Don Quixote is a novel that doesn’t need much introduction. Not only is widely considered the greatest Spanish literary work of all time, one of the greatest literary works in history, and a cornerstone of the Western literary canon, it’s also considered one of the first—if not the first—modern novels.
The story is of the eponymous Don Quixote, a country noble who, in his old age, reads too many chivalric romances and goes mad. After convincing his grubby servant, Sancho Panza, to join him as his squire, he embarks on an absurd and comic quest to do good and right wrongs.
Today Don Quixote’s two volumes are published as a single work, but their publication came ten years apart. Cervantes saw great success with the publication of his first volume and appeared to have little desire to write a second volume until a different author wrote a spurious, inferior sequel. This kicked Cervantes into gear and he wrote volume two, a more serious and philosophical volume than the largely comic first volume.
Despite being written in 1605 and translated in 1885, Don Quixote contains a surprising amount of slapstick laughs—even for the modern reader—and narrative devices still seen in today’s fiction, including meta-narratives, frame narratives, and metafiction. Many scenes (like Quixote’s attack on the windmills) and characters (like Sancho Panza and Lothario) are so famous that they’re ingrained in our collective culture.