A Friend Who Helps Keep It Real

My first post for this subset of examples in literature covered the transformational friendship of The Inklings. I also referenced the first “modern novel” published in 1605, Don Quixote. Considered one of the greatest novels of all time, it appears on many lists of books about friendship I discovered during my research for this series, New Year; New Types of Friends. This epic Spanish story features the relationship between Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, who was a friend who helps keep things real, despite the trouble he causes.

Now, I will admit that I don’t ever recall reading Don Quixote so I placed a hold for a copy at my local lbrary. But as I read excerpts and commentaries about the novel, I see why we need other men to help us remember reality when we become disillusioned.

About The Book 

Don Quixote is a Spanish novel written by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra. The full title, El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha (The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha in English) was initially published as two parts. Part I in 1605, became a commercial success. It was in high demand, including a large number of copies shipped to the new world. There were also many pirated versions, as well as new editions and translations unsanctioned by the author, who had signed away many of his rights as an author. Part II, published as the second book of Don Quixote (shortly before de Cervantes’ death in 1616), recounts the further adventures of his popular character.

By the 20th century though, the novel became one of the foundations of classic literature. It also had a major influence on the literary community, with direct references in Alexandre DumasThe Three Musketeers (1844), Mark Twain‘s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), and Edmond Rostand‘s Cyrano de Bergerac (1897). 

About The Author 

Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra lived during the end of the 16th century and the beginning of the 17th century. Cervantes did not just write about adventures; he also had many of his own. He was a member of the Spanish Navy infantry and captured, before his family later paid a ransom for his release.

After reuniting with his family, Cervantes worked as a tax collector, a job which eventually resulted in jail time due to accounting errors. His fortunes changed for the good by the last decade of his life, due to his literary success with Don Quixote, which is his most famous novel.

The Context

During the time de Cervantes wrote Don Quixote, Spain was still in the grip of The Inquisition, a period of intense intolerance and punishment of non-Catholics. Don Quixote’s identification with the “knight-errant” (caballero andante) life speaks to the religious fervor of the Crusades, which were at the center of most tales of chivalry. Unlike other parts of Europe, where religious conflicts were splintering The Church, Spain remained fully Roman Catholic throughout the 17th Century. In much of Don Quixote, the main character acts in accordance with what he sees as religious ideals in the form of chivalry, though the acts he commits sometimes are at odds with this.

Initially interpreted as a comic novel, the work was later viewed as social commentary. Many critics saw it as a tragedy in which Don Quixote’s idealism and nobility were insane and useless in the post-chivalric world.

The Plot

The story revolves around the adventures of a hidalgo (a member of the Spanish or Portuguese nobility) from La Mancha named Alonso Quijano, who loves reading literature about knights and fantastic stories about chivalry, and princesses, magicians, and enchanted castles. He becomes so involved with these fantasies that he starts to lose touch with reality. The protagonist begins to believe that he is one of these fictional heroes; the knight-errant Don Quixote de la Mancha to revive chivalry and serve his nation. He recruits a simple farmer, Sancho Panza as a faithful squire, who employs a unique, oftentimes rude wit to deal with Quixote’s rhetoric on knighthood, already considered old-fashioned at the time. 

Part I

During the course of their travels, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza meet innkeepers, prostitutes, goat-herders, soldiers, priests, escaped convicts, and scorned lovers who tell tales incorporating events from the real world. These events are magnified by Quixote’s imagination of chivalrous quests. He has a tendency to intervene violently in matters outside his realm, and has a habit of not paying debts. All this leads to injuries and humiliations, often with Sancho as the victim. 

In a very famous scene, Don Quixote mistakes some windmills for giants and rushes at them with his spear. When he realizes that he has attacked a windmill, he says that the same magician who has stolen his books has also turned the giants into windmills. 

Don Quixote and Sancho have several more adventures, including mistaking two herds of sheep for armies and a funeral for a parade of monsters. Quixote travels to the mountains to fast and pray for his love, Dulcinea, and sends Sancho with a message for her. But friends intercept Sancho to learn of his master’s whereabouts in order to lure Quixote home and keep him safe.

Part II

Quixote’s friends are unable to keep him at home for long as he and Sancho take off in search of adventure again. This time, they meet with the Knight of the Wood (a village student in disguise who had promised to impede Don Quixote’s adventures). They join a wedding party and destroy a traveling puppet show.

The second part of the novel includes a long section in which Don Quixote and Sancho stay with a duke and a duchess who have read about the pair’s famous adventures. The royal couple play a series of tricks on Don Quixote, including the “disenchantment” of Dulcinea and the enthronement of Sancho as ruler of an island.

Next, Don Quixote and Sancho decide to go to Barcelona where they have additional adventures. Finally, the village student from the earlier episode, finds Quixote and challenges him to combat. Defeated, Quixote returns home to become a shepherd.

True Friendship

Upon his return, Don Quixote falls ill. He instructs his niece and housekeeper, “Take me to my bed because I don’t feel at all well, and just remember: whether I’m a knight errant, as now, or a shepherd, later on, I’ll never stop doing for you whatever needs to be done, as you will see in the event.”

Although his friends try to cheer him up, Don Quixote grows weaker and weaker. Finally, he writes his will and returns to sanity: “I was mad, and now am sane; I was Don Quixote de La Mancha and now, as I have said, I am Alonso Quijano the Good. I pray that my repentance, and my honesty, may return me to the good opinion your graces once held of me.”

In this section, Cervantes shares a beautiful concept of a true friendship:

Whoever undertakes a long journey, if he be wise, makes it his business to find out an agreeable companion. How cautious then should he be, who is to take a journey for life, whose fellow-traveler must not part with him but at the grave.

With this renunciation of chivalry and romance, Don Quixote receives his last rites and dies. He leaves an inheritance to both Sancho and to his niece, who he instructed to marry a man who has never read a book of chivalry.

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GodBuddy Focus

The story of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza is a funny yet tragic friendship that shows us how some friends cause more harm than good for others. For example, Sancho gets hurt every time Quixote goes on an adventure. In fact, many who Quixote comes across, get hurt in some way or another, either emotionally or physically. But this friendship also shows us how to support our friends.

Every man needs allies by his side since none of us should fight battles alone. We all need close, authentic friends to talk about our fantasies, communicate our ideas and values, and help each other “keep it real.” These are what I call GodBuddies; guys who help each other keep their priorities set straight and become better men.

Do you have a close friend who helps keep things real?

My next post is about the nature of loneliness, dreams, and friendship in a book by John Steinbeck.


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