Saturday, June 1, 2013

The Well-Educated Mind: Cracking Open Don Quixote

It's funny how a particular theme finds itself to you through different facets.

I'm not always proud of my taste in movies, but this last week I rewatched an old fave, Career Opportunities, starring Jennifer Connelly and Frank Whaley.

Film poster

The movie is about Jim Dodge, the "cool guy" in town, who at only 15, invented the artificial cow heart and works closely with the FBI. Only none of these things are true, except his name. Jim creates his own reality, and the townspeople play along but call him the "town liar" behind his back. But he's likeable and funny despite him being full of shit.

Back up 400 years and Miguel de Cervantes has brought to life Don Quixote, a likeable and funny man who is also full of shit.

Having read mounds of adventure novels, he dreams of becoming a knight-errant to relive the heroism he has only read about. After renaming himself, his bony old horse, and devoting himself to a lady he barely knows, he rides off to pursue his adventure.

“Don Quixote and Sancho Panza” by Honore Daumier (1850) via Wikipedia

I also watched a documentary last night called The Woman Who Wasn't There about Tania Head, the woman who completely fabricated a story about surviving the 9/11 attacks, mourned a husband she didn't actually know, and headed The World Trade Center Survivors' Network, even though (as it came out later)  she hadn't even been to America until 2003.

This woman, like Don Quixote, invented an entire fantasy around her, not for money, but for fame. 

This theme of people inventing crazy realities is circling around me, it seems, which has led to this silly comparison:

Compare and Contrast of Jim Dodge and Don Quixote, so far as the first four chapters of DQ:


1. Both dream up wild fantasies to make their lives more interesting.
2. Both beef up their rides (Quixote names a beat-up and skinny horse Rocinante; Jim rents a limo to take him to a night custodial job at Target)
3. Both envision themselves the fancy of beautiful women (Quixote/Dulcinea; Jim/Josie)
4. People around them know they are full of shit.
5. Both orate on their greatness.
6. Both wear hand-me-downs. (Quixote his great-great grandfather's rusty and moldy armor; Jim wears Darnell's red coveralls)


1. Jim "lets" Josie keep her name; Don Quixote renames Aldonza a more "harmonious and significant" name, Dulcinea.
2. Quixote actually goes adventuring, even if he still imagines inns to be castles and whores to be virgins. Jim works the night shift at Target (adventure comes to him later).
3. Jim is young, 21, and Quixote is older, 50.
4. Quixote doesn't seem to really know he's full of shit; Jim knows but gets caught up in the fantasy.

Don Quixote is turning out to be a hilarious book, despite my initial fear of its length and age, and I'm excited to read through more of it.


  1. What fun! I love this comparison and I never heard about Tania Head - what a bizarre story!

  2. I can't stop thinking of these quixotic characters...I just thought of Buzz Lightyear, the toy who thought he was an actual intergalactic space ranger and misread reality to suit his fantasy, haha.

    The Tania Head story is bizarre. I remember her old friends appearing on the Dr. Phil show to talk about what she did and why. The documentary is pretty well-done and is available streaming on Netflix.