The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas

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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.

Reviewed on April 20, 2010

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

    • Jenny, The story of Athos in the cellar and the story of Aramis and his thesis were the parts that made me just love the characters! But, the book isn’t my favorite in the end. Those women just needed to step up a bit more!

  • The use of The Three Musketeers in Slumdog Millionaire was amusing.

    You’ve sure hit on my experience with Dumas – that his novels are sort of, well, silly. Vigourous, slipshod, packed with clichés. Billiant scenes are followed by nonsense.

    Dumas goes well with Zola. Zola demonstrates why we need Dumas, why we need silly books!
    .-= Amateur Reader´s last post on blog ..This ennobled lemur, this hair-crowned bubble of the dust – Zola the conceptual anti-humanist =-.

    • Amateur Reader, I haven’t seen that movie but it sounds like fun! And yes, I think it was nice we did Dumas and Zola together because there is certainly a place for both types of novels in our lives.

    • Chris, I admit, I wanted to quite many times because the buffoonery was a bit over-the-top. But I did find it good in the end. Not going to read the sequels any time soon, though, lol.

  • I have such a pretty (and purple!) hardcover penguin edition of this, and I’ve yet to read it. I don’t know why, really, as it sounds like I’d enjoy it. I need to prepare myself for some good ol’ eye-rolling about the depiction of women, though.
    .-= Nymeth´s last post on blog ..March by Geraldine Brooks =-.

    • Nymeth, ooo sounds like a pretty copy of it. I do hope you enjoy it, just remember like Eva says it’s a “boys club” novel and the women aren’t really invited…..

  • Even though I know books are wildly different from their films sometimes, I have to admit I was astounded when I read this book as it had so little in common with that Sutherland-Sheen-O’Donnell film version I watched. I ended up really enjoying it too though.
    .-= Trisha´s last post on blog ..Lost: Critical Thinking =-.

    • Trisha, haven’t watched it yet (that I can remember). Have you seen a version that is close to the book? I guess it doesn’t matter since the movie would also be just to have fun…

  • Well, Musketeer movies, those have become their own genre. An especially good one is a 1994 French film titled The Revenge of he Musketeers in the U.S. In French, it’s titled, more or less, D’Artagnan’s Daughter – she turns out to be an instinctively brilliant swordswoman!

    It’s also perhaps useful to remember that Dumas wrote four sequels amounting to around 2,000 pages. That’s a lot of musketeering! I have’t read them – two people on the tour are going to give them a shot.
    .-= Amateur Reader´s last post on blog ..This ennobled lemur, this hair-crowned bubble of the dust – Zola the conceptual anti-humanist =-.

  • I thought the book rambled on and on too. The Musketeers definitely had their share of adventures, and when I think about them they were mostly in the service of a women they were wooing.

    I see your point about the lackeys being treated like slaves. I thought the lackeys (for the most part) were pretty loyal to their masters, however, so perhaps things aren’t so bad for them after all.
    .-= Haiku Amy´s last post on blog ..Reading Journal – March 2010 =-.

  • I’m so impressed that you read this – it’s HUGE! I love French literature and I haven’t managed to wrap myself around this one. Great review – and refreshing to know that it was a funny, light-hearted sort of read. Lackeys used to do rather well in the 18th century as they were often considered to be more cunning and able than their daft masters, and so whilst they were nominally slaves, they were often in control. Of course, you also had the ‘idiot peasant’ type put in for comic value. I guess it is just strange to modern readers to think about flunkeys, lackeys and slaves at all!
    .-= litlove´s last post on blog ..More Honest Scrapping =-.

    • litlove, it is huge but dialogue sections really moved fast. At other times though I found myself bored silly, waiting for it to move on. Even when it was very funny.

      Yes, some of the lackeys were much more brilliant than the musketeers. I loved Planchet! But they still were pretty poorly represented, used as body shields in the middle of war kind of thing. Wouldn’t want to be them.

  • We did this one for a book club a few months ago and found it very entertaining as well. I read Pevear’s translation, but in comparing some passages, the translation most of the others read was even funnier. We spent most of the evening reading our favorite parts and cracking up. The rest of the book club would like to go on and read the sequels, but I’m kind of ambivalent. I’m sure they’re good, but I think there are other things I’d like to read first.
    .-= Shelley´s last post on blog ..The Brothers Karamazov Part I =-.

    • Shelley, I enjoyed Pevear’s translation. He seemed pretty closely tied to the original (lots of Dumas errors were still represented) so maybe the other translations were more free and therefore alterted the humor to be even funnier.

      I have no real desire to read the sequels. Maybe I’ll read the summaries on Wikipedia lol.

  • I have not read the book, but at some point recently (last fall? summer?), book radio on XM/Sirius broadcast this in half-hour segments. When you find yourself arranging your schedule to listen to this each morning, I think you could say I’m inerested. What surprised me was how faithful different movies were to the text…but that each had to pick and choose what to include and exclude.
    .-= Dwight´s last post on blog ..Antwerp by Ford Madox Ford =-.

  • What fun! I’ve not read Dumas at all because the books tend to be so huge. I keep imagining myseld binging on huge books next summer when I am finally done with school. My husband is currently reading and enjoying Count of Monte Cristo.
    .-= Stefanie´s last post on blog ..Mondays Happen =-.

  • […] It captures some of the religious conflict in 1628 France, as well as the delicate political balance between King Louis XIII and Cardinal Richelieu. Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the […]

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