First Line: Don Quixote

First Line: Don Quixote

You might not be aware of this, but Don Quixote is a massive book.  As a result I will probably be doing multiple posts about it so that this blog doesn't screech to a halt while I work my way through it.  Note:  I'm reading the Edith Grossman translation. Also, I am already about 240 pages into the book, so this discussion is being informed by more than a blind reading of the first line.

"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" (1).

First of all, I love the irony of Cervantes writing a 900+ page book about Don Quixote, but being unwilling to remember where in La Mancha he comes from.  Not just because it's inherently humorous, but also because it shows, immediately, the tone we can expect from the entire book.  Though this may be a classic work of fiction, it is not a dry, dusty tome that we must put upon a shelf and venerate from a distance.  It is a book that is meant to be engaged and enjoyed.  Cervantes is telling us, with the very first line of the book, that we should have fun reading about the most famous knight errant of all time.  And, 240 pages later, he's done everything he can so far to reinforce this initial impression.

I also enjoy this first line because of how clearly Cervantes's voice comes through.  This intrigued me initially, but I didn't realize how important it would become until I read more.  I don't want to spoil anything but Cervantes is more than just the author and narrator - he is, to some extent, also a character in Don Quixote.  The extent to which the fourth wall has been broken in this book is surprising (and wonderful).  What is just as impressive, though, is that this is clearly evident from the opening line of the book, if you take the time to consider the implications of its tone and style.

I was originally intimated by the thought of reading a classic like Don Quixote.  I'm happy to report, however, that this opening line eased me into the book smoothly and pleasantly.  If you haven't read this classic either, I'm curious - what are your thoughts on this opener?


Scott on 05/06/2010 9:37 a.m.

To play Devil's advocate with my own comments, I can see how the humor of <i>Don Quixote</i> isn't for everyone. However, if you can enjoy the comedy from the opening line, then you can rest assured that the same wry humor has been consistently present for the first 300 pages.

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