Saturday, 9 May 2009

Don't Quixote

I was mooching along with songs from Man of La Mancha running through my head, and I just naturally harked back to a question that has troubled me before. Do I really admire Quixotry, or not? After all, Don Quixote in all his scraggy pomp is so romantic a figure that he even pretty much won over his cynical old author, before the end. Wherever a Mahatma Gandhi sits down or a Travis McGee rises, bloody but unbowed, to do what a body's got to do, the hooves of a broken-down nag in the sky can be heard by those who care to listen.

What shall we call Frodo's journey to Mount Doom, with a Ring of Power and a plan of campaign that Bill the Pony could have crapped for him in two minutes, but the very essence of the quixotic?

And what I love to read, I also love to write. So many of my own favourite protagonists - Princess Locket, seeking her friend to the round world's edge; Katy Elflocks, who wishes only to mind some small business of her very own, but whose courage and compassion take her down those roads where all heroes fail; even Alan Jansen, the millwright who is only romantic because he invariably tries to be kind and clever instead, in a world lousy with High Destiny In Capital Letters - have won my heart largely by appealing to my inner Don.

It's no accident that the books which transfigured Alonso Quixano were, in modern terms, smack-bang in the mainstream of popular fantasy. Our genre is his natural home and harbour.

And though I have no slain giants, or even notable broken windmills, to my tally, my goatish soul resounds so strongly to the tune of The Impossible Dream that I should have arranged ere now for that to be the chief song played at my eventual funeral, if not for a suspicion that it would be too much like bragging.

And yet, yet…

In the world of politics, Karl Popper and others have rightly scouted the bloody and arrogant spirit of Quixotry, and the ruin those crazy folk have wrought as they seek to remake the world according to their assorted impossible dreams. Presidente Quixote does not care that his dream is impossible, so it is no use complaining to him that life has become impossible since he imposed it. You must be either an oaf in need of a thwack, or a deceitful enchanter in need of his sword.

In less violent climes, there are… softer ways of making us all pretend we're living in the dream induced by our betters' having read too many inflaming books, and having gone forth into the wide world insufficiently often. But to the extent these ways make life outside the dream impossible, the end result may scarcely differ. I see far too much of this soft quixotry around in the West today, which worries me - and would worry me even if I weren't, as a writer, a sort of enchanter by vocation.

Is there any way to reconcile the magnificence of the lone and rusty self-appointed knight-errant, with the horror of the onset of the righteous horde?

I think that, perhaps, it is after all very well to ride out like Quixote - provided we listen to our Sanchos, and abide by one new rule, for our credit and our honour. My proposed Zeroth Law of Errantry goes something like this:

If somebody is menaced by a villainous giant, and they insist beyond all sense that it is actually a highly desirable windmill, then I will not meddle with this silly situation unless the giant proceeds to thump me, or somebody who actually wants my protection.

I grant that the Zeroth Law tends to rule out the vast majority of real-world errantry. I think this is a feature, not a bug.

After all, I need some down-time to polish my armour, and read deeply in tomes of knightly lore, as The Big Sleep and The Bumper Book of Windmills; and my castle does need such a deal of redecorating, which by-the-by I am now finally in a position to start!

I go to face, against all odds, the awful ogre Junkpile. Smoke me a kipper!

1 comment:

  1. Hi Gray,
    Thanks for coming to the launch. singulary failed to email you about joining a new group on yahoogroups http://groups.yahoo.com/group/homeplanet/

    A crit and chat group.
    Maybe I'll see you there.

    ReplyDelete

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