Duels. Lovers. Mid-night rendezvous. Mistaken identity. Revenge. There was plenty of adventure in Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers. But it was the humor that captured my attention and kept me reading.
I mentioned the other day that, thanks to Zola’s emphasis on “a point,” I was frustrated by the first bit of Dumas’ book, simply because I kept expecting some point to it all. I came to realize, however, that the point of Dumas’ story is to have fun. It’s full of humor, and the entire concept of dueling is rather amusing when every possible offense is “solved” by challenging to the death.
D’Artagnan is a young man sent to Paris to seek his fortune. His dream, of course, is the work with musketeers of the king. Within a day of arriving in Paris, he finds himself at odds with a few of the king’s musketeers and when he approaches them for their duel, he finds they are three close friends. When he proves himself through his swordsmanship, they all vow to remain friends: “One for all and all for one,” they say. They soon find adventure and reason for revenge, and the rest, as they say, is history.
The humor kept me laughing. Aramis, the soon-to-be abbé, writes love poetry with one-syllable lines. Athos locks himself in a wine cellar for weeks. Porthos claims a duel ended because he slipped on a stone and sprained his knee (while in reality, the adversary ran him through). The characters’ are funny and endearing, and the desire for revenge and “honor” kept me cheering for them.
I was quite surprised by the amount of history in the novel, although it may be more accurate to call it “tradition.” It captures some of the religious conflict in 1628 France, as well as the delicate political balance between King Louis XIII and Cardinal Richelieu. The only problem with calling The Three Musketeers “historical fiction,” however, is Dumas’ multiple inaccuracies, which I found amusing to read about in Richard Pevear’s extensive notes (and some of which were blatantly obvious to me, a novice in French history). There are also chronology errors on Dumas’ part. Some of the issues I noticed as I read. For example, one chapter it is December, and in the next chapter, eight days later, it is August. Um, did I miss something? No: Pevear points out that was Dumas’ error. Other anachronisms are slightly less noticeable: such as when the main character in 1628, considers Gulliver’s adventures a full century before Jonathon Swift wrote it. These anachronisms and errors didn’t ruin the book – but rather just made it amusing to me, and reminded me of the reason there are editors and fact checkers today!
Despite all the positive things about the novel, there were two things I strongly disliked in Dumas’ adventure: the women and the lackeys. One woman was a villainess compared to Lady Macbeth, and yet she found herself afraid of heights at one point and had to be carried by a man. At one point, she recognizes she’s weak because she is a woman and decides to use that to her advantage. Apparently, then, her strongest weapon is her ability to seduce men. It made me a little annoyed to see that was Dumas only way of depicting a “strong woman.” I also disliked the ways the musketeers treated their own servants. These servants’ own desires were discounted. True, this added to the humor of the story, but the unfair treatment made me see the lackeys as slaves and not servants, and that reflected poorly on their “masters,” the musketeers.
Nevertheless, it is obvious that The Three Musketeers and its story are an ingrained part of Western culture. Their loyalty to each other as friends, amusing antics, and humorous adventures surely haven’t been forgotten.
After all, what are their names again?
Dusty, Lucky, and Ned?
Alvin, Simon, and Theodore?
What other “Three Musketeers” can you think of in popular culture today?
For other reviews of Alexandre Dumas’ works, see the Classics Circuit schedule.