lost, when sanity shakes off insanity, when dreams are replaced with reality, that Don Quixote is truly conquered. Dostoevsky wrote in his diary that Don Quixote was “the saddest book ever written,” because “it is a story of disillusionment.” If the logic of the world is all there is, what reason is there to be sane? Reality must be touched by the imagination if men are to escape from the madness of reason alone.." from the article: Don Quixote and the Via Delarosa

Don Quixote, Man of La Mancha
Don Quixote, Man of La Mancha

"Don Quixote, Spanish in full, Part 1 El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha (“The Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote of La Mancha”) and Part 2 Segunda parte del ingenioso caballero don Quijote de la Mancha (“Second Part of the Ingenious Knight Don Quixote of La Mancha”), novel published in two parts (part 1, 1605, and part 2, 1615) by Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes, one of the most widely read classics of Western literature. Originally conceived as a parody of the chivalric romances that had long been in literary vogue, it describes realistically what befalls an aging knight who, his head bemused by reading such romances, sets out on his old horse Rocinante, with his pragmatic squire, Sancho Panza, to seek adventure. Widely and immediately translated (first English translation 1612), the novel was a great and continuing success and is considered a prototype of the modern novel.." from the article: Don Quixote

15 Things You Might Not Know About Don Quixote

Even if you have never picked up a copy of Miguel de Cervantes’s novel The Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote of La Mancha, you’re likely familiar with the story: one of delusional noblemen, portly squires, and windmill monsters. Nevertheless, there could be a few little-known facts you haven’t heard about the two-volume 17th-century masterpiece.

1. Don Quixote is considered the first modern novel.

Such esteemed thinkers as award-winning literary critic Harold Bloom and decorated novelist and essayist Carlos Fuentes have declared that Don Quixote is the very first true example of the modern novel. Bloom identifies the arcs of change bracing the story’s titular character and his companion Sancho Panza as the primary marker that distinguishes it as the first of its breed, and Fuentes suggested that the nuance in the dialogue and characterization is chief in separating Don Quixote from all preceding texts.

2. Cervantes came up with the story for Don Quixote while he was in jail.

Young Miguel de Cervantes suffered from a plight familiar to any aspiring writer: working a day job to pay the bills. Among the varied gigs Cervantes kept in the years before his literary breakout was a job as a tax collector for the Spanish government. However, frequent “mathematic irregularities” landed Cervantes in the Crown Jail of Seville twice between 1597 and 1602. It was during this time in the slammer that Cervantes is believed to have first thought up the story that would become Don Quixote.." from the article: 15 Things You Might Not Know About Don Quixote

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