Are They Windmills or Giants?


© C.E. Ayr

“Don Quixote?”

Wendy hadn’t visited her Uncle Brian’s place in Idaho for years but Mom finally “guilted” her into making the trip from California.

“I keep it as a reminder.”

They had been going through old keepsakes in his spare bedroom where she’d be sleeping, looking for family photo albums when they came across it.

“Of what?”

“That we can be easily deluded about what is and isn’t real.”

She thought this was as good a time as any. Wendy loved the old man but he had some pretty archaic ideas. “I brought you something.” She reached into her open suitcase, pulled out a book, and handed it to him.

“The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood,” he read from the cover. “I’ve heard of it.”

“I thought it might help you understand me better now that I’m grown up.”

“I’ll promise to read it on one condition.”

“What’s that?”

He left the room and came back a few minutes later with a dusty hardback he had obviously owned for decades. Taking it, she read the cover. “Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell.”

“Right, Wendy. I’ll read your book if you read mine. Maybe you’ll learn to understand me better, too.”

I wrote this for the Sunday Photo Fiction Challenge for January 21st 2018. The idea is to use the image above as the inspiration for creating a piece of flash fiction no more than 200 words long. My word count is 199.

The image is obviously the iconic scene of Don Quixote in Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra’s 17th century novel tilting at windmills which he imagined to be giants.

Yesterday was the Women’s March of 2018 which, like the same event a year before, was largely a protest against the policies of U.S. President Donald Trump. I have mixed feelings about how some portions of it were executed, especially the fact of some protestors dressing in costumes designed to mimic female genitals.

Other women however, dressed as characters from Atwood’s novel which has now been developed as a television series.

Both Atwood’s and Orwell’s novels, written decades apart, predict a dystopian future where society is ruled by a totalitarian government. Orwell created a cautionary tale about what life would be like under a communist/socialist dictatorship, while Atwood took the opposite approach casting her totalitarian regime as conservative and Christian.

I used the image of “tilting at windmills” to illustrate, based on the manipulation of news and social media, how easily we can lose track of what is factual and what is not. If we simply believe what we’re told, then we can allow ourselves to blindly follow one ideology or another without considering the stability of the foundation upon which those beliefs are based.

So the younger and more liberal Wendy will make an effort to understand her Uncle’s perspectives while the older and more conservative Brian will do the same.

To read other stories based on the prompt, go to


25 thoughts on “Are They Windmills or Giants?

  1. I suspect that “Uncle Brian” is quite familiar already with the notion that totalitarianism is much the same, whether based in the leftist or the rightist extreme – hence his choice of recommended reading for Wendy. Perhaps Wendy will likewise come to recognize it, and perhaps even the difference between the extreme and the rational (not to say merely “moderate, with its tendencies toward moral ambiguity). I can think of some other worthwhile writings to recommend, that are fundamental to the original American notion of “liberty”, which depends on conscientious responsibility to conform with a social contract.

    As for Don Quixote’s windmills, well, they *were* rather large, after all…. Nonetheless, I don’t think we can infer into Cervantes’ writing any post-modern surrealistic philosophy of the Timothy Leary type, where hallucination is deemed preferable to sober reality. But your point is well taken that superficially one can derive from Quixote’s example the maxim that Brian cited about how easily one can be deluded about what is and is not “real” (or “fake”, for that matter).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, that’s kind of my point. Brian already understand that *any* ideology that is taken to an extreme can become a dictatorship, regardless of whether it’s conservative or liberal. I wrote a number of short stories early in the existence of this blog illustrating the dangers of a progressive totalitarianism. I did get a certain amount of “blowback”.

      Liked by 1 person

    • True though I believe his choice was the most appropriate, Keith.

      I spoke with one of my sons this morning and he mentioned he’s reading Ray Bradbury’s “Something Wicked This Way Comes.” It’s the first of Bradbury’s works he’s read. I was surprised he hadn’t read “Fahrenheit 451,” which is usually on some school’s required reading list and, in my opinion, the Bradbury novel that most aptly applies to the modern era.

      Liked by 2 people

    • As another commenter mentioned, I suspect Brian will experience less of a revelation than Wendy since he’s been around long enough to experience both sides of the coin.


    • I haven’t read it, just a summary. I have reserved it at my local library to see if it has merit.

      I can’t predict if a re-read of 1984 will be more your cup of tea this time around. It is a slow and dreary book but it teaches an important lesson. You can likely find it at your local library so you don’t have to spend any money renting or buying it.

      Liked by 1 person

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