East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Re-reading the Three Musketeers


Yesterday a friend informed me that the most recent Italian translation of Dumas’ The Three Musketeers was selling for 99 cents on Amazon in digital format. Now I have my old copy here somewhere in some box, but I did the math and realized it’s been something like thirty-six years since I last read the mother of all swashbuckler novels, and so I sacrificed one buck and got me the ebook.

Now Dumas’ novel is one of those books that, for some reason, some have decided are kid’s books. The consequence is these books are pushed on the unwary teenagers, usually with massive cuts and rewrites to excise the bits that are most obviously unfit for a younger audience.
Which is something that drives me crazy – cutting an adult novel to make it kid-friendly because you have decided it’s for kids in the first place.

The new Italian translation is very elegant and yet it goes like a freight train – I sat with it after dinner and read the first five chapters in about two hours.

Dumas manages to build a classical intrigue, while providing a tongue-in-cheek commentary on issues like power and politics. It is a historical novel, a spy story, a swashbuckling adventure, a distinctively cynical romantic melodrama and, given the fact that it was written 176 years ago and never went out of print, it’s Literature.
And French Literature, to boot.

Because of all of its different levels of reading, The Three Musketeers, like many classics, deserves to be read and re-read, as different ages and experiences bring the reader a different appreciation of some issues.
And I’m having a lot of fun, re-reading it.

Should you be interested, you can find a free ebook version, in English and in various formats, on the pages of Project Gutenberg.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

9 thoughts on “Re-reading the Three Musketeers

  1. Yes to all that! THE THREE MUSKETEERS is one of the great swashbucklers, and the old movie with Gene Kelly as d’Artagnan and Van Heflin, Gig Young and Robert Coote as his musketeer amigos — and memorably, Lana Turner as the ice-blooded and aptly named Lady Winter. She is about the most memorable villainess in literature.

    The sequels, like THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK, increased the dark and cynical decay in the political world. The Hollywood versions (of course) turned it into the old evil king with an identical double who replaces him and sets everything right schtick, again and again, in many a remake. Okay, often it’s the reverse, the good king with an evil double who wants to replace him and establish a tyranny, but still a cliché.

    In the Dumas novel, Aramis has fulfilled part of his ambition, risen in the church and become a bishop, but further ambition drives him to try to replace the king with his secretly imprisoned twin brother and rule behind the scenes. Aramis has become what he once fought against with his friends, in the person of Richelieu, and he involves the trusting Porthos and eventually gets him killed. Nor is one twin evil and the other good. Philippe, quite naturally, wants to get out of prison instead of rotting there, and Louis, equally naturally, doesn’t want civil war which knowledge of his brother’s existence might provoke — or at least plots of a palace revolution. Which is just what Aramis is scheming to engineer.

    It’s dark but it’s realistic. D’Artagnan, now the captain of musketeers, picks the impostor because Philippe, after years in prison, is paler than the real king, and Philippe ends his life in the iron mask, saying bitterly, “Call me not monsieur or monseigneur, call me accursed.”


    • Indeed, 20 Years After is the Dumas book that gets most mistreated in movie adaptations and “for kids” editing.
      And I agree the Gene Kelly adaptation was great fun – and Lana Turner was never more beautiful.
      And yet I have a soft spot for Richard Lester’s 1970s adaptations (I mean… Oliver Reed, Christopher Lee, Charlton Heston and Faye Dunaway…)

      Liked by 1 person

      • There are a lot of good moments in the old “Three Musketeers” with Gene Kelly. As when he gets into duels with all three at once, and Athos says to him, “You’re impatient!” D’Artagnan explains that he has another duel in an hour, and doesn’t want to keep that gentleman waiting for his fight — then adds diffidently, “If I survive this one.” Athos says kindly, “Just as you like, but don’t worry about it! You won’t survive.”
        Then, when the cardinal’s guard shows up to arrest them, the four fight the curs in red tabards, and the musketeers get a load of the youngster’s swordsmanship, one of Athos’s friends asks him derisively, “Is that the peasant you were going to fight with your left hand?” and Athos shows a classic offended scowl.
        They don’t do it like that no more.


        • Yes, the old Musketeers movie is full of quotable bits, and it does have a great cast.
          And I always found the scene of Milady’s execution frightfuly atmospheric and visually impressive.


  2. Love that book! I first read it in a cut and abridged version from the norwegian “GGG” series ( Gyldendahls Gode Guttebøker, wich translates to “Gyldendahls good books for boys”) I think it used to belong to my father, and was one I inherited. I later read a three volume abridged version when visiting my grandmom , years later, and then bought and read a thick and heavy version while at the university. I felt personally slighted when I became adult enough to understand that they cut and edit books, to market them for kids. i now own a four volume unabridged version in norwegia, wich I am currently reading. It is still great stuff. Wonderful literature, and partly to blame for why I became a soldier, and absolutely the whole reason for why I became , and still am, a rapier fencer


  3. Hi Davide
    which edition did you buy?
    I found several on the kindle store, and some have bad reviews for typos, bad formatting, etc…. Thanks!!


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