I love a good adventure story, and Alexandre Dumas's The Three Musketeers (Trois mousquetaires, translated by Richard Pevear) is a great adventure story. As a matter of fact I think it easily qualifies as a "thumping good read". Now, I know Dumas has a talent for digression, though it was far worse in The Count of Monte Cristo, and he can get a little wordy, but this is the first time in I'm not sure how many books that I didn't even feel those nearly 700 pages that make up the story. I've not had much luck in the last year or so with longer reads, but maybe this is just what I needed to turn the corner on my chunky book dry spell. As a matter of fact I'm feeling quite refreshed and eager for my next classic and may see which of those extra long books I set aside in the recent past might be one I can give another go to. But can anything be as fun as Dumas?
The Three Musketeers has it all--suspense, romance, loyalty, deception, revenge, great villains, even greater heroes, a superb villainess, sword fights, breathtaking escapes, chases across the Channel, war, intrigue and more than a few bottles of fine Spanish port. It's been years since I've seen the movie adaptation of the book (the one with Michael York as D'Artagnan), so I had a very vague idea of the story and a recollection that there was some humor to it, but what would the book be like? Dumas is actually very funny. There was some very subtle humor to the story, even a few laugh out loud moments though there was also some underlying sadness to it as well. It could even be considered historical fiction as it was written in 1844 but the setting is France in 1625.
Just as I thought, D'Artagnan, steals the show. This is really his story, but it's told with the help of his three very close friends Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, three musketeers who are the king's bodyguards. D'Artagnan, brash and headstrong, leaves his native Gascony to seek his fortune in the capital where he wishes to become one of the king's men. Letter of introduction in hand to give to M. de Tréville, the captain of the musketeers, he sets out with 15 écus in his pocket and an old nag of a mare (reminiscent of Don Quixote's Rosinante), but along the way he meets with misfortune in guise of the man in black. In an inn in Meung, the man in black is conversing with a beautiful woman in a carriage and through a misunderstanding D'Artagnan (so ready to make his mark is also too easily offended) sets in motion everything that is to come after.
The man in Meung is one of Cardinal Richelieu's men, enemy to the king. Sometimes it's best to keep enemies even closer than friends, so the King and M. le Cardinal are close indeed. Actually Louis XIII seems easily manipulated, but it is his wife, Anne D'Autriche who the Cardinal plots against. And it is a plot hatched by the Cardinal, and carried out by the beautiful Milady with the aid of the Man in Black that will concern the four heroes of the story. D'Artagnan is not one to quickly forget a favor and even less so an offense, so when he arrives in Paris intent on serving the King, but brash as ever he manages to not only cross paths once again with the Man in Black, but in so doing rather comically provokes duels with not only Porthos, but Athos and Aramis as well.
D'Artagnan is nothing if not tenacious. Aggravations turn into friendship between D'Artagnan and the three men who are only too ready to support him, a natural leader despite his age and inexperience. The story is a series of misadventures, chance meetings and crossed paths, and when the woman D'Artagnan falls for is kidnapped he becomes enmeshed in a plot that will take all four men and their servants to unravel. And unravel they do, in one of the best adventure stories I have ever come across.
Such a larger than life character as D'Artagnan and such a larger than life story deserves a better post than I've given it, but maybe you'll still get small a taste of the flavor of the story, one that is impossible really to summarize and give it justice. I only hope that someday I can incorporate into a conversation one of Dumas's wonderful oaths. Parbleu! Sacrebleu!
The Three Musketeers is only the first in a cycle of books that Dumas wrote about the musketeers. It is followed by Twenty Years After and The Vicomte de Bragelonne. Could either book be anywhere near as entertaining as the first? In case you're curious to know a little bit more about Alexandre Dumas, I wrote briefly about him here.