Like many classics on my shelves, it took me about 20 years to get round to reading the Cervantes novel, Don Quixote.
I remember buying it way back in 1998 after seeing the Terry Gilliam documentary, Lost in La Mancha, then hauled it around Europe in my backpack while inter-railing, barely reading more than 100 pages, however, and mostly using it as a pillow-substitute as I tried to sleep on overnight trains.
But I didn’t give up on it and somehow it survived the numerous book culls that accompanied the house-moves made during the intervening years, until I picked it up again in 2014 while commuting back and forth on the trains between Bristol and Bath.
For those who don't know, Don Quixote is the fictional story of a 15th century nobleman who idles his time with nonsense tales of knights and chivalry, believing such tales to be true and a reflection of a more enlightened, golden age; a time when people lead simple, contented lives; a time when the modern preoccupation with possession did not exist; when technology was simple; when laws were unnecessary because everything just worked.
This delusion brings about Don Quixote’s (comical) resolve to become a knight errant and revive these values in his own time: he woos prostitutes as though they were fair maidens, he embarks upon magical quests of his own delusion, he wears a tin basin upon his head claiming it is the enchanted Helmet of Mambrino, and attacks windmills in the belief they are long-armed giants.
If you are interested in the art of the novel then Milan Kundera’s, The Curtain, is the book that will inspire you to read Cervantes’ classic. It’s an excellent examination of the European novel, very readable, with Don Quixote featuring prominently, but it was Mark Lilla’s, The Shipwrecked Mind, that really alerted me to how contemporary Mr Q. is to our own time: an idealist unable to see reason; a rebel against the nature of time; a reactionary who attacks windmills.
Before I started writing this, I wasn't aware of the idiom derived from Quixote's antics: Tilting at Windmills. It means, attacking imaginary enemies.
I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!