Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Three Musketeers

I noticed that Allie at A Literary Odyssey is doing a read-along with Alexandre Dumas' The Three Musketeers, so I thought this would be a good opportunity for me to throw in my two cents.  If anyone has "stood the test of time" in order to qualify as an author of Classic Literature, it's Dumas.  His stories are forever ingrained in society, even penetrating pop culture and common jargon.  In fact, the term "the three musketeers" has so successfully entered everyone's consciousness that we even have a candy bar named after it.  Moreover, The Count of Monte Cristo has come in a close second in our general awareness, inspiring many similar stories such as The Shawshank Redemption.  Yet rather than discussing this based purely on its popularity, I want to think about its literary merit.  I dare ask - Does it deserve the recognition?

Interestingly, the protagonist of The Three Musketeers is not a musketeer at all but a young man named D'Artagnan.  A true Romantic hero, D'Artagnan comes from a poor family and the only legacy he has from his father is a little bit of money, a very pathetic old horse, and a letter to the leader of the musketeers.  D'Artagnan thus leaves dear ol' mom and finds himself immediately overwhelmed in the big city.  His fiery temper quickly causes him to become enemies with the ominous "man from Meung," setting his destiny in motion.  Eventually, he arrives at the center for musketeers and meets our title characters - Athos, Porthos, and Aramis.  In a series of unfortunate events, D'Artagnan aggravates all three of them individually and accepts challenges to a duel from each of them.  Yet when he proves his bravery and loyalty in an impromptu battle, he wins their friendship.

Ok, I admit that there's a slight mocking tone in my head as I write this.  The beginning is so full of cliches that it's almost cheesy.  However, I wonder if this storyline was actually original with Dumas and is now cliche only because it has become so popular.  I have no research or conviction to support this theory, but it does make me relax about the creativity of the plot.  The truth is, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.  It didn't feel overdone and silly because it's written so well.  The language is advanced and yet accessible, and the story - if cliche - is  nevertheless engaging.  Moreover, as the story develops, it takes a number of twists and turns I definitely did not anticipate.

So allow me to note the aspects of the novel that I enjoyed and didn't expect.  First of all, I love the diversity between Athos, Porthos, and Aramis.  They have very different personalities, and what really surprised me was their accompanying servants.  The three servants of the musketeers - Grimaud, Mousqueton, and Bazin - are just as critical to the story as the title characters.  They each represent integral components of their masters' personalities and carry significant influence in the story.  Fittingly, the three musketeers arrange for D'Artagnan to have a servant named Planchet, who is one of my favorite characters.  Before reading this, I had no idea that each of the main characters had a servant counterpart I would like so much.

I also loved the pure fun that fills the pages.  Like others in the read-along mentioned, I really flew through the novel and hardly noticed the pages turning.  I have to say that I love D'Artagnan's immaturity and short temper.  I think it gives him a unique character, and I find his flaws endearing.  I even like his foolish romantic obsession with Constance, who I believe has a lot of gumption for a Romantic-era damsel in distress.  I wasn't turned off by the "immorality" of the musketeers because they are the kind of adventure-seeking, high-flying action heroes that I love to love.  Granted, I am more invested in the characters who have moral depth and great integrity, (fellow Frenchie Jean Valjean comes to mind), but sometimes I revel in action-packed fun.  Early in my blogging, I confessed my guilty pleasure of "fluff literature," and I am tempted to label The Three Musketeers as high class fluff.

However, despite the appearance of cliches and simplicity, I do think The Three Musketeers can worthily join the ranks of Classic Literature.  I do not want to downplay the significance of its ability to connect with readers for almost two hundred years.  It's absolutely remarkable that the book has remained so popular throughout so many generations, which indicates that somewhere in the depths of the story, Dumas created a timeless connection with readers.  Perhaps this connection is not overtly emotional or intimate, but I believe there's a message about human nature within these characters.  The story might not be so effective if D'Artagnan had been more mature or if the musketeers had been more purely noble.  I can't pinpoint the reason for its success, but I loved the story and I think it deserves its worldwide recognition.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

After such a post, you do yourself an injustice when you say that you cannot pinpoint a reason for its success! I have not read The Three Musketeers but you've made me want to pick it up.