Watching Lost in La Mancha on BBC4 tonight I was struck with both a desire to re-read Miguel de Cervantes glorious book and a longing to see the Film That Never Was; how cool would a Terry Gilliam version of Don Quixote have been? Arguably he has taken to the character in previous work; Robin Williams’ character in the Fisher King being the most notable and his version of Baron Munchausen sharing a certain amount of Quixotic traits (and I don’t care about the box office poor returns or the critics, I thought that was a wonderful fantasy). Gilliam and Don Quixote is as natural a pairing as a dark fairy tale and Tim Burton or Michael Mann and a cityscape.
Alas, it was not to be, but we do still have the book. I recall a few years ago a poll was taken of a wide variety of authors, including such luminaries as Isabel Allende, from all around the world of the best works of world literature. By an overwhelming majority the favourite book from any language and across several centuries of novels chosen by these writers was Don Quixote. I was very pleased to see when I made a display to this effect in my old work I sold a pile of the books to readers who had always meant to pick it up and just needed a little encouragement.
It truly is one of the finest books ever written; even those who have never read it know of it – it has entered our language as we talk about ’tilting at windmills’ or someone behaving Quixotically. It has charmed and enthused readers in many lands for centuries. The Don himself, a hopelessly romantic dreamer attached to a time long gone is, some argue, meant to be seen as riduculous. Yet most of us today see him as a hero; we know he is deluded, but he is happy and he is noble, an elegy for living one’s dreams. The fact that his character has conquered the literary world is, I’d like to think, proof positive that tilting at windmills can be successful.
Favourite movie riff on Quixote: Cyrano de Bergerac. When his love rival, de Guache asks Cyrano if he has read the book Cyrano replies that he has practically lived it.
De Gauche: “Meditate on the windmill chapter..”
Cyrano, curtly: “Chapter thirteen.”
De Gauche: “If you fight with windmills…”
Cyrano, interuppting again: “Are my foes like the air?”
De Gauche: “The heavy spars may dash you to the ground.”
Cyrano pauses, smiles and answers in true Quixotic fashion: “Or lift me to the stars.”
Of course since Cyrano has just single-handedly defeated 100 of de Gauche’s assassin’s with his sword he has a right to feel smug!