Friday, July 11, 2008

All for One...and Alexandre Dumas for All

Having stayed up half the night to finish Alexandre Dumas' The Three Musketeers (actually, it was my fourth or fifth reading of this great novel -- not at all excessive for someone of my lengthening years), I'm compelled to recommend Dumas all over again for anyone who loves historical fiction, anyone who loves long novels of adventure and romance, and anyone who loves writing that is dramatic, imaginative and exhilarating.

Dumas' characterizations of Louis XIII's skilled young swordsmen (d'Artagnan, the proud young idealist with the deadly sword; Athos, the enigmatic intellectual with a mysterious tragedy in his past; Porthos, the affable but vain hedonist; and Aramis, the theologian who is a Musketeer for but a little while) are among the most finely-drawn and most beloved in literature. Dumas brings them not only to life but into the reader's deep and long-lasting affection.

But if his heroes inspire delight, his villains inspire a spiritual dread unmatched by anyone but Dickens. For instance, Dumas' Cardinal de Richelieu is, despite his high ecclesiastical position, a most irreligious and venomous dissembler. Both by the sleaziness of his machinations and his nearly unlimited power to bring them to success, the reader's nerves are constantly on edge. But the more forthright evil of M'Lady, though more contained than Richelieu's and content to win more intimate victories (especially for vanity and vengeance) is even more hideous and terrifying.

But, amid the sinister schemes of the Musketeer's enemies, there are plenty of moments in which the heroes triumph...and triumph with grace, courage, inventiveness, skill, high principle, camaraderie and much good humor. Way beyond pleasure reading then, though immensely pleasurable it will be, The Three Musketeers makes excellent reading for any adventurer who desires to pursue the same ideals.