Don Quixote: Book Review

Full spoilers for the entire book below. Proceed with caution.

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Title: Don Quixote
Author: Miguel de Cervantes
Translatoion: ©2011 Gerald J. Davis
Publication Date: 1605 and 1615 (parts 1 and 2 of the novel), 2010 (audio)
Audio Publisher: 2013 Gerald J. Davis
Narrated By: John Hanks
Recording time: 20 hours

[Note: Though the download does not indicate as much, this translation is limited to Part 1 only.]


via wiki:

The First Sally (Chapters 1–5)

Alonso Quixano, the protagonist of the novel (though he is not given this name until much later in the book), is a hidalgo (member of the lesser Spanish nobility), nearing 50 years of age, living in an unnamed section of La Mancha with his niece and housekeeper, as well as a stable boy who is never heard of again after the first chapter. Although Quixano is usually a rational man, in keeping with the humoral physiology theory of the time, not sleeping adequately—because he was reading—has caused his brain to dry. Quixano’s temperament is thus choleric, the hot and dry humor. As a result, he is easily given to anger and believes every word of some of these fictional books of chivalry to be true such were the “complicated conceits”; “what Aristotle himself could not have made out or extracted had he come to life again for that special purpose”.

“He commended, however, the author’s way of ending his book with the promise of that interminable adventure, and many a time was he tempted to take up his pen and finish it properly as is there proposed, which no doubt he would have done…”. Having “greater and more absorbing thoughts”, he decides to become a knight errant in search of adventure. To that end, he dons an old suit of armor, renames himself “Don Quixote”, names his exhausted horse “Rocinante” (a work horse before, “rocin ante”), and designates Aldonza Lorenzo (a slaughterhouse worker with a famed hand for salting pork), as his lady love, renaming her Dulcinea del Toboso, while she knows nothing of this. Expecting to become famous quickly, he arrives at an inn, which he believes to be a castle, calls the prostitutes he meets there “ladies” (doncellas), and demands that the innkeeper, whom he takes to be the lord of the castle, dub him a knight. The innkeeper goes along with it all (in the meantime convincing Don Quixote to take to heart the need to have money and a squire and some magical cure for injuries). Don Quixote starts the night holding vigil over his armor and becomes involved in a fight with muleteers who try to remove his armor from the horse trough so that they can water their mules. In a pretended ceremony, the innkeeper dubs him a knight to be rid of him and sends him on his way.

Don Quixote next “helps” a servant named Andres who is tied to a tree and beaten by his master over disputed wages, and makes his master swear to treat him fairly. However, the beating is resumed (and in fact redoubled) as soon as Quixote leaves (as Andres later explains to Quixote). Don Quixote then encounters traders from Toledo, who “insult” the imaginary Dulcinea. He attacks them, only to be severely beaten and left on the side of the road, and is returned to his home by a neighboring peasant.

Destruction of Don Quixote’s library (Chapters 6–7)

While Don Quixote lies unconscious in his bed, his niece, the housekeeper, the parish curate, and the local barber burn most of his chivalric and other books. A large part of this section consists of the priest deciding which books deserve to be burned and which to be saved. It is a scene of high comedy: If the books are so bad for morality, how does the priest know them well enough to describe every naughty scene? Even so, this gives an occasion for many comments on books Cervantes himself liked and disliked. For example, Cervantes’s own pastoral novel La Galatea is saved, while the rather unbelievable romance Felixmarte de Hyrcania is burned. After the books are dealt with, they seal up the room which contained the library, later telling Don Quixote that it was the action of a wizard (encantador).

The Second Sally (Chapters 8–10)

After a short period of feigning health, Don Quixote requests his neighbour, Sancho Panza (Sancho has a paunch, “panza”), to be his squire, promising him a petty governorship (ínsula). Sancho is a poor and simple farmer but more practical than the head-in-the-clouds Don Quixote and agrees to the offer, sneaking away with Don Quixote in the early dawn. It is here that their famous adventures begin, starting with Don Quixote’s attack on the windmills that he believes to be ferocious giants.

