Sunday, January 16, 2005

A Flash of Inspiration

I just ordered this book for my kids, ages 10 and 8. I figured they could read the children's versions of each of the books I'll be reading from The Well-Educated Mind.

Artifice and urbane humour flavour Torontonian Barbara Nichol's retelling of Miguel de Cervantes' Tales of Don Quixote (Tundra, 203 pages, $22.99, ages 11+). Nichol abbreviates the story to include her favourite parts — "the parts I think you'll like the best," she says candidly.

In chatty, personable voice she tells of mad Quixote's obsessive reading of chivalric tales and his miguided departure into the world to live the life of a knight errant. "How can we know how Don Quixote saw things?" the narrator asks. "Did he really think he was a knight? We readers must feel free to disagree."

Quixote heads off to tilt at windmills, assault innocent muleteers and barbers, defend women and men of uncertain virtue and generally meet with slapstick violence and scatalogical disasters. Most readers will recognize the parody in Quixote's version of adventurous romance; for those who don't there's the less complex humour of ravaged bowels and outright delusion (the barber's basin that serves as enchanted helmet; the "magical" potion that brings explosive results).

Nichol's narrator is more than willing to bring her own mediating interpretation to events, offering readers a way to understand Quixote's psyche that goes beyond the sensational weirdness of his choices. Always, too, there is Nichol's wry humour ("the awesome mysteries of life and death a rotting ass calls up," she says) and her rhythmic, arresting way even with the simplest of words. "What seems to be quite simply is not so," she has Quixote declare, causing us to pause and consider this musical, at first puzzling, sentence.Even the bawdy is slyly concealed in a clever lineup of words: "a nightshirt far too short to cover everything that everyone might dearly wish were hidden ..."


Blogger christina said...

What a great idea, Diana! I'll have to look into that for my kids, 8 and 11. They're bilingual English/Germany, but German is their stronger reading language so I'd probably have to help them a bit, but it would be nice to know their opinions on the story.

1:14 AM  
Blogger Bernadette said...

Hi Christina and Diana! Here's to romance, chivalry, and old age! My husband and I celebrated the 400th anniversary of Cervantes' great book by rereading it, seeing the musical "Man of La Mancha" at our local theater, and renting "Lost in La Mancha" with Jean Rochefort and Johnny Depp! I most certainly will look into the Nichol's retelling for my kiddos--thanks for that tip!

8:19 PM  
Blogger Bernadette said...

My site is:

8:20 PM  
Blogger Diana said...

Wow, Bonnie!

You make it sound so easy, "..reread DQ..." while many of us struggle to make headway! :P

I am in awe of your celebration, and am headed to your blog right now. Thanks for your inspiring comment!

8:29 PM  
Blogger Zee said...

Bonnie, I celebrated too, as I watched Man of La Mancha. I didn't know it was a musical, but I really enjoyed it.

I'll be looking into Tales of Don Quixote for my kids, even to my 10 year old said he would read Don Quixote as soon as he is done with LOTR. Now Lost in La Mancha is on my to do list.

6:36 AM  

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