Recently I finished reading the Edith Grossman translation of Cervantes’ Don Quixote, which is the greatest book I have ever read. That morning I dreamed an alternate ending, coming (most appropriately) on the very edge of wakefulness, or the last plains of sleep.
The book ends with the repenting of Don Quixote’s madness, his death, and many other assurances and warnings meant to ensure that Quixote’s adventures are never to be continued: an official document recording his death is composed and notarised by the priest; Cide Hamete, the Arabian narrator Cervantes claims to be translating, warns his pen (should others attempt to pick it up): “For me alone was Don Quixote born, and I for him; […] the two of us alone are one”; Quixote’s last recorded words describe how sorry he is that his existence has prompted the creation of a false history (one published between Cervantes’ first and second parts) filled with “so many and such great absurdities”.
The record is quite clear, especially when considering the increasing frequency the aforementioned false Quixote and its pseudonymous author Alonso Fernandez de Avellaneda are mentioned and derided in the chapters following Cervantes’ knowledge of the book. And of all books, Don Quixote is one that deserves the end it chooses.
My alternate ending, so well-guarded against, persists because it consists of all the adventures the deceased Quixote (Alfonso Quixano, post-repentance) will never have. It could be as small as a paragraph, or never-ending, filling an infinite series of volumes with his varied and entertaining adventures. It is probably not a true alternate ending: the concept is already made implicit by the narrative’s ignorance of it, as in Borges’ story The Garden of Forking Paths and the concept of “time,” deliberately never mentioned in T’sui Pen’s great labyrinth as novel.
Note that Cide Hamete and Cervantes take precautions against everything but the fantastic in the book’s final paragraph:
[…] the two of us alone are one, despite and regardless of the false Tordesillan writer who dared, or will dare, to write with a coarse and badly designed ostrich feather about the exploits of my valorous knight, for it is not a burden for his shoulders or a subject for his cold creativity; and you will warn him, if you meet him, to let the weary and crumbling bones of Don Quixote rest in the grave, and not attempt, contrary to all the statutes of death, to carry them off to Castilla la Vieja, removing him from the tomb where he really and truly lies, incapable of undertaking a third journery or a new sally [.]
I am working from a translation, but the language is highly specialised: the exploits implies authentic and historical action; a suggestion is made to let the weary and crumbling bones of Don Quixote rest in the grave–in other words, he is firmly dead, and make no attempts to ressurect him; he is incapable of undertaking a third journey or a new sally. The frequent hammer-strokes against an attempt at a new “canonical” addition to the novel are paradoxically an invitation to speculation. If Quixote’s adventures continued in a totally fantastic mode, as the lives of the knight errants he emulated, whether or not he was capable of undertaking them would not matter: it is not the exploits of Don Quixote that would be described, but the exploits that were never performed by Don Quixote.
It’s true that in a later sentence (the second-to-last) Cide Hamete declares that his only desire for the book is to “have people reject and despise the false and nonsensical histories of the books of chivalry.” But in Don Quixote Cervantes seems to accept more aspects of these novels than he rejects, and if Quixote’s adventures present a sort of realistic antithesis they still contain all of the mystery, wonder, raw storytelling and exotica of the chilvaric books he is lampooning, even if his protagonist is insane. And, in nine lines of poetry composed by the very man who ended Don Quixote’s questing once and for all, he seems to even endorse Quixote’s mode of living:
Here lies the mighty Gentleman
who rose to such heights of valor
that death itself did not triumph
over his life with his death.
He did not esteem the world;
he was the frightening threat
to the world, in this respect,
for it was his great good fortune
to live a madman, and die sane.
There are many more examples. The later chapters abound with them, such as this statement made by a noble from Barcelona to the man who defeated Quixote, sent him back to his village, and composed the above poem:
“Oh, Senor,” said Don Antonio, “may God forgive you for the harm you have done to the entire world in wishing to restore the sanity of the most amusing madman in it! Don’t you see, Senor, that the benefit caused by the sanity of Don Quixote cannot be as great as the pleasure produced by his madness?”
The benefits of Quixote’s madness were not only to those who saw it as entertainment: as knight errant, Quixote fought and vanquished whole armies, was actively persued by maidens, experienced a variety of enchantments, both good and bad, and saw more of the world than he ever would have otherwise. If the novel is only against books of chivalry that declare themselves to be true histories, wouldn’t a wholly fantastic third sally fit within its philosophy? It’s acknowledged by the sane Quixano that none of what he believed happened had: that he was, in effect, imagining or dreaming the reality of the vast majority of his adventures. So why not continue the adventure via an infinite dream: by Quixote during his last days, when he slept frequently and experienced many fainting spells, or by Cide Hamete, or even the character of Cervantes, idly imagining what might have happened had Quixote lived?
It does not have to be much to clarify the already limitless possibilities contained within the text. An example of what I dreamed this morning follows:
Last night, in my anxiousness, I imagined an adventure I am certain will never happen: after an entire year of living in heaven, Don Quixote was sent back to his village. By the grace of God he was completely restored. For several days there was much rejoicing, and everyone who knew him, especially his close friends, could not believe their luck. And by the way he talked of enchanters and enchantments, inquired after Dulcinea and of the health of Rocinante, his nag, it was clear that he’d forgotten entirely about his deathbed repentances, or else the person of Alfonso Quixano who had uttered them only existed in those specific instances that accompanied death. He ordered provisions made, and his horse saddled, and these were orders that Sancho Panza very gladly obeyed.
On the day they were set to leave for their third sally, a great multitude of villagers gathered to witness the spectacle that was a man they’d thought dead astride his horse, healthy as ever, and covered head-to-toe in his old armour, which Sancho had polished to this best of his ability. Don Quixote addressed the crowd in his confusion, imagining that he was speaking to kings, courtiers, and maidens. In a gesture of farewell he pulled at his reigns, meaning to rear Rocinante handsomely, but a year of rest had not had the same effect on his nag that it had on Don Quixote, and the poor horse could only manage a few steps backwards.