I made sure I was in the right frame of mind. I prepared to endure 1200 pages of seventeenth century Spanish literature of the highest brow. Don Quixote is perhaps the most revered novel in the Western canon, I thought, and thus it requires serious attention. It was not, however, as I expected. A few chapters into the book, I found myself roaring with laughter. Don Quixote is hysterical and whimsical, wistful and profound. I completed it in eight days, spending each evening alone in my room with the adventures, or rather misadventures, of the Ingenious Gentleman of La Mancha.
To mixed reaction from literature buffs, Disney has announced that they are developing a version of Don Quixote. While some high and mighty types lament the loss of purity that comes with the motion picture, I am convinced that Cervantes' work will make a cracking Disney film.
I can easily imagine Don Quixote - chest puffed out, armour glimmering, jaw chiselled - as the perfect central character. His charming arrogance and supposed self-importance matches the criteria of the best Disney heroes and anti-heroes: Gaston in Beauty and the Beast; John Smith in Pocahontas; Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean. Sancho Panza is also the ideal sidekick, with his complete loyalty to the incorrigible Don Quixote and his ability to shoulder his master's scorn with acid-wit. The most enjoyable passages in Don Quixote, indeed, are the squire's rebuttals of the titular character's constant admonishments.
Cervantes' madcap and fantastical narrative could translate pleasingly into a Disney picture. On his first sally, for example, the delusional Don Quixote visits a castle, which is actually just a local pub, and beguiles a team of supposed Ladies, who are actually just local prostitutes. Don Quixote's grandiose claims of chivalry and his general waywardness frustrate the pubowner - or Lord of the castle - to such an extent that, in an attempt to get rid of Don Quixote, the pubowner agrees to play along with his delusions and ceremonially dubs Don Quixote a knight. Don Quixote then refuses to pay the pubowner for his stay because, after all, he is now an adorned knight and knights need not pay. The pubowner is left in utter disbelief.
Characters in the book who encounter Don Quixote on his travails generally recognise that he is delusional, but that does not protect them from his delusions. In the first part of the novel, Don Quixote mocks strangers and challenges them to duels; he fights windmills under the assumption they are giants; and he is beaten mercilessly on several occasions, as is the ever-loyal Sancho. Don Quixote is heroic, to be sure, even if outsiders fail to recognise or understand his heroism. He is confused, but like any true Disney hero, his virtuousness is never in doubt.
As the book proceeds, Don Quixote starts to enact real good. In some sense, it is a coming of age story and our chivalric knight starts to realise his plight in the world. His once-comical destruction makes way to actual kindness and usefulness. His delusions of knight-errantry become a reality. Akin to so many Disney heroes, Don Quixote offers a philosophy of kindness and stands by his beliefs regardless of the challenge. Folks throughout the land learn to respect Don Quixote. They, like the reader, see his true worth.
The Disney version of Don Quixote, of course, can never revive the same level of genius as Cervantes' work, but it can nonetheless introduce a beautiful story filled with timeless characters and a profound message to a new generation. An inexorable dilution will take place, but that dilution will not necessarily annul the merits of motion picture.
Critics are often high and mighty about the purity of great works of literature and condemn the supposedly sullying commercialisation. As far as I am concerned, however, there is no wrong way of coming across great works of literature. I read Nikolai Gogol because of Joy Division, for example, and I read F. Scott Fitzgerald and John Keats because of a Blur song - and I'm grateful to those bands for the introduction.
Don Quixote is a story that folks without the threshold of 1200 pages of seventeenth century Spanish literature should be given the chance to appreciate. A Disney version of Don Quixote has the ability to recreate a diluted version of the comedic and philosophical brilliance I once cherished. We should not attempt to rob folks of this enjoyment due to some vague allegiance to literary purity. As the goatherder Don Antonio, Don Quixote's friend and admirer warns: 'May God forgive you for the wrong you have done the world for seeking to deprive it of its most charming madman'. It would be a wrong indeed.