After what felt like a lifetime, I finally finished The Three Musketeers by Alexander Dumas. Yes, yes, I know, I should have read this book years ago; it’s a classic after all. Growing up I had heard the story of the Musketeers so many times, and while I now know the version I knew then was an extremely abridged version, I did not think I needed to read the book. Furthermore, in order to excuse myself from tackling this monster of a book, I believe I convinced myself that I MUST have read the book at one point in high school, because the story was so familiar to me. But eventually, as ashamed as I was to admit it, especially when I have claimed to love the work of Dumas, I had to face it that I had never read the French classic.
One of my goals for 2015 is to complete a reading list that consists of 50 different book challenges. One of the challenges is a book with more than 500 pages. When I saw this, I knew it was a perfect time for me to finally read The Three Musketeers. Plus, thanks to my handy, dandy kindle, I didn’t have the excuse of not wanting to lug around a five pound book with me everywhere I go. So, I sucked it up and plunged in to the tragic romances, heartbreaking betrayals, and thrilling adventures that make up this multi-plotted, constantly moving novel.
I do admit, it took me a long time to finish this book. I went in waves, going through periods of being completely hooked for days, using every spare moment to read another paragraph, page, or chapter, only to then slump into a dry spell of not wanting to pick up the book and having no interest at all of what happens to our four bold protagonists. When this happens to me, it’s usually because the author goes off the plot and gives long explanations of history and background of the area and I loose my motivation to continue, but here it was different because Dumas does not do that often, and when he doesn’t it’s not for an extended amount of time–for the most part, he stays on plot. The only logical reason I can think of for my on-again, off-again, relationship with this book, is that since it is such a long book, and it has a very complex plot with many different crucial players, it takes a long time to read it right, and after going a couple of weeks with the same story, and then realizing I had only made a small dent in the book, I needed to give my brain different type of entertainment for a couple days before getting sucked into the book again.
Now I can proudly say I have conquered this book, and I am so happy that I can honestly say that I love the story of The Three Musketeers.
I will not go through and bore you with a critic over the whole book, and frankly, I don’t think I could give it a proper critic after only reading it once, especially since I read it leisurely and not educationally. There is so much going on that it would take a couple reads to analyze all the different moving parts and how Dumas weaves them perfectly together. However, what I will do it take a few of my favorites quotes from the book and tell you briefly why they stood out to me.
“Oh, I see you prefer peregrination. That’s well madame; and there is an old proverb that says, ‘Traveling trains youth.’ My faith! you are not wrong after all, and life is sweet. That’s the reason why I take such care you shall not deprive me of mine.”
This quote is said by Lord de Winters to the infamous lady known throughout the story as Milady. She is truly evil. Lord de Winters says this as he is holding Milady captive in England and giving her the choice of exile or a trial. Now, she has quite a past, so a trial would mean the worst for her, so if she has the choice, she would choose exile, even if the thought of that is as bad as death to her.
I like this quote because it could have been said by a number of characters in the book and still be relevant. All the characters either grow tremendously in the storyline or we learn of their past growth that led them to where they are when we meet them, and they all hold true to the proverb Lord de Winters speaks of, “traveling trains youth.” Furthermore, this book is all about self-preservation in the most direr of situations, so the second part of the quote rings true to most of the characters, “That’s the reason why I take such care you should not deprive me of mine.”
Putting the plot of the book aside, I felt personally attached to this quote the moment I read it, because I saw it as a justification of the life I’m living now. “‘Traveling trains youth.” I’m constantly asked why I’m in Europe and what I’m planning on doing with my life, and why I made the “unorthodox” decision not to get a career right out of college, and more often than not my answer is rewarded with a sigh or an eye role. Even here in Europe I find many people who think my year as an Au Pair as a waste of time. What I wish people would understand is that I’m still young–I look young, I think young, I act young…I’m young. I didn’t take a year in Europe to run away from a career, I came here to take advantage of my youth, to do things that I can’t do when my youth leaves me, and as Dumas puts it, I came here to train. Train for the rest of my life, give me experiences that I could never have unless I put myself out there, on a limb, in a place I had only dreamed of going before.
