Miguel de Cervantes
Don Quixote is often nominated as the world's greatest work of fiction. It stands in a unique position between medieval chivalric romance and the modern novel. The former consist of disconnected stories with little exploration of the inner life of even the main character. The latter are usually focused on the psychological evolution of their characters.
Alonso Quixano, a fiftyish retired country gentleman (fiftyish was considered old in 1605, when lifespans were much shorter overall), lives in an unnamed section of La Mancha with his niece and a housekeeper. He has become obsessed with books of chivalry, and believes their every word to be true, despite the fact that many of the events in them are clearly impossible. He eventually loses his mind from little sleeping or eating and much reading, and decides to go out as a knight-errant in search of adventures. He dons an old suit of armor, improvises a makeshift helmet, renames himself Don Quixote de la Mancha, names his horse Rocinante, and chooses a farm girl named Aldonza Lorenzo as his ladylove, renaming her Dulcinea del Toboso, though she clearly knows nothing about it.
He sets out in the early morning and ends up at a roadside inn, which he believes to be a castle. He asks the innkeeper, whom he takes to be the lord of the castle, to dub him knight. After Don Quixote spends the night holding vigil over his armor (during which he becomes involved in a fight with muleteers, who try to remove his armor from the horse trough so that they can water their mules), the innkeeper "dubs" him knight and sends him on his way, advising him that he needs a squire. After being beaten up along the way by traders from Toledo who enrage him by "insulting" the imaginary Dulcinea, Don Quixote is taken home by Pedro Crespo, a neighbor. Back at home, Don Quixote plots his escape, despite the fact that the local curate, the niece, the housekeeper and the local barber burn most of the books of chivalry secretly and seal up Don Quixote's library, pretending that a magician has carried it off.
Don Quixote approaches another neighbor, Sancho Panza, and asks him to be his squire, promising governorship of an island. The rather dull-witted Sancho agrees, and the pair sneak off in the early dawn. It is here that their famous series of adventures begin, starting with Don Quixote's attack on windmills that he believes to be ferocious giants.
Although the first half of the novel is almost completely farcical, the second half is more serious and philosophical, as Don Quixote's imaginings are made the butt of outrageous and cruel practical jokes. Even Sancho is unintentionally forced to deceive him at one point- trapped into finding Dulcinea, he brings back three peasant girls, and tells Quixote that they are Dulcinea and her ladies-in-waiting. When Don Quixote sees only three peasant girls, Sancho pretends that there is a cruel enchantment which does not permit him to see the truth. Sancho eventually does get his governorship, and proves to unexpectedly be a wise and practical governor, but this too, ends in disaster. The novel ends with Don Quixote's complete disillusionment, his melancholy return to sanity and renunciation of chivalry, and his death.
(R) thedailystar.net 2007