I know. This is not the spelling of “Quixote” most people are accustomed to seeing, but it is the one used in my Norton Critical Edition, translated by Burton Raffel. And a sprightly translation it is.
Don Quijote is the story of an old man who has studied the popular chivalric romances so much that they have addled his brain. He declares himself a knight errant and takes to the road seeking adventure. Accompanying him is a neighboring farmer, Sancho Panza, who he has convinced to come with him as his squire in exchange for a share in certain rewards. In particular, Sancho has his heart set on the governorship of an island.
Don Quijote doesn’t just look for adventure. In the first book, he hurls himself at every passer by, convincing himself that windmills are giants, a barber is a knight, an inn is a castle. Above all else, he worships his lady, the beautiful Dulcinea, whom he has never met but whom Sancho remembers as a muscular peasant girl.
Don Quijote is both a parody of the chivalric romances and a satire against the Spanish conquistadores. Its most important distinction is that it is considered the first modern novel. I found volume one to be amusing in a sort of slapstick style, as Don Quijote’s adventures always go wrong and end up with him and Sancho Panza being beaten up.
Volume two was a little too much of the same, though. In a bit of metafiction, Cervantes lists some of the things readers criticized from the first volume and then attempts to avoid them. So, for example, the two adventurers are not beaten up as often. However, both volumes contain long disquisitions on such topics as marriage, poetry, chivalry that don’t all translate well into modern times.
Finally, after Don Quijote had himself lowered into Montesino’s Cave to see its wonders and then fell asleep and dreamt a bunch of nonsense and never even saw the cave, I had to stop. Quijote was in the midst of recounting his ridiculous dream, which he took for reality, and it seemed to go on and on. I leafed ahead, looking for the end of it, never found the end, and finally lost patience. I fully believe, since apparently someone else published a book about our hero after the first volume came out, that Cervantes only brought Quijote back out on the road so that he could kill him off at the end.