Summary and Analysis
The Author's Preface
Unable to recommend his "stepchild" to his readers with laudations or apologies, Cervantes writes that "though I bestowed some time in writing the book, yet it cost me not half so much labor as this very preface." Stalemated at this task of preface-writing, he welcomes the intrusion of a friend and complains to him of his difficulty. The friend laughs at such a simple problem, and Cervantes transcribes the wise counsel he receives. To make the work appear scholarly, his friend advises him to insert random Latin phrases among his sentences in the most appropriate contexts. Cervantes must provide footnotes as well, phrasing these in glib, pseudo-scientific language. Finally, for an impressive bibliography, he should copy the entire alphabetical index of authors out of some book that has such a list and incorporate it as part of his own.
On the other hand, continues the friend, Don Quixote requires slightly different treatment, being a profane history. "Nothing but pure nature is your business, . . . and the closer you can imitate your picture is the better," he counsels. Furthermore, no outside sources have to be cited since the aim of Don Quixote is merely to "destroy the authority and acceptance the books of chivalry have had in the world." Though you wish to "challenge attention from the ignorant and admiration from the judicious," he tells the author, keep your attention riveted to the main purpose of this writing "the fall and destruction of that monstrous heap of ill-contrived romances, which, though abhorred by man, have so strangely infatuated the greater part of mankind." Cervantes reports that his friend's arguments were so convincing that he was moved to write the whole story by way of preface.
The preface itself functions to show the readers what a good storyteller the author is, cleverly inviting them to seek the main body of the book for even better stories. Furthermore, the reader can instantly notice the utter candor of this author who not only admits his dullness at preface-writing, but transcribes an entire conversation to show the development of his thoughts. The reader also learns that there appears no false scholarship in this "profane history" of the famous knight of La Mancha, so that the story must be a truthful one.
Thus by example, as well as by direct explanation, Cervantes sets forth his main qualities as a writer: felicity to natural happenings, realistic detail portrayed as if in a painting, and purposeful writing in order to destroy the pernicious influence of books of chivalry. Besides amusing the reader in his preface, promising him a didactic, truthful history, Cervantes also suggests that Don Quixote is not superficial and that the "judicious" will find much to think about in the course of the reading.