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This article is taken from PN Review 147, Volume 29 Number 1, September - October 2002.

The Persistence of Myth David Gervais

I made my song a coat
Covered with embroideries
Out of old mythologies
From heel to throat...
                                    (Yeats)

When Don Quixote sees giants before him all Sancho Panza, his squire, sees is windmills and what, to the Don, is an apparition of Dulcinea el Toboso in all her beauty, Sancho takes for a peasant girl on a donkey. It is not simply that the Don thinks he sees the giants and Dulcinea, he really does see them - even if he deceives himself. Nor does he doubt his vision in the Cave of Montesinos, as Macbeth doubts his 'dagger of the mind'. His dreams are impregnable to disillusion of the sort that punctures those of other fictional dreamers like Lucien de Rubempré and Emma Bovary. Reality may mock them but it is not their measure. Only when the novel is over does the knight come to his senses and, when he does, he dies. The fascination of the Quixote is that it is able to acknowledge both dreams and reality at one and the same time. It is the first great story to deny marvels and fables in the name of ordinary life and yet it goes on drawing strength from the mythologies it discredits. In 'Part Two', this irony on which Cervantes's novel is founded is given a further twist: the Don discovers that his story has been plagiarised and that a false version of his character and adventures precedes him ...


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