Thursday, August 14, 2008


Don Quixote:

No Average Hero

Where have all the good men gone

And where are all the gods?

Where’s the street-wise Hercules

To fight the rising odds?

Isn’t there a white knight upon a fiery steed?

Late at night I toss and I turn and I dream of what I need

I need a hero

I'm holding out for at hero 'till the end of the night

He's gotta be strong

And he's gotta be fast

And he's gotta be fresh from the fight


“Ferris Bueler, you’re my hero.” (Bueller) From Batman to Superman, from King Arthur to Lancelot, and even from the ingenious Don Quixote down to Ferris Bueler, the clichéd term “hero,” consistently carries with it an implicit theme of rusty romanticism. Notwithstanding the numberless journeys this expression has taken, there always seems to be enough oil to grease its joints. Tales of Hercules and Perseus all suggest a kind of unquestioned machismo which never seems to die. Amazing Hero X has amazing strength Y along with unprecedented quality Z which both qualify him to set out and vanquish any number of helper minions A before he vanquishes their malicious master B. Don’t forget to through in a dash of tantalizing damsel and such is the varied genre of heroism. Author Miguel de Cervantes disarms this archaic knight and presents his reader with a new type of hero: stripped of all the classic machismo, swordsmanship, and especially the jaw-dropping maiden. What remains underneath the obligatory shell of fantasy is not quite what we would expect. Cervantes leaves us with a Quixote who is lanky, ludicrous, and, at times, “absotively blunderous with [his] words which [he] speaks” (Strong Bad). Yet, disrobed of all stereotypical glory, our new-style hero comes equipped with a set of values and charm that were found lacking in his age and are all but forgotten in our own.

A hero must possess some super-human quality or look really cool in his outfit. Clark Kent or Superman, if you will (don’t tell anyone that they’re the same guy, it’s a secret, k?), seamlessly fits both molds. Clark can see through walls, pick up large pieces of scrap metal, and even take a bullet to the chest without so much as flinching. Additionally, with his good looks, rippling biceps, and culry-cue hair cut, Kent makes his “S” look super, indeed. On the other hand, our ingenious hidalgo is a caricature gangly, goofy looking, and even ridiculous to behold. As the narrator remarks, the green ribbons which held Quixote’s visor together were so absurd that they made the “funniest and strangest figure imaginable” (34). Throughout the narrative we observe the “knight errant” riding courageously, as a gangly and middle-aged figure, stooped upon his bean-pole-of-a-horse Rocinante, who an equally pathetic sight. These depictions leave the reader scratching her head with an eye brow raised or guffawing uncontrollably at the ridiculous sight of our heroic protagonist. Part of what makes Quixote so pitiable and yet bombastically hilarious is that he never attains to the stature of what we would consider a “true hero.” He never manages to equip with any equal to the peerless Excalibur. He never finds a strength-yielding potion. And he is often pummeled for his lack of a trump card utility belt. Yet, undaunted, unwitting, and although lacking any kind of superhuman capabilities, Quixote swaggers forth with unwavering confidence and even proverbial defiance as you will, gentle reader, shortly witness.

A hero is unmatched in his skills of battle. Classic demi-god heroes like Hercules could trounce the Titans while mortal champions like Perseus could slay numerous foes including the untouchable Medusa. These Greek archetypes both equate to modern heroes like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, or Johnny Depp. All of these men find themselves repeatedly submerged in the heat of battle with enemies who are either as numerous as the sands of the sea (or at least it seems like that sometimes) or as powerful as the gods themselves. Of course, with their unparalleled dexterity, unusual cunning, or simply good aim, these heroes always come off conqueror, dispatching their opposition like a Boy Scout flips flap jacks. How about our Don Quixote? Ah, not so much. Sir Thigh Piece, as he is aptly named, exudes as much martial skill as a suckling infant waving a stick of string cheese violently through the air. As related previously, Quixote is often the target of tremendous beatings and unyielding hilarity. Perhaps the most telling example of Quixote’s blunders occurs when he charges the taunting, gigantic monsters who are in actuality a couple of peaceful windmills. After charging the sneering vermin, Quixote finds himself “rolling over the plain,” his lance in “pieces,” and ultimately in such a mess that he “couldn’t stir” (64). Such are the unmatched skills of the ingenious Don Quixote.

A hero is a man of chivalry. Unlike the aforementioned characteristics of a hero, this is a trait in which our own knight errant shines, although satirically, above all the rest. Cervantes paints Quixote as a tireless romantic. A scholar well versed in seemingly every tale of courtesy known to man, as is well witnessed by his colossal library collection. In fact, Quixote has such an astounding collection of chivalry, that his friend the priest is overwhelmed by the sheer number of them (58). But it is nary Quixote’s possession of chivalric literature that exalts him to a pedestal of heroism all his own, but rather his willingness to emanate the noble principles of these fictional classics. We hear tales of gallant knights such as King Arthur and Lancelot. The men depicted in such legends, although human, are portrayed as benevolent, honorable, and true. They carry with them an aura of such high esteem that every reader is likely to envy their goodness.

Ironically, despite all of his absurdities, it is in this concealed heroic benevolence where Quixote’s character shines through his shoddy and otherwise ridiculous visor. In the beginning of his famous adventures, Quixote happens upon a young servant being brutally flogged by his farming master. Quixote assails the vicious tyrant and threatens him with exacting justice if he will not stay his hand (44). Although satirized as a bumbling kook, it is in moments like these where Quixote presents us with the real stuff that heroes are made of. Undaunted and courageous, Quixote does not fear the villainy or power of the cruel stranger, and, as alluded to previously, he defies him with astounding intrepidity. Furthermore, Quixote beckons the reader to a mystical age of honor, affirming that he will need no greater assurance that the violence of this scene will cease than the simple word of the servant’s cruel oppressor. As a sensible reader, we can’t help but grimace or chuckle at this profound display of stupidity. Yet, this is the hysterical satire combined with unquestioned morals that Cervantes weaves throughout the epoch. Quixote is not simply a hero, however, he is also not just a babbling idiot. Underneath the false air of knight errantry, Quixote radiates with a kind of simplistic goodness which is unequaled by anyone throughout all his journeys and, as stated, in our own day.

No simpleton could possibly confuse Don Quixote with Superman, Hercules, or any number of traditional heroes. On the contrary, Quixote leaves us no choice but to smile at his innocence, bravery, and good will. While he certainly would have lost any joust ever entered, Quixote represents that in each of us, no matter how absurd, which is the good that we can all become.

Works Cited

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Prod. Maysh, Ltd. Productions. Dir. John Hughes. Per. Matthew Broderick, Alan Ruck, Mia Sara. DVD. Macrovision Corporation, 1986.

Tyler, Bonnie. Musician. I Need a Hero. SB Emails. Love Poem.

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