The scourging of Quixote's library by his local priest reflects the real actions of the Inquisition in Counter-Reformation Spain. Their indexes called for texts deemed 'heretical' to be either censored wholesale or expurgated of their offending passages, the romances of chivalry generally being condemned as immoral and inflammatory. The scene is often interpreted as giving us a selection of Cervantes' own literary taste, using his fictional censor to condemn or praise the works which have inspired his satire. However, his farcical depiction of the priest's efforts, sparing individual books for arbitrary reasons while burning the majority without examining them at all, reflects the difficulties faced by anyone who tries to enforce personal taste as an absolute standard. Despite being officially prohibited, books of chivalric romance continued to be distributed amongst, and eagerly read by, the public.
A SELECTION OF 'SPARED' WORKS:
Online edition of Cervantes' own 'Galatea', translated by H. Oelsner and A.B. Welford
Online edition of 'Amadis de Gaula', translated and abridged by Robert Southey (1803)
Online edition of Johanot Martorell and Johan de Galba's 'Tirant lo Blanc', translated by Robert S. Rudder
Along with several other characters in the book, Don Quixote is under the mistaken impression that the romantic tales of knight-errantry he has been reading are depictions of a real period in history, rather than outlandish distortions of it. While the adventurous heroes of chivalric romance were often loosely inspired by real figures (see note to page 455), their wanderings strayed far and wide from the realm of fact. Nevertheless, the powerful image of a lone hero facing fantastical evils and righting wrongs has retained its grip on the popular imagination. The fictional exploits of knights errant held about the same position in their time as the equally improbable graphic/cinematic adventures of superheroes do today - consumed with fervour by their aficionados, and regarded with contempt by everyone else (with the occasional exception)
Sancho's wife is referred to in the next paragraph as 'Mari Gutiérrez', and in Don Quixote's second part becomes 'Teresa Cascajo', her threefold name being one of several much-debated inconsistencies in the book (See note to page 510).
One of Don Quixote's earliest and most iconic encounters, his disastrous tilt at the windmill has become the ultimate symbol of misguided, futile endeavour. The hidalgo's unsuccessful charge at what he believes to be a ferocious many-armed giant has been read both as comical evidence of his lunacy, and a poignant representation of the doomed valour to which it drives him.
Those seeking real locations behind Cervantes' fiction have selected as this scene's likely setting the plains of Campo de Criptana, a municipality of La Mancha where numerous archaic windmills today stand preserved as agricultural museums. This particular type represented innovative technology at the time, perhaps making Quixote's error more understandable and enabling some to interpret the hidalgo's charge as not only a humiliating proof of his insanity, but a poignant, hopeless ride against the tide of modern, industrial progress.