Northern Spain – Alcalá de Henares and Cervantes, The World’s Greatest Novelist!

Cervantes Alcalá de Henares

On returning home I did as I promised and bought a copy of Cervantes’ ‘Don Quixote’.  I found it on Amazon for the bargain price of £1.99, I ordered it together with a book on the history of Spain and it arrived three days later.

Since publication in 1605 it is reputed to be the most widely read and translated book on the planet after the Bible. I tried to read it once but found it a bit heavy going so gave up quite quickly but as we walked along I resolved to give it another go upon returning home.

I opened the package and then I remembered why I didn’t finish it at the last attempt.  The book has nearly eight hundred pages and I estimate about four hundred and forty thousand words long and it has that tiny squashed up typeface that makes a book sometimes difficult to read.

It is the story of a man who believes that he is a knight, and recounts his adventures as he rights wrongs, mistakes peasants for princesses, and  “tilts at windmills,” mistakenly believing them to be evil giants.  As one of the earliest works of modern western literature, it regularly appears high on lists of the greatest works of fiction ever published.  In 2002 a panel of one hundred leading world authors declared Don Quixote to be the best work of fiction ever written, ahead even of works by Shakespeare, Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky.  Cervantes has also been credited with shaping modern literary style, and Don Quixote has been acclaimed as “the first great novel of world literature”.

So, just in case I start it and abandon it again I have decided to carry out some research and do some preparation to try and understand exactly why this is such a good book and why I should enjoy reading it.


According to one reviewer Don Quixote is “so conspicuous and void of difficulty that children may handle him, youths may read him, men may understand him and old men may celebrate him”.  I hope that I am at that “men may understand him” part of life whereas previously I was only at the “youths may read him” stage and that this might make a difference.  I think it will also help that I have now visited La Mancha and have some small understanding of the place and the people and this will explain the book when I begin to read it.

The novel begins with :

 ”Somewhere in La Mancha, in a place whose name I do not care to remember, a gentleman lived not long ago, one of those who has a lance and ancient shield on a shelf and keeps a skinny nag and a greyhound for racing…

…His fantasy filled with everything he had read in his books, enchantments as well as combats, battles, challenges, wounds, courtings, loves, torments, and other impossible foolishness, and he became so convinced in his imagination of the truth of all the countless grandiloquent and false inventions he read that for him no history in the world was truer.”

 I have read that first page a couple of times but have not yet felt completely ready to carry on so perhaps I will keep it for a holiday read?  I am determined to do it soon and I will let you know how I get on but for now I have got to finish my Bill Bryson book, which isn’t quite such an important work in the history of World literature but has the advantage of being very easy to read.

12 responses to “Northern Spain – Alcalá de Henares and Cervantes, The World’s Greatest Novelist!

  1. I tried it but gave up after about 20 pages when I was a youth. I seem to remember it being badly translated and not making a lot of sense. I wonder if there’s a film version to watch?


  2. I did the same as a bitofculture, read a chapter or two then gave up. The film is ok.


  3. Great post Andrew. I’ve also tried to read the book but didn’t get very far because it was so tedious. I feel so much better now.


  4. Go see Man of La Mancha – much easier to get through 🙂


  5. I read when we were on a sking holiday in Norway after I fell down a bank and decided never to ski again. Can’t say that I really enjoyed it that much, probably becaause it was written at a time when people had a longer attention span than I. Having said that I’m about halfway through Varney the Vampire a Victorian penny dreadful of 1167 pages even ifg I had to take a break and read a book about dinosaurs this past week!


  6. I tried reading it but the font is so small and squashed like you say. I saw a stage production at Stratford (Ontario) and it was captivating.


  7. Translation is all. I have a 1901 edition translated by John Ormsby and his opening sentence is:
    ‘In a village of La Mancha, the name of which I have no desire to call to mind, there lived not long since one of those gentlemen that keep a lance in the lance-rack, an old buckler, a lean hack and a greyhound for coursing.’
    This, I think, are the words of a storyteller, not merely a writer of words to be read.
    But anybody who has ever laughed at ‘Only Fools and Horses’ ‘Some Mothers . . ‘Till Death do us . . . Morcambe & Wise . . .Tony Hancock will already have enjoyed the Don Quixote storyline – the dreamer with head in clouds versus down to earth reality (Sancho Panza). What makes Don Quixote a classic is that it was the first of its kind. There have been many since and they’re still coming.


  8. I suppose it could be read on a Kindle/iPad and we have the choice of making the font any size we wish.


  9. Pingback: Northern Spain – Pilgims and the Way of Saint James | Another Bag, More Travel

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