Tuesday, March 27, 2007

...Or he could touch the stars

Because of something Maggie posted I've been thinking about Cervantes lately.

Most people don't realize that Don Quixote was originally a story about how stupid knight-errant tales are and if you read them too much they'll rot your brain. It's basically a big insult to the other writers of his era.

Flash forward a century or so and we see it as a story of one man's dream to have an exciting life instead of succumbing to the boredom of typical old age, which, I suppose, is also what the story is about. It's certainly more meaningful than the "You suck" message Cervantes sends when he has Quixote's relatives name specific real world books and why they're stupid as they burn them.

If you watch a movie version of that it's always "Aww, they shouldn't burn those books" instead of the original, "This book is such crap it deserves to be destroyed."

I find that attitude ironic coming from a writer, but Cervantes was kind of a trouble maker.

I wonder how he'd feel about our modern interpretation of his work?

I know how he'd feel about high school textbooks. He'd most likely burn them with his supersarcasm.

I kept teacher's editions of books I wasn't supposed to so I have many resources available to me at home. The other day I wanted to look up a quote from Don Quixote and I found the section in two textbooks. It's right after the giants turn back into windmills and Quixote is all screwed up and Sancho Panza comes to his aide.

The line in one textbook is this:

"And Sancho Panza came to his aide as quickly as he could."

Oh blech. What a boring line. Way to drain all the fun out of that story, McDougall-Littel. The Glencoe textbook said this:

"Sancho Panza rushed to his assistance as fast as his ass could trot."

Much better, isn't it? He's on a donkey, see? I don't know what it is in Spanish but in English it's pretty amusing. It makes the kids laugh every time. And when the kids laugh, they like the story.

Take the beginning of Romeo and Juliet. Most teachers don't tell them about the dirty jokes because they think it's inappropriate. But as soon as you explain that the boys are making sex puns, the kids are immediately interested. My kids always love the play because I make sure they can relate to it. Other teachers' kids often say it's boring because all they see is an old language they don't understand.

That's why rule number one in my classroom for me and for the kids is "Don't be boring". Always go for the most interesting word or the most surprising observation.

Today's title is inspired by Cyrano de Bergerac (also the name of my cat), when De Guiche refers to Don Quixote and what happens when a man chases windmills and Cyrano responds with his own interpretation.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous2:40 AM

    I know exactly what you mean! Students roll their eyes if you tell them you'll be teaching them Shakespeare. But if you begin the story of this young guy whose uncle is doing his mom, they'll pay attention.

    I found that Romeo and Juliet definitely speaks to teens. But since I was teaching at a middle school level, I had to make some real decisions about how far to stick my neck out when explaining the sex jokes. Ultimately, 6th graders didn't get a full entendre explanation of maidens being thrust to the wall, but 8th graders did.

    Not even for my oldest students, though, did I define "maidenhead."


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