No Don Quixote? The Massive Influence of Amadis of Gaul

Lush action-packed painting of two knights battling. A gold knight on a white horse defends against a blow from a black-armored knight.
Confrontation of Knights in the Countryside by Eugene Delacroix, 1834

What’s a world without Don Quixote?

Imagine a Twilight Zone episode where the most influential novel of all time never existed. . .

All the books you love suddenly vanish out of your hands.

Books are more serious.

No Sancho Panza.

Yes, that’s right.

Yet what influenced the most influential?

Almost entirely forgotten except by the nerdiest of literary scholars (ahem, yes your friendly blog writer counts), a series of Spanish and Portuguese novels called Amadis of Gaul electrified the Iberian Peninsula with a mania for noble deeds, sorcery, and knights. Raised in Scotland by the knight Gandales, Amadis loves and battles his way through a series of adventures.

Over time, Spanish readers got deluged by sequels, threequels, fourquels, eightquels and more of Amadis of Gaul, written by various writers, and the market ballooned, many could not get enough of noble adventures!

Enter Don Quixote.

Amused and annoyed by the phenomena of knightly novels, Miguel de Cervantes got inspired to parody the genre. In Don Quixote, he singles out Amadis of Gaul as the progenitor of all the knightly novels and the finest. It is Don Quixote’s favorite book.

Discover for yourself this old masterpiece in a beautiful old edition at Special Collections and University Archives!

Doodles Everlasting

1602 doodles in black ink of birds, knights, and squares. Pembroke and Mary Talbot are written out in old quill lettering.
Doodles in 1602 Chaucer volume

Going through the Special Collections and University Archives rare vault with Rare Books and Manuscripts Archivist Amy Bishop, we pulled out a very old volume of Chaucer from 1602. Turning way to the back, we found a whole amazing page splashed with the art of two friends (one Mary Talbot), who either bored or inspired by Chaucer, had drawn a ton of amazing doodles on the back!

Take a look at the birds, knights, and faces. . .what has changed about your daydreams compared to then? When you’re drooling onto your calculus notebook. . .what do you scribble in the lines around your saliva? Take a look at this page also.

More drawings in black ink of helmeted knights with feathers protruding out of their helmets.
Doodles in 1602 Chaucer volume

These feathered hats and knight-like styles have faded away since Mary Talbot doodled in the back of Chaucer. And if anything, it’s a beautiful lesson in impermanence. Many masterpieces since 1602 have gotten swallowed into time and destroyed, but these doodles live on.

Way back when Mary Talbot first drew these in England, could anyone have guessed they would be in Ames, Iowa over 420 years later?

Bronte & Thackeray: Heroes & Potatoes

Old blue complete works set of Thackeray with slight fade on the spines and titles.
Special Collections vintage Thackeray set!

Be careful what you wish for.

In 1854, the young writer Charlotte Brontë published the 2nd Edition of Jane Eyre, dedicating it to William Makepeace Thackeray as “the first social regenerator of the day. . .His wit is bright, his humour attractive, but both bear the same relation to his serious genius that the mere lambent sheet-lightning playing under the edge of the summer- cloud does to the electric death-spark hid in its womb.”

At that time, Thackeray’s Vanity Fair had just been published to rapturous reviews, a real rival to Dickens. Thanking Brontë profusely, Thackeray and his admirer finally got to meet at a dinner hosted by her publisher.

What happens when you meet your hero? When the creator of hundreds of lives — hundreds of characters — is just one man?


Throughout the dinner, Charlotte Brontë’s shy awe made her unable to speak. Thackeray ate potatoes. Each bite popped Charlotte’s ideal. By all accounts, it was a bad dinner. On their second meeting, things didn’t improve much either, at a dinner hosted for female writers by Thackeray. For all her brilliant words on the page, Charlotte could only manage “Yes” and “No”, stared off gloomily, and it was a rotten evening.

Who are our heroes? Who they are? Or what they produce?

Be careful what you wish for. Heroes may be wildlife best viewed from a distance.

Read more here

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