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A Novel Way to Treat a Spanish Legend

A Novel Way to Treat a Spanish Legend
A color plate by French artist Edy-Legrand from the 1950 Limited Editions Club imprint of Don Quixote

When Windmills Are Giants: The Novel Adventures of Don Quixote, a new exhibition at Doheny Memorial Library, follows the knight-errant and his companion Sancho Panza through 17th-century Spain.

Illustrations of memorable scenes from the novel reveal how Salvador Dal�, Gustav Dor�, Edy-Legrand and many other visual artists have interpreted Miguel de Cervantes’ epic.

“It’s a beautiful exhibit,” said James Creech, a first-year film production and political science major studying Don Quixote for two classes in the Thematic Option program. “It’s phenomenal to see all of the different illustrations and translations, and it shows how each of the artists explored Don Quixote’s themes of reality and illusion, modernity and deception, as well as the self-reflexive qualities of the novel.”

Creech joined other USC students, faculty and special guests, including Spanish consul general Inocencio Arias at the official opening reception on Feb. 19. Sherry Velasco, professor of Spanish and Portuguese and gender studies at USC College, spoke about the novel’s influence on storytelling and contemporary notions of identity.

“Cervantes was fascinated by the intimate relationship that develops between readers, listeners or spectators and their favorite forms of entertainment,” Velasco said.

Contrasting the reception of Don Quixote as a comic work by 17th-century readers to the novel’s present stature, Velasco shared an anecdote from the court of King Phillip III. When the monarch overheard a page laughing hysterically, he is said to have remarked, “Either that young man has lost his mind or he is reading Don Quixote.”

Velasco also cited the novel’s formal innovations and powerful influence on important 20th-century artists, including filmmaker Martin Scorsese. In the documentary Scorsese on Scorsese, the director said, “I read Don Quixote just before starting Gangs of New York and discovered that everything you might want to do with style, Cervantes did first: time shifts, answering critics of the first volume in the second, all the New Wave tricks.”

Catherine Quinlan, dean of the USC Libraries, said the exhibition’s focus on how artists have reimagined Don Quixote encourages new ways of understanding its story and significance.

“While we have sought to capture the familiar aspects of Don Quixote in this exhibition,” she said, “we also have endeavored to create opportunities for exploring the novel and its legacy from diverse perspectives.”

The rare volumes in the exhibition are taken from the L.A. Murillo Cervantes Collection, which came to the USC Libraries in 1985 when Spanish literature professor and USC alumnus Luis Andres Murillo donated 4,000 books related to the 17th-century author, including many rare editions of Don Quixote.

“All of us in the libraries,” Quinlan said, “are grateful for Dr. Murillo’s generosity and for this collection that enriches the research and scholarship of so many who study the Golden Age of Spanish literature at USC and beyond.”

To support students’ engagement with the exhibition and the Cervantes collection, librarian Barbara Robinson created an online guide that gives an overview of USC Libraries resources related to Don Quixote. The guide can be seen at

When Windmills Are Giants: The Novel Adventures of Don Quixote is open through May 16 at Doheny Memorial Library. The exhibition is part of the lead-up to an April 24 Visions and Voices event, “Cinematic Cervantes.”

The event will include a screening of the 2002 film Lost in La Mancha and a contest in which students create short films based on Cervantes’ novel. To learn more, visit

A Novel Way to Treat a Spanish Legend

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