Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Albion - Don Quixote

Warning: Contains spoilers from a 400 year-old book.

I’ve recently finished reading Don Quixote by Miguel Cervantes. It’s amazing how a novel so old can seem so fresh. I guess that’s why they call it a classic.

Anyway, the purpose of this post is to explore the similarities and differences between Don Quixote and my (as yet unwritten) Albion project.

One of my concerns going into Don Quixote was that I’d find all the ground I wanted to cover in Albion had already been done. Luckily I’ve found these two are not covering the same ground at all. In fact, I think they’re from opposite sides of the planet.


Both stories are comedies about mad characters who embrace a chivalric identity – Don Quixote de la Mancha in Don Quixote and King Arthur in Albion. Both characters are so strong in their convictions that they are able to draw others into their madness: Don Quixote has his faithful squire, Sancho Panza; King Arthur has an entire town (and even a country in one iteration).


Don Quixote is a sustained work of satire. The intention is always to lampoon notions of chivalry by exploding them against the real world. Don Quixote holds up our romantic notions and asks: do these hold up when you test them against the way the world really is? Or are we just making fools of ourselves?

By the end of the novel, the romantic ideal of the pastoral life (a common theme at the time Cervantes was writing) is skewered in precisely the same way as the romantic ideal of chivalry. In Don Quixote, illusions mislead us into folly. Those follies are amusing for the reader, but are a warning against taking our illusions literally. Don Quixote is a comic novel with deeply serious intent.

Albion is more forgiving of illusion – in fact, foolishness is more likely to arise from being unwilling to embrace illusion. Albion is dealing with a world in need of romanticism. The spreading madness of the King goes to the heart of that – chivalry in Albion is an idea whose time has come. Romanticism may not be enough, but it’s a needed step.

And Albion isn't a satire. A comedy, but not a satire.

So ultimately I feel Don Quixote and Albion are quite opposite in intent and approach. Which makes me feel better - I’m glad I’m not in competition with Cervantes!


kirsten said...

I need to read Don Quixote. It's on my list of books I Must Read, of which I own about 50 - 60, that just sit around in my room here and in Singapore, longing to be read. However, I am reading Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, just because I saw the sign at Unity Books advertising it and below it it said (by sheer chance because that's the slogan of the store): "The best of both worlds."

How apt.

Lyse Beck said...

Hi Sean,
I was also going through a bit of nervousness over embarking on writing something that's been done before. But I've been advised to just got for it on account of every writer having a different voice, and a different take even on the same themes. Seems that this is what you also discovered. Maybe even more so, as you have said, your story is a completely different beast. So yay. Onward and upward. I've heard that there are no new ideas anymore. Well, I think that's a load of crap. There are many new ideas waiting to be discovered, BUT that doesn't mean that the old ones are all used up either. ;)