Wednesday, June 20, 2007


"Ahia, why did Sancho Panza go crazy at the end of Don Quixote?"

"Hmmm? Sancho Panza did not go crazy in the end. Or anywhere in the book."

Some conversations, no matter how mundane, stay with you throughout your life. And this was the start of one of those. My sister was working on her world literature assignment, and that point had her stumped. This was a decade ago. She was in high school and I, some years out of college, was the family know-it-all. But I always have been.

"But that's the question! So what am I supposed to answer?" she persisted.

"Well, write down, 'Sancho Panza did not go crazy in the end,'" I said. If I answered with more confidence than was proper, it was because I had read the unabridged "Don Quixote" (admittedly, translated) from cover to cover. Let her teacher argue with me on that!

As I relate this story more than ten years after, I feel the irrepressible urge to apologize. Not that my answer was wrong -- on that I still hold firm -- but because, well, I read a classic.

Mark Twain once said that a classic is a book that everybody wants to have read but nobody wants to read. I suspect that early in my generation that sardonic observation became a rule. Reading a classic consigned you to terminal dweebiness, more so if you admitted to the deed.

In my defense permit me to lay out the extenuating circumstances. I was simply motivated by the desire not to be ignorant. I felt, as all students undoubtedly feel, that there was something lacking in my education. In the absence of a mentor, my response was to turn to the classics.

It became a personal goal in college to read through at least one classic every summer. Some, like "Moby Dick", proved to be real chores, but others, like "A Tale of Two Cities", proved to be quite pleasant. "Don Quixote" definitely fell into the latter category.

"Don Quixote" may look daunting because of its length, but it was written for peasant sensibilities. What's more, the humor is so very accessibly Pinoy. I had several giggly fits and a few laugh-out-loud moments (Sancho Panza's penance being the funniest.) Not at all surprising, really, if you consider its node in our own cultural family tree.

Did "Don Quixote" make me a better person? Well, the jury is still out on that: a little learned on the one hand, a terminal dweeb on the other. That's what happens, I guess, when you read the classics unaided. But was it worth it? If only for the conclusion to my exchange with my sister, then yes.

A few days later, my sister came back to me wearing a reproachful frown. "Ikaw man gud! Tan-awa na, maba akong grado sa essay."

I handed her my copy of "Don Quixote." And I said: "Ask your teacher: 'where in the book does it say that Sancho Panza went crazy?'"

The following day, I got the answer. "Ma'am said she didn't actually read the book, she only saw it in the encyclopedia."

Classic, man.


  1. Wasn't that how the movie, Man of La Mancha, ended?

    Oh man, I've been Had!


  2. tsk, tsk... typical of second rate teachers.

  3. usually it's the classics that readers claim to have read.. but really did not.

    i would never do that. i tried to read the Last of the Mohicans and i can't move on from Chapter 1. i find it very boring and you have to have a dictionary beside...

    and when i read moby dick it was those condensed books for kids. muwahaha. but i will.. one day.. read some of them.. :p

  4. Hoop: fell asleep midway through the movie. Not even Sophia Loren could keep me awake. I did watch the musical, and Sancho Panza did not go crazy.

    Mentat: that's what I thought before, but I'd probably be less harsh in my judgments now. Many of us really just are workaday folks struggling through life.

    Tina: might I suggest "A Tale of Two Cities?" or "Pride and Prejudice?" By the way, I got a game I think you'll like: Talecraft. If you have time, let's get together to try it out.

  5. oh dear...if reading classics puts one in the "dweeb" category...then I am one! *gasp!* I haven't read don quixote yet...and now you made me curious. Does having a book collection of classics makes me a double dweeb? LOL

  6. Hi, Anne:

    "Does having a book collection of classics make me a double dweeb?" No. But playing "Prince of Persia" through the night does. Nyuk! nyuk!

  7. hmmm... i wonder if the Harry Potter books will become classics in the future... and i wonder if, by that time, people will still enjoy them the same way that people enjoy them today... will they read them because they want to know what will become of Harry in the end? or will they just drag themselves through the story because they were forced to make book reports? just a thought... :)