Don Quixote is not easy to blog about. I mean, for starters, the guy is never out of the news. Even in the few days I’ve been trying to write this, it was announced that Terry Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote has been delayed again – remarkable, given that it’s already been almost two decades in the making, the abortive process spawning a feature-length documentary (the excellent Lost In La Mancha from 2002).
Earlier this month a piece appeared in Spanish newspapers asking ‘What Would Don Quixote Do About the Migrant Crisis?’ In The Daily Mail this week, Brian Blessed has been recalling his time filming Man of La Mancha in the early ‘70s with Peter O’Toole, who played Quixote. It’s safe to say the pair did not see eye to eye; Blessed threatened to ‘kick [O’Toole’s] teeth down his throat’ in a crowded restaurant. There are also dozens of musical, operatic, dramatic and spoken-word adaptations of the Don happening around the world, right now. For a fictional knight-errant approaching his 400th birthday, DQ retains an inescapable contemporary presence.
So what is it that keeps drawing us back to Don Quixote? Sure, his misadventures with the mule-riding Sancho Panza have been described as ‘the novel that invented modernity’. We’ve been told and re-told that ‘all prose fiction is a variation on [it]’. You can very easily play ‘Spot the Don’ in any number of contemporary artworks (everything from My Brilliant Friend to Point Break). But that is only part of his appeal. These days, I’d argue, we’re more attracted to the shifting nature of his identity, the ease with which we can reshape his image; his eminently modern ability to adapt his form. Sounds like a few celebs we could all name, amirite?
There have been some truly extraordinary editions of Don Quixote released throughout history, and he has been represented by every major artist (my favourites are Salvador Dalí’s whirlwind sketches of DQ’s tilt at the windmills). With their new 400th anniversary edition, Restless Books are doing that rarest of things – putting a genuinely new spin on a classic. At eight points throughout the book, the reader can link to a lecture from leading DQ scholar Ilan Stavans (who also provides an introduction), and even participate in live online discussions of what they’ve just read. The Restless edition also features bold, original and unusually abstract depictions of DQ by Mexican engraver and painter Eko that push the boundaries of representation, challenging how we see this most recognisable of characters. If you’ve never read Don Quixote, this is the perfect place to start; if you have, why not treat yourself to another adventure
He may be foolish, proud, rash, clumsy, hard-headed and stubborn, but he is ours – and has been for four centuries now. And, though no-one would ever admit it, he’s probably the best we’ve got.
Post by Tom
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