December, 1989. I was in ninth grade. A little show called Quantum Leap was getting a lot of buzz. I taped it on our Betamax.
Sam leaps into the body of an off-off-broadway actor playing the title role of Cervantes/Don Quixote in Man of La Mancha. In a manner that would not be limited to this instance (as my brilliant attempt at an Ewok-heavy Return of the Jedi sequel had proved), I was inspired to engage a work of art not as observer but as participant.
I watched the tape until it got all weird and staticky. I bought the soundtrack to the musical (and through repeated listening, used what I learned to nab a choice role as a Shark in West Side Story). I read the Cervantes novel three times (it should be more, but it’s a long chunky book). I saw the musical at a revival. I own ten copies (in English and Espanol), including a vintage edition with the gorgeous Dore engraving above. I own three statues, and multiple paintings of that poor deluded knight.
Why? Don Quixote is the patron saint of readers and writers. He is a fictional character who becomes so obsessed with the art of fiction, that he loses his grip on reality, choosing the fictional world over the objective. And he would be a tragic figure, were that the end, but instead the world around him mutates into the world he wished it were.
Don Quixote is the ultimate fanboy, the ultimate cosplay enthusiast, who turns the world around him into his fetish. We should all be so lucky as to have our fictional passions come to life.
But he is also the artist, preoccupied with his own fantasies that he writes reality to match his dreams.
So, it’s probably not that weird that Sam Beckett inhabiting a man who is inhabiting a role of Cervantes acting out his character Don Quixote, would inspire some Canadian lad to go to MIT (Sam Beckett’s old stomping ground), study theater, and try his hand at bringing his own fantasies to life.
There’s just a whole lot of meta going on.