“En un lugar de La Mancha, de cuyo nombre no quiero acordarme…” – or “In a village of La Mancha, the name of which I have no desire to call to mind…” – is the beginning of this hallmark of the Spanish literature which any Spaniard will be able to tell you by heart, and if they are from La Mancha as well – like the cheese and myself – probably a bit more than just that.
The importance of “Don Quijote” resides mainly in that in its time, the early seventeenth century, it was a very new piece of writing that told a different story of what people were used to and in a very different way and, just like we all do with past fashion trends, it criticises and mocks the old literature topics and characters. This “old literature trend” was the chivalry novels, those where a knight in shining armour rescued a damsel in distress, slayed the dragon and lived happily ever after a perfect life with his perfect lady. “Don Quijote” is considered the first modern novel ever written in Spanish, among other reasons because it is not a chivalry novel; but how come can it not be if Don Quijote is a knight? Well, that is the best part of it. “Don Quijote”, or Alonso Quijano, is a middle aged single man who loves reading chivalry novels to the point that he becomes obsessed with them and goes crazy. For this reason, one night he decides to name himself a knight, adopting the name of “Don Quijote”. He also gives his skinny horse a powerful name – Rocinante – and putting on an old armour of his grandfather’s he goes looking for adventures in the Spanish region of La Mancha. The novel tells his adventures, which hardly ever end up well – you only have to imagine that happening just now – and are obviously very funny to read.
In Spain, “Don Quijote de La Mancha” has been reproduced in many ways. There are children books – my favourite with real pictures of La Mancha and with the characters drawn over them –, comic books, unabridged editions, theatre plays, films, and even a TV cartoon series that all of is watched when we were children. It has also been a source of inspiration for songs, films, etc. Moreover, there is a route called “Ruta del Quijote” that you can take if you happen to go to La Mancha, where a guide takes you to the real places where the main character and his sidekick Sancho Panza experience their adventures.
On the International Book Day, the novel is read in Spain on a public stand throughout three whole days in the “Círculo de Bellas Artes”, in Madrid, by important politicians and many different personalities in the fields of literature and the arts. We celebrate the novel on this day not only because of what it means for the literature in Spanish, but also because its author Miguel de Cervantes died the 23rd of April of 1616, the same date as William Shakespeare.
I attach some pictures of the most famous places that appear in the novel and a comic strip easy-to-read version, so that you can get a taste of it; and if you feel like sharing the privilege of having read “Don Quijote”, you can find it in the school library!
Gema Ginés Navas
The original front page with it original title “The Wittie Knight-Errant Don Quijote of La Mancha”.
The map of Spain, where the darker grey area is the Autonomous Region of Castilla – La Mancha and the red part is the geographical region of La Mancha.
Windmills in Consuegra, Toledo. In his delusion, Don Quijote sees giants instead of windmills and tries to fight them. This is the most famous of his adventures.
Don Quijote and Sancho Panza in the TV series, with the windmills behind.