“Within six months, if I am not dead, I shall have seen you again, madam–even if I have to overturn the world.”
This is said by the Duke of Buckingham to Anne of Austria, the Queen of France. This love affair was one of the saddest because it was doomed from the start, yet the Duke, truly infatuated with the Queen, never abandoned his love for her, nor did he ever do anything intentional to harm her, politically or emotionally. Yet, this quote is like my first one–it could be said by many different characters in the book and no one would doubt it’s sincerity. This book continues to go back to the theme of doing anything and everything for the one you love. If nothing else remains true in this novel, the truth of undying love remains solid through the entire thing.
When I started reading this, I didn’t think it would be as focused on love as it was. I mean, I knew it had romantic sub-plots, but I did not think the plot would focus primarily on the love affairs of the Musketeers and their close companions. I think it can be argued that love is as great of a theme as friendship, even though I believe most would categorize this book in the “power of friends” category quicker than the “power of love” section, especially with the whole “all for one and one for all” thing the musketeers have going on.
While many of the relationships in this novel revolved around an affair of some sort, the love remained beautiful to the reader because of the way the characters truly still believed in love, and the purity of love. It was clearly a different time and culture when this story was placed, and in the novel marriage was definitely more of a political and social relationship then a romantic one, but the the idea of love was still strong and Dumas did a beautiful job of portraying the power that stands behind it.
“You are young,” replied Athos; “and your bitter recollections have time to change themselves into sweet remembrances.”
This is the last line in the book, before the epilogue, and I found it to be a beautiful ending to this tragic story. I don’t want to ruin any of the details, but this book doesn’t have the happiest of endings–it’s not completely sad, but it’s also not a Disney ending. But this quote, spoken by the always wise Athos, pushes away the sadness and allows room for the reader to see the potential of a happy future–what a beautiful thing to do for your readers.
I guess I can add this to my reasons for holding onto my youth: giving myself time to change bitter moments into happy memories. As Athos says this, the reader understands how much he desires to have this time back–time to change all the hurt he suffered into, at least, a memory less painful. But we, as readers, also understand that Athos is unable to do this, and even though the cause of his unhappiness is gone, he will never fully recover from the hurt and pain put upon him. He is unmendable. His friend, however, one he views as a brother and life-long companion, still has time to put all that has happened behind him and forgive, and Athos, being the eldest of the group, wants to make sure his brother does not fall onto the same bitter path that he chose many years prior to the story.
The theme of forgiveness is not as visible as the theme of vengeance in the book, but the final advice from Athos seems to lean more towards it than towards anything else. He is a man who held onto his hatred and his pain as tightly as he held onto his bottles of Spanish wine. He was unable to let go of the events in his past and they tore him apart emotionally, spiritually, and physically. He understands this pain eats him alive, but unwilling to forgive, he allows it to consume him. While, on the outside, he is the strongest (mentally) of the musketeers and their unofficial leader, he knows he is too weak to fight his own pain. Nevertheless, his final advice, his final warning, gives the reader a shed of hope that his younger, fresher companion will not follow in his footsteps of living in the past, but step forward, forgiving and refreshing his past, so it becomes a power to push him forward, instead of a weight keeping him in behind.
All of us, young and old, can benefit from this final quote from Athos, remembering that life keeps moving and we can either stay bitter and angry or we can move forward with “sweet remembrances.”
The Three Musketeers is timeless. While not as fast paced as most modern day novels, it packs a punch that is full of every theme a reader could ask for. Dumas adds humor to a drama, and romance to a sword fight, and while there are many new adventurers to admire in literature, there aren’t many who compare to the classic characters of Athos, Porthos, Aