I’m about to ‘review’ The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas. Now there is a certain part of me that quivers to attempt such a task. The renown and acclaim that this book has already achieved makes me wonder what I could possibly write on this humble little blog (or maybe not so humble) that has not already been said a million times over, and likely much more eloquently than I could hope to do in a million years. Scholars have likely picked apart this novel until there is nothing left and so . . . I read all 715 pages of the kindle edition and simply feel the need to talk about the book if not for the sole purpose of celebrating the fact that I finished a book with so many pages (ya it was a doozy). So let me begin by first telling a tale of my own, and relating to you how I became acquainted with our good friends Porthos, Athos, Aramis and D’artagnan . . .
Thank you sir may I have another!
In the spring of 2009 I started my first semester of college (well first semester on campus) and in spite of myself, rushed a fraternity. I ended up joining and had an extremely positive experience during my four years of college. For the most part it wasn’t like what you see in Old School or Animal House but we do have ritual and traditions which we followed to help bring the brothers together. We name the pledges and assign them a ‘big brother’ to help guide and mentor the ‘little brother’. And yes bigs will teach their littles how to meet girls, or drink beer, but if your lucky (like I was) your big will have much more to pass down to you then these frivolities which in all honesty, you learn in your own time and in your own way.
So on the night when we were to find out who our big was, the blind fold comes off and I am standing in front of a man who I have never seen in my life. He looks at me, puts his hand out for a hand shake and says “Hi. I’m N&%*. You’re big is T#%+ and I’m his big. I guess that makes you my grand-little.” Sound logic, but where was my big? Turns out he was at his ‘massage class’ which I’m not sure if I ever learned whether or not that was a real thing. Ironically, I was unable to attend the ceremony announcing my little because it fell on the same night as one of my dress rehearsals which I absolutely couldn’t miss. I called my big and he was able to stand in for me. When my little got his little, he had RA training and I stood in for him, and so the cycle continues. I think my grand-little will likely not even attempt to go to the ceremony announcing his little. Afterall, you can’t break tradition.
So after standing around for a while getting to know my grand-big, everyone else in the chapter politely demands to know what my pledge name is to be. N&%* looks around and says “Oh right. It’s D’Artagnan. I haven’t the slightest but T#%+ said you’d understand.” Well obviously I didn’t have the slightest either. I looked it up on the internet and found a type of duck sauce, and a character from this little book (well not really little) called The Three Musketeers. I was to be an English major, I figured it must be a literary thing and props to my big for being well read. I vowed to someday read this tome and find out who this D’Artagnan was in order that I might better understand this curious choice of naming.
The Best Made Plans . . .
Of course, the entirety of my college career came and went. I read probably close to a hundred other books in those four years (oh and the beer). Some for class (a lot for class ugh!) and some for fun, but never The Three Musketeers. I learned a great many things in college. Probably forgot a lot more. But in all of that I never asked, and I was never able to divine the true meaning of my pledge name. So finally, as a graduated Alumni almost a full year out of college, I decided to give the book a read through. And boy am I glad I did.
I didn’t really have any except for the story mentioned above. My general knowledge of The Three Musketeers extended to about the limits of a candy bar, which I will say, Three Musketeers candies are pretty damn good, but not helpful for what I wanted to know.
At some point I had seen Man in the Iron Mask, directed by Randall Wallace, and starring Leonardo DiCaprio. I really enjoyed that movie but remembered D’Artagnan (played by Gabriel Byrne) as something of a villain, although I suppose at the end he does the right thing.
Finally, I had just recently seen The Three Musketeers (2011) by Paul W.S. Anderson. In this film we see a young D’Artagnan meet each of the Musketeers individually in what is probably a close ish representation of the beginning chapters of the book. It diverts pretty drastically over the course of the movie (Britain attempting to take over france with some war zeppelins? Not sure that’s in the history books but eh?) but I didn’t know that when I watched it. The movie certainly had some weird issues with consistency. They bothered to make Aramis and Buckingham look similar (which I originally thought was bad casting) but then never used it as a device in the story (which the book already does. No new plot needed). Weird.
Talk about the book already!
Finally, I get a Kindle Paperwhite (which everyone at work calls the kindle paperweight) and start surfing through the free books on Amazon. Lo and behold!! The Three Musketeers is free so I download it. My general opinion is:
I can see why this book is so popular and why Dumas is such a critical figure in French writing (well I’m assuming he is) because this book was really good!!
Good in the way that I feel a lot of books in the ‘western canon’ are good. The sheer perseverance and stamina needed to finish such a feat of this nature means it must be good. Otherwise all of that work reading it was for nothing! It sounds like I’m knocking the book but I’m not. I did think it was a great example of a form of story telling which I feel could be coming back into fashion. What Wikipedia calls ‘High Adventure’ (although no link so I can’t give you a good definition). It may be easiest just describe a chapter and let you get a sense of it yourself.
The Bastion Saint-Gervais
In this chapter our four friends must discuss a matter of such grave importance that they cannot possibly chance being overheard. What do they do? They go to a local tavern for breakfast thinking they will be less likely to be overheard there, than in their room (doesn’t exactly seem like sound logic but let’s run with it anyway). No sooner are they seated, than a loud patron begins to inquire about their comings and goings and about the French siege of English troops. Of course they debate the merits of both the French and English armies and soon a wager is placed that our four friends cannot defend the recently won fortifications against a counter attack for 1 hour. Our fine Musketeers do not wager money but dinner, and pack themselves a nice basket for a picnic at the fortifications. Here, where no one else dare enter, is where they have their discussion. Of course the English attack three times with varying strengths of forces and the four Musketeers calmly defend against nearly quadruple their number. Finally upon the third attack, their stay at the fortifications has past the hour time limit they wagered and their private business is concluded. They triumphantly retreat as Athos waves a white cloth napkin they had been using in absence of a true French flag. Of course this feat of bravery earns them a great deal of clout with their superiors and D’Artagnan finally advances from the Guard to a full-fledged Musketeer.
Please note that none of this is meant as sarcasm or satire on my part (though I’m not sure on the part of Dumas) but is actually what happens in the chapter. These four are so brave, so noble, so calm and collected and such gentlemen in all of their dealings (even war) it literally made me want to yack. But it was also so good!!
Of course, this is a stark contrast to what we see later in the novel when they try Milday a.k.a the Comtesse de la Fere. This scene is almost Gothic in its use of imagery and setting. The descriptions of our four heroes is meant to inspire fear and I ended up feeling quite awful about what happens. I suppose that’s good writing. Turning a seemingly irredeemable villain into a tragic figure in one chapter while at the same time casting a dark shadow upon those we believed infallible heroes. Worth every bit of praise this book has received over the last 200+ years.
I suppose I should bring this full circle and reveal the mystery behind D’Artagnan and my pledge name. After all of this time, and reading, I felt I was acquainted with something very special in the character of D’Artagnan. He was young, ambitious, courteous and full of vitality. He was a great admirer of his friend and father figure Athos who was also noble, caring, and honest but who let his past troubles and experiences send him spiralling downwards in depression and vice. More than once I tried to draw the comparison between myself and D’Artagnan. To project the character of Athos onto my big T#&* who I revered in equal proportion to D’Artagnan’s awe of Athos. Finally, after I was sufficiently convinced that I had the right of it, I called my big and asked.
As it turns out, he didn’t mean D’Artagnan but Dartanian. Which means something entirely different . . . which I’ll not be posting here (may also be defined in terms of ‘high adventure’ but has nothing to do with literature). Look it up or don’t but definitely read The Three Musketeers! Also, I sincerely hope that someone in my fraternal line has the pledge name Alexandre Dumbass which was how I felt when I finally got the answer. Until next time. Laters.