The pair next encounter two Benedictine friars travelling on the road ahead of a lady in a carriage. The friars are not travelling with the lady, but happen to be travelling along the same road. Don Quixote takes the friars to be enchanters who are holding the lady captive, knocks one of them from his horse, and is challenged by an armed Basque travelling with the company. As he has no shield, the Basque uses a pillow from the carriage to protect himself, which saves him when Don Quixote strikes him. Cervantes chooses this point, in the middle of the battle, to say that his source ends here. Soon, however, he resumes Don Quixote’s adventures after a story about finding Arabic notebooks containing the rest of the story by Cid Hamet Ben Engeli. The combat ends with the lady leaving her carriage and commanding those travelling with her to “surrender” to Don Quixote.

The Pastoral Peregrinations (Chapters 11–15)

Sancho and Don Quixote fall in with a group of goatherds. Don Quixote tells Sancho and the goatherds about the age “… to which the ancients gave the name ‘golden’ …” Impressed, the goatherds try to return the favour to Don Quixote and in the process apply a rosemary poultice to his ear that “proved” to work. The goatherds invite the Knight and Sancho to the funeral of Chrysostom “… that famous student-shepherd …” who had a renowned predictive ability. A longtime student who left his studies to become a shepherd after returning to his home village and first seeing the shepherdess Marcela. Marcela, a now famous beauty with many seeking after her while she one day joined the local shepherd community. At the funeral Marcela appears – vindicating herself as the victim of a bad one-sided affair and of the bitter verses written about her by Chrysostom and claiming she is satisfied by her communing with nature now and is assuming her own autonomy and freedom from expectations. She disappears into the woods, and Don Quixote and Sancho follow. Ultimately giving up, the two dismount by a stream to rest. “A drove of Galician ponies belonging to certain Yanguesan carriers” also intend to rest and feed there, and Rocinante (Don Quixote’s horse) attempts to mate with the ponies. The carriers hit Rocinante with clubs to dissuade him, whereupon Don Quixote tries to defend his horse. The carriers give Don Quixote and Sancho a beating.

The Inn (Chapters 16–17)

After escaping the Yanguesan carriers, Don Quixote and Sancho ride to a nearby inn. Once again, Don Quixote imagines the inn is a castle, although Sancho is not quite convinced. Don Quixote is given a bed in a former hayloft, and Sancho sleeps on the rug next to the bed; they share the loft with a carrier. When night comes “… he began to feel uneasy and to consider the perilous risk which his virtue was about to encounter …”. Don Quixote imagines the servant girl at the inn, Maritornes, to be this imagined beautiful princess now fallen in love with him “… and had promised to come to his bed for a while that night …”, and makes her sit on his bed with him by holding her “… besides, to this impossibility another yet greater is to be added …”. Having been waiting for Maritornes and seeing her held while trying to get free the carrier attacks Don Quixote “… and jealous that the Asturian should have broken her word with him for another …”, breaking the fragile bed and leading to a large and chaotic fight in which Don Quixote and Sancho are once again badly hurt. Don Quixote’s explanation for everything is that they fought with an enchanted Moor. He also believes that he can cure their wounds with a mixture he calls “the balm of Fierabras”, which only makes Sancho so sick that he should be at death’s door. Don Quixote’s not quite through with it yet, however, as his take on things can be different. Don Quixote and Sancho decide to leave the inn, but Quixote, following the example of the fictional knights, leaves without paying. Sancho, however, remains and ends up wrapped in a blanket and tossed up in the air (blanketed) by several mischievous guests at the inn, something that is often mentioned over the rest of the novel. After his release, he and Don Quixote continue their travels.

