“All for one, one for all”

How many film versions of it (I feel the 1973/74 version remains the best one) have we seen? But it’s one of those classics that SHOULD be read. I couldn’t post this photo until today because it was one of the birthday presents we got for my younger nephew (and godson), who turned 16 yesterday and has apparently entered his “musketeers phase.”

[Alexandre Dumas, The Three Musketeers. Everyman’s Library hardcover. Photo by me, 2018.]

I remembered first reading it in my teens, too. I found this The Three Musketeers on in an Everyman’s Library hardcover. It’s the sort of book you give as a real present.

It was written as primarily entertainment, not “highbrow” literature. Originally published in 1844 as a serial in a small circulation Paris paper, today it would’ve started life possibly as a cable TV or Netflix series. I have a paperback in the Catskills, and another version on my Kindle.

[Kindle version cover.]

It’s still a cracking good read regardless of format. The early 19th century was a prime time for such writing. Born in 1802, Frenchman Alexandre Dumas was influenced by the romanticism of Scotsman Walter Scott (Ivanhoe), who also influenced Americans Washington Irving and – of course! – Fenimore Cooper (The Last of the Mohicans), and many others.

Being born after the French Revolution (1789-1799), Dumas and many of his generation were “bored.” France by 1844 (again a monarchy until another bloody, though brief, revolution in 1848), when the story was first published, wasn’t the “glorious” – to many minds – France of “1800.” Although the tale revolves around royalty and aristocracy of the 1600s, Dumas slips in various anti-monarchist sentiments, but its true appeal lies in its pacey adventure storytelling: of intrigue, of good vs. evil, of camaraderie, of fighting against the odds, of honor, of saving the lady…

[Excerpt from Kindle version.]

And its first French readers loved it. And we still do. It was translated into English for the first time in 1846, and the Musketeers have since become some of the most globally well-known fictional characters ever invented.

Yet Dumas wasn’t big on what we’d today call “character development.” Aside from “d’Artagnan” (who isn’t a musketeer at the beginning, hence the title being only “three”), we never really get to know what the other musketeers think. “Athos” is the best developed; he drinks to drown his sorrows. Religiously-inclined “Aramis” is usually hard to like. “Porthos” is mostly brawn. It’s a bit sloppy in terms of writing in places too, but given the rush in which Dumas wrote it, that is little surprise (he didn’t have a PC); for instance, “d’Artagnan” seems barely to age: as I recall he was “20 years old” for several years.

Yet Dumas also researched the background well. Athos, Aramis and Porthos were indeed names of real – although not otherwise noteworthy – 17th century musketeers, and Dumas built the characters from there. He cleverly wove into his fanciful plot real historical figures, such as King Louis XIII, his queen Anne of Austria, the English Duke of Buckingham, and most famously Cardinal Richelieu, thus creating enduring, but not entirely accurate, images of them in our minds that endure to this day. (Richelieu’s in particular.) And he brings back to life early-1600s Paris, which was a much smaller city (no surprise really) than today’s version.

I envy someone reading it for the first time.

Have a good day, wherever you are reading this post in the world. ๐Ÿ™‚

2 replies »

  1. On the first cover, there are three “musketeers,” but only one of them has a musket, and on the second one, only one “musketeer,” but not a musket in sight. Well, that’s cover art for you.

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