The most contemptible thing a person can be in modern England is Don Quixote. That doesn’t deliver value to shareholders. That doesn’t win back the Red Wall. Righting wrongs and giving aid to orphans? That kind of thing would have us feeding the hungry; housing the homeless; opposing genocide. We simply can’t build windmills to save the planet, when there are so many sensible people ready to take up arms against them. To imagine that the world could be different is an affront to British values.

The trouble is that there are giants everywhere, and powerful enchanters transforming them to seem benign, friendly, even essential, and we have to find a way to fight against them even when the world calls us mad.

But never mind Don Quixote’s madness. We are not even supposed to rise to the level of Sancho Panza’s simplicity. When required to judge a paradoxical case in which the law requires a man to be hanged unless he is hanged, and go free unless he goes free, Sancho decrees:

they should let him pass freely, for doing good is always more praiseworthy than doing evil

The sensible, realistic person of 21st century England is not supposed to apply such essential moral principles to the tricky situations they are presented with. That is the great value of such hypotheticals: they can make us doubt the basic human truths that would otherwise guide us. The dukes and duchesses of this world still think that ordinary people given power will flounder in the face of a complex world that only their betters understand. They will go on thinking this however many times they are shown otherwise.

Instead, we are supposed to be like Anselmo in The Man Who Was Recklessly Curious, so convinced that the world cannot be good that we destroy the good that is in it. Cervantes notes in the second part of Don Quixote that his readers criticized this diversion. You can see why: who would want to visit Anselmo’s bitter self-destruction, when back at the inn Don Quixote is surrounded by reunited lovers whose happy endings could have sprung straight from the good knight’s imagination?

What can we do in the face of those enchanters who will call us ‘good’ only if we are defeated, repent, and die? Perhaps we can turn to the quiet, private plea that Don Quixote whispers to Sancho Panza after they dismount the supposedly-flying wooden horse Clavileño and Sancho claims to have seen wonderful things in the sky:

“Sancho, just as you want people to believe what you have seen in the sky, I want you to believe what I saw in the Cave of Montesinos. And that is all I have to say.”

This is the heart of Don Quixote: a friendship between two people who, though they disagree and bicker, though each to some degree shares the wider world’s doubts about the other, stand in constant solidarity against that scornful world. This much we can do for one another. It may sometimes leave us deceived or deluded; we may be beaten and tossed in blankets; but we can stand together and believe in our friends. We cannot defeat giants otherwise.

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