The galley slaves and Cardenio (Chapters 19–24)

After Don Quixote has adventures involving a dead body, a helmet (to Don Quixote), and freeing a group of galley slaves, he and Sancho wander into the Sierra Morena and there encounter the dejected and mostly mad Cardenio. Cardenio relates the first part of his story, in which he falls mutually in love with his childhood friend Lucinda, and is hired as the companion to the Duke’s son, leading to his friendship with the Duke’s younger son, Don Fernando. Cardenio confides in Don Fernando his love for Lucinda and the delays in their engagement, caused by Cardenio’s desire to keep with tradition. After reading Cardenio’s poems praising Lucinda, Don Fernando falls in love with her. Don Quixote interrupts when Cardenio’s transference of his misreading suggests his madness, over that his beloved may have become unfaithful, stems from Queen Madasima and Master Elisabad relationship in a chivalric novel (Lucinda and Don Fernando not at all the case, also). They get into a physical fight, ending with Cardenio beating all of them and walking away to the mountains.

The priest, the barber, and Dorotea (Chapters 25–31)

Quixote pines over Dulcinea’s lack of affection ability, imitating the penance of Beltenebros. Quixote sends Sancho to deliver a letter to Dulcinea, but instead Sancho finds the barber and priest from his village and brings them to Quixote. The priest and barber make plans with Sancho to trick Don Quixote to come home. They get the help of the hapless Dorotea, an amazingly beautiful woman whom they discover in the forest that has been deceived with Don Fernando by acts of love and marriage, as things just keep going very wrong for her after he had made it to her bedchamber one night “… by no fault of hers, has furnished matters …” She pretends that she is the Princess Micomicona and coming from Guinea desperate to get Quixote’s help with her fantastical story, “Which of the bystanders could have helped laughing to see the madness of the master and the simplicity of the servant?” Quixote runs into Andrés “… the next moment ran to Don Quixote and clasping him round the legs …” in need of further assistance who tells Don Quixote something about having “… meddled in other people’s affairs …”.

Return to the inn (Chapters 32–42)

Convinced that he is on a quest to first return princess Micomicona to the throne of her kingdom before needing to go see Dulcinea at her request (a Sancho deception related to the letter Sancho says he’s delivered and has been questioned about), Quixote and the group return to the previous inn where the priest reads aloud the manuscript of the story of Anselmo (The Impertinently Curious Man) while Quixote, sleepwalking, battles with wine skins that he takes to be the giant who stole the princess Micomicona’s kingdom to victory, “there you see my master has already salted the giant.” A stranger arrives at the inn accompanying a young woman. The stranger is revealed to be Don Fernando, and the young woman Lucinda. Dorotea is reunited with Don Fernando and Cardenio with Lucinda. “… it may be by my death he will be convinced that I kept my faith to him to the last moment of life.” “… and, moreover, that true nobility consists in virtue, and if thou art wanting in that, refusing what in justice thou owest me, then even I have higher claims to nobility than thine.” A Christian captive from Moorish lands in company of an Arabic speaking lady (Zoraida) arrive and the captive is asked to tell the story of his life; “If your worships will give me your attention you will hear a true story which, perhaps, fictitious one constructed with ingenious and studied art can not come up to.” “… at any rate, she seemed to me the most beautiful object I had ever seen; and when, besides, I thought of all I owed to her I felt as though I had before me some heavenly being come to earth to bring me relief and happiness.” A judge arrives travelling with his beautiful and curiously smitten daughter, and it is found that the captive is his long-lost brother, and the two are reunited as Dona Clara’s (his daughter’s name) interest arrives with/at singing her songs from outside that night. Don Quixote’s explanation for everything now at this inn being “chimeras of knight-errantry”. A prolonged attempt at reaching agreement on what are the new barber’s basin and some gear is an example of Quixote being “reasoned” with. “… behold with your own eyes how the discord of Agramante’s camp has come hither, and been transferred into the midst of us.” He goes on some here to explain what he is referring to with a reason for peace among them presented and what’s to be done. This works to create peacefulness for them but the officers, present now for a while, have one for him that he can not get out of though he goes through his usual reactions.

