The Three Musketeers, by Alexandre Dumas

Article published on December 20, 2011.

Set during the 17th century, The Three Musketeers follows the fortunes ofD’Artagnan, an ambitious and precocious youth, anxious for adventure, and to be one of the king’s musketeers. Traveling to Paris, he finds himself in the company of Porthos, Athos, and Artemis, three of the king’s most infamous soldiers, gaining their trust and that of M. de Tréville, captain of the musketeers. As his fame rises, D’Artagnan finds himself drawn into a web of deceit and betrayal, crossing swords with the Cardinal and the fearsome Lady Clarick, and traveling between London and Paris to try to save the reputation of the Queen and foil the Cardinal’s plot to take power.

In the prologue, Dumas states that he was inspired upon reading a history of D’Artagnan that he borrowed from Marseilles library. From this first introduction to the character, he weaves a tale that is full of swash-buckling adventure and romance. Historical figures such as Cardinal-Duc de Richelieu and Louis XIII appear alongside the author’s own fictional characters, while there are also events such as the siege of La Rochelle and the Duke of Buckingham’s assassination by Fenton which are seamlessly woven into the story. It continually straddles this fiction/non-fiction boundary: evidently the author embellishes and adds his own stamp to the events and characters (the Cardinal, for example, is afforded more power in the novel), but many – including the musketeers themselves – are based upon real-life counterparts. Some of the set pieces that Dumas creates are brilliant, particularly the hilarious moment when the musketeers commandeer a run-down fort during La Rochelle, and casually have lunch while they defend it. There is a darker side too, with a harrowing beheading scene late in the novel, which takes place in Lille.

The book is not one that will challenge readers; it is unashamedly fun and entertaining, with little asides from the narrator often raising a smile, and the musketeers and their servants are always humorous too. While the plot is occasionally transparent – it is always obvious that none of the friends will die, for example – this doesn’t detract from the writing, which is highly energetic and witty. There are references to Don Quixote scattered throughout, with D’Artagnan a counterpoint to the knight of Cervantes’ story. The translation in this new edition, released to coincide with the recent film, is capable and an easy read, but sadly missing footnotes to explain some of the background history and colloquial words that don’t translate well. Yet this is still an incredibly enjoyable read, and very easy to pick up. It is a heart-warming tale of companionship, and by the end, the reader will have the musketeers’ shout ringing through their ears: ‘All for one, one for all!’

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