Book One: The Three Musketeers

The first book I chose, and these are in no specific order is Alexander Dumas’ The Three Musketeers. And like all the books I’m reading it was published by the Easton Press which is based out of Norwalk Connecticut. I chose the Three Musketeers because unlike many pieces of literature most everybody has heard of the Three Musketeers and probably know a little of the story, most likely gathered from one of the numerous film adaptations. Plus I felt it was appropriate to start with a book that has a candy bar named after it.

I really enjoyed The Three Musketeers a lot more than I expected myself to, and that’s saying a bit because I was looking forward to reading it. Dumas has a great sense of storytelling and really starts you off on the adventure with D’Artagnan right from the get go. His characters are not the most profoundly developed, most are one-dimensional, for example the main protagonist D’Artagnan is a hot headed youngster who aspires to join the Musketeers and is solely driven by his ambition. Nowhere in the book does he go through a real change in attitude, but thats because Duma’s didn’t really need to have him to. The plot makes up for everything.

After arriving in Paris, which was after a duel with an unknown man, D’Artagnan runs into and befriends the three musketeers who this novel is names after: Athos, Porthos and Aramis. They become friends after each challenged D’Artagnan to a duel, sense a theme here? The three original musketeers are fiercely loyal to the king, their friendship, all known vices, and their own personal ambition but not advancement in the military (which is basically their job as Musketeers). The three spend their days drinking heavily, gambling and chasing and/or lamenting over women while each mixing in their personal goals. Aramis wishes to become a priest and Porthos wishes to find a rich wife and marry into comfort.

Once we have met our four heros the novel take on two plots, the first of which involves the Cardinal trying to discredit the Queen. The Queen is an outsider who married into French royalty and that grinds the gears of the Cardinal who is the power behind the King’s throne. Through his network of spies he learns of the Queens extramarital affairs with the Duke Buckingham of England, a sworn enemy of France and that she gave her lover a set of twelve diamond tags. The Cardinal convinces the King to throw a ball then sends the evil Lady de Winter to steal two of the tags from the Duke to prove the affair. The Queen catches wind of the plot and sends D’Artagnan and the Musketeers to warn Buckingham and get the tags back. The Musketeers are injured along the way so D’Artagnan must go it alone, he arrives in England gets the tags (two must be replaced because Lady de Winter was successful in stealing two. Because she’s a villain she can’t steal them all she must leave the heroes with a way to be successful) returns them to the Queen and the King is none the wiser. This enrages the Cardinal and Lady de Winter and ends plot one.

Plot two begins when D’Artagnan sees Lady de Winter  (whom he doesn’t know is the tag stealer) in church and falls madly in love with her. He’s also in love with the Queen’s linenmaid and landlord’s wife Constance, a nice little love triangle brwing. After dueling and defeating her brother-in-law he spares his life, and in return he introduces Lady de Winter and D’Artagnan. While doing so Lady de Winter’s handmaiden Kitty falls in love with Dartagnan, now we’re cooking with gasoline. Soon through some questionable moral decisions D’Artagnan beds Lady de Winter while she thinks he’s the Count de Wardes who is Lady de Winter’s lover (it’s dark so she doesn’t know she’s sleeping with someone else). After being pleased so well she orders Wardes to kill D’Artagnan, which pisses D’Artagnan off. So to exact his revenge D’Artagnan forges a nasty letter from de Wardes to Lady de Winter. This insults Lady de Winter, so to keep her pride she orders D’Artagnan to kill de Wardes. D’Artagnan agrees only if she’ll sleep with him (again). After they bed he idiotically boasts that this wasn’t the first time they hooked up. Lady de Winter tries killing D’Artagnan there on the spot, but Kitty, who is still in love with D’Artagnan comes to his aid and he escapes. So begins a series of attempts on D’Artagnan’s life as well as Lady de Winter’s continued attempts on the Duke Buckingham’s life.

The Lady de Winter is my favorite character in the book because she is so damn bad, she reminds me of  Hannibal Lector. She’s noble, refined, elegant and behind it all just downright evil. She uses her bewitching good looks to seduce men to kill for her, or to ensnare them to be killed by her own hand. She’s like the train wreck you can’t stop watching, you know something awful is going to happen, you’re rooting for it to stop but you can’t take your eyes off of it when it doesn’t stop. I won’t go much more in detail so I don’t ruin the book for everyone but there’s a reason this book is a classic and still read today and Lady de Winter plays a major role in that.

As the end approaches it reminds me a little of Game of Thrones where people start getting killed left and right, and give you the “That really happens?!?” moment and the book turns from light hearted swashbuckling to a very bleak and dark end. Then D’Artagnan basically switches alliances from the King to the Cardinal after he and the Musketeers are arrested. They are all offered promotions in the guard by the Cardinal but as stated above the Three have ambitions that don’t include job advancement so they retire, but D’Artagnan jumps at it.

After reading the book I realized why this is such a classic. It really has everything: swashbuckling action, more romances than one can count and a villain that makes Lord Voldemort look like Charlie Brown. The book really lives up to it’s “classic” status and really should be read by all. There have been some great movie adaptations as well notably the 1973 version starring Raquel Welch and Oliver Read (which is the most true version to the book) and for the younger audience the Disney version (which has been heavily Disney-fied but is no less of a good time) starring Charlie Sheen, Kiefer Southerland, and Oliver Platt. This was a great start to my journey though the classics and I highly recommend it.

 

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