The ending (Chapters 45–52)

An officer of the Santa Hermandad has a warrant for Quixote’s arrest for freeing the galley slaves “… as Sancho had, with very good reason, apprehended.” The priest begs for the officer to have mercy on account of Quixote’s insanity. The officer agrees, and Quixote is locked in a cage and made to think that it is an enchantment and that there is a prophecy of him returned home afterwards that’s meaning pleases him. He has a learned conversation with a Toledo canon (church official) he encounters by chance on the road, in which the canon expresses his scorn for untruthful chivalric books, but Don Quixote defends them with an adventure to the otherworld. The group stops to eat and lets Don Quixote out of the cage; he gets into a fight with a goatherd (Leandra transferred to a goat) and with a group of pilgrims (tries to liberate their image of Mary), who beat him into submission, and he is finally brought home. The narrator ends the story by saying that he has found manuscripts of Quixote’s further adventures.


Don Quixote is a relatively quick audiobook read and I enjoyed the narration by John Hanks. Despite the novel being more than four centuries old, it was surprisingly funny. Bodily function related humor is timeless, I guess. It is difficult to say precisely what the book is about as it grows in depth and complexity of message until it ends, but I did not mind the feeling I had of not being sure I “got it” because I was not entirely certain that Cervantes intended a clear and simple message.

The novel starts as a parody of chivalric medieval knight tales with a protagonist who appears to be something of a comic buffoon. However, as Don Quixote progresses, a few trends begin to emerge. The idealistic protagonist seems to inadvertently bring joy and laughter to his circumstances – even while he is being mocked, bullied, and sometimes beaten. Many of the characters who treat Don Quixote poorly also become his protectors. In fact, when Don Quixote loses a duel with another knight near the novel’s end, seeming initially to die, the incident is portrayed as a tragedy. The narrator praises the protagonist, throughout the novel as well, though I believe itis open to interpretation as to whether that praise is sincere, or an effort on the part of the author to mock the sincere narration of these types of tales when they are not written in jest. The feeling you are left with as a reader, as the book ends, is that while Don Quixote deserves some measure of mockery, perhaps he was not entirely wrong in his outlook. Buffoon or not, there is something valuable and pitiable about the man.

The story is also a commentary on literature and reality. The protagonist becomes so immersed in his favorite books that he loses his sanity within them. In a sense, Quixote looks similar to an extreme version of a modern fandom reader. Books themselves become a frequent topic of conversation among the characters – with many of them giving their own thoughts on real books Cervantes likely read. Much of this character commentary on those books has likely lost some meaning with the passage of time, as the texts discussed become increasingly unfamiliar to later audiences, yet some nuances are still easily detectable. For example, in the scene wherein the priest is destroying Quixote’s personal library, the reader can pick up on the fact that the man condemning his books seems too familiar with those he condemns most heartily. As a result, in addition to finding the entire moment humorous, the reader is left quetioning whether the priest is correct, whether he is a hypocrite, and whether literature is being unfairly blamed for a problem that lies with Don Quixote and not the storiess he cherishes. The answer might also be a combination of all of the above.

The story is constructed in an episodic format, and this works well for the most part until the latter portions of the novel. Near the end, as the episodes become increasingly removed from Quixote, and instead focus more on the people he encounters, then the story drags a little and the task for the reader of setting the story down and picking it up becomes a bit more difficult.

One thought that I am left with as I think about the story centers on Sancho Panza. He follows Quixote throughout the story, and not entirely blindly. He often realizes that his master is mad, but then readily accepts the various and sundry explanations that Quixote provides him for why the reality he sees with his own eyes is not the real truth (usually Quixote blames magical enchantment.) Is Sancho more mad than his master? Ultimately he was aware of his choices and happy with them. Is that madness or is that something else? Cervantes leaves the reader with a lot to reflect upon.

Overall I enjoyed the book. I laughed out loud in several scenes and as it concluded, I was left in contemplation of topics like the value of literature and the relevance of reality. I definitely recommend it to others.

5 thoughts on “Don Quixote: Book Review

      1. I’ve done some digging. They are lying their big fat asses off. I looked and the hardcover by that translator is a measly 625’ish pages. The edition I read a couple of years ago was close to 1000.
        Also, most of the other audio versions are close to 40hrs. So whatever that translator did, he cheated ultra-mega-total-hugely-big time!

        Sorry to disappoint you 😀

      2. And upon reading the reviews, it turns out that that translation by Davis is only part 1. Which would explain why it’s 500’ish pages and 20hrs.