Re: Cervantes: Don Quixote
I think Manuel has put his finger on an important point.
Many of the greatest books are, IMHO, not so much "inaccessible" as "ineffable." Don Quijote, I suggest, is one of them; while those among us who have actually read it see it as the remarkable adventure it is, for many others it's been "Man-of-La-Mancha"-ized -- simplified, predigested, retrofitted to the popular perspective rather than taken on its own terms.
Almost anybody aware at all of European literature, after all, knows a little about the character of Quijote, if not much about the book itself. You know, the guy who tilts at windmills? Wears a chamberpot for a helmet? 'Nuff said.
Which is completely silly, at least after you've read the whole thing in its original, integral glory (in Spanish, if possible, but in any case, the whole thing). However, we don't need to look far to find similar examples: the Brothers Grimm is another such, a collection of "fairy tales" frequently dismissed as being for kids although anyone who has read the complete, unabridged version knows that a lot of it is pretty scary once you get past the sugary trappings like the witch's gingerbread house in "Hansel and Gretel," say. Nor do many people recognize that in that story, f'rinstance, there's a case for the witch, too -- the two children DO take a few bites out of her house; they owe her. Maybe not as much as the pounds of flesh she tries to collect, but in the first instance she is the wronged party, which is often overlooked in the conventional view of two innocent kids and an evil woman (not even to mention that when the Grimms were creating the general attitude towards children was a very different one from today's).
Also, back to Cervantes, unless you're familiar with the tradition of courtoisie already, a lot of the more subtle bits of humor and satire will elude you. This combination of "everybody knows" and "few really appreciate" is a one-two punch that discourages a lot of commentary, IMO.
Which is too bad, because Cervantes really is a master and the book is very, very, very much more than some funny tales about a crackpot.
"In the end most things -- perhaps all things -- turn out to have been appropriate." -- Anthony Powell, Casanova's Chinese Restaurant