Review Blog

Nov 16 2010

Miguel de Cervantes Don Quixote retold by Martin Jenkins

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Ill. by Chris Riddell. Walker Books 2010. ISBN 9781406324303.
(Age 11+) When we remark that someone is 'tilting at windmills' and behaving in a 'quixotic' fashion, we are harking back to one of the most influential stories ever told - Don Quixote. The central character, a retired Spanish gentleman living in La Mancha, becomes so obsessed with old-fashioned tales of chivalry that he decides to live out his dream of becoming a knight who performs brave deeds. Wearing a home-made suit of armour and riding on his bony horse, Rocinante, he sets out on his quest. His fantasy is so complete that he mistakes bad food for good, an inn for a castle and windmills for giants. Quixote's 'Squire', the trusty and realistic Sancho Panza, is a perfect foil for his deluded master.
Cervantes lived in an era when the certainties of mediaeval life were being replaced by a spirit of enquiry. The hero's journey into fantasy then return to reality is regarded as the forerunner of the modern novel which traces a character's emotional development.
Chris Riddell's animated, cartoon-like pictures reveal the idiosyncrasies of a passing parade of characters. Pen and ink drawings, wrapped around text boxes, are interspersed with occasional full-page colour illustrations which make the old hero and his companion look both noble and ridiculous.
Curiously, while the illustrator has written an introduction to the work, the author has not. This is an opportunity missed. Young readers might welcome an overview of early 17th century Spanish culture and a glossary to explain terms like 'Basque' and 'Moor'. Occasional lapses in syntax prevent the story from flowing smoothly but the retelling is largely successful.
Martin Jenkins won the Kate Greenaway Medal for his retelling of Gulliver's travels. His adaptation of Don Quixote is a worthy attempt, attractively presented, to bring another classic within the reach of a younger audience.
Elizabeth Bor

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