Isn’t it lovely when 400 year old Spanish literature jives with modern day comic book spoofs?
I think so, but then again I’m crazy – or as The Tick would say, I’m “going sane in a crazy world.”
The Tick is a big blue goofy guy in a tick costume created by Ben Edlund in 1986. Originally conceived as an escapee from a mental institution, he takes on the role of superhero, bringing justice and righting wrongs in “The City.” He befriends an accountant living a boring life and makes him into his sidekick Arthur. His battlecry is “Spoon!”
Don Quixote, meanwhile, is an old goofy guy in a knight costume. As written by Miguel de Cervantes in 1605 and 1615 in “The Ingenius Nobleman Don Quixote of La Mancha,” Don Quixote has read so many books about chivalry and romance that he abandons his home to take on the role of knight, bringing justice and righting wrongs in the world. He befriends a farmer, Sancho, and takes him on as his squire. Even better, in the 1964 musical adaptation, he sings! … in rousing, exquisite ballads like…
“I am I, Don Quixote, the lord of La Mancha, my destiny calls and I go – and the wild winds of fortune shall carry me onwards, wither so ever they blow, onward to glory I go!”
By the end, I swear, you’ll be crying at those hokey words, and loving that in his world, a windmill is a giant, a tavern is a castle, and a prostitute is a princess.
One reason that musical is so amazing is that by the end, you realize his delusions were in some ways more on the mark than reality. His joe-schmo friend Sancho is truly as loyal and noble as a squire. Aldonza, the prostitute, was indeed deserving of the respect that he gave to her. His brief loss of the delusions is heart-breaking, and his regaining them feels so important.
It does make you wonder – who is crazy here, and who is sane? What’s the point of sane? As The Tick says, “isn’t sanity really just a one trick pony anyway? I mean all you get is one trick, rational thinking, but when you’re good and crazy, ooooh, oooh, ooh, the sky is the limit!”
Another stroke of genius from the musical is putting that story in the framing device of the novel’s writer, Miguel Cervantes, putting it on as a play in prison. He is waiting for trial in the Inquisition, as are the other miserable prisoners. But when they become the actors, they embody those parts, and by the end they too feel the importance of the story’s idealism, whimsy, love, even in the face of reality’s horrors.
Taking a step back, we the audience watching “Man of La Mancha” are likewise inspired by the real actors’ playing of Miguel Cervantes’ actors playing of Don Quijote playing at idealism, whimsy, and love.
Inception has nothing on that show.
In fact, the book is so beloved that that is where we get the fun word “quixotic,” or “exceedingly idealistic, unrealistic and impractical.”
The Tick, meanwhile, has not been quite as influential on our culture as Cervantes’ 400 year old novel. It has, however, through its various issues and TV adaptations made a lot of nerdy fans very happy, myself included – especially because reality and I aren’t always the best of friends.
I too lose my mind occasionally, thanks to depression and anxiety. Ironically, however, it is when I’m not in these dark moods that my mind is “lost,” but in the best ways. When I’m myself, I’m up on stage – figuratively if not physically. I can fully embody the roles I’m meant to play in my life. More than that, I can see overarching, idealistic reasons for those roles, a great story to take part in. It’s not sane, grounded realism, and thank goodness for that.
Our plain reality is that we are stuck in these fragile bodies, trying to communicate our thoughts and feelings in flawed, fractured ways to others we don’t understand. All the while, we are floating in a cosmos we don’t understand. Sad things happen. Bad things happen.
It takes some serious play acting to see beyond that, to see motivations and inspiration and possibilities. Just living with purpose can be pretty quixotic. After a bad mental health moment, I love it when I can get myself back on the stage of my mind, putting together mental sets and props and envisioning where the script might go.
It’s sad to me when our society doesn’t reflect the beauty of this – when fandoms are belittled and books aren’t read. When amazing dreaming scientists aren’t given the voice they deserve. When kids are forced in from the playgrounds and into standardized testing.
So often, and especially these days, we try to put the world into boring boxes. Boxes of things to be celebrated and things to be disdained. People who belong and people who do not. Ideas that suit your political party and ideas that do not. Things that are crazy and things that are sane.
But if we allow ourselves to turn over those boxes and play, to pretend at being and seeing in different ways, we have the potential to be so much more. When adults play, when we challenge ourselves to make narratives where there none, we can make amazing things. We can make art that truly connects us. We can make machines that fly to the stars.
As Don Quixote puts it in his break-out ballad, his goal is to take on our flawed world and make it better:
“Hear me now oh thou bleak and unbearable world
Thou art base and debauched as can be
And a knight with his banners all bravely unfurled
Now hurls down his gauntlet to thee!”
In similar, equally elegant prose, The Tick announces,
“I am the wild blue yonder. The front line in a never-ending battle between good and not-so-good. Together with my stalwart sidekick Arthur, and the magnanimous help of some other folks I know, we form the yin to villainy’s malevolent yang. Destiny has chosen us. Wicked men — you face the Tick!”
And so I intend to yell “Spoon!” even when I don’t have any cereal. I intend to fight windmills like they were giants. And I intend to teach kids to do the same. But for helping future generations with their own ideas of sanity, you’ve got to turn not to Cervantes, but The Tick.
“Babies, chum: tiny, dimpled, fleshy mirrors of our us-ness, that we parents hurl into the future, like leathery footballs of hope. And you’ve got to get a good spiral on that baby, or evil will make an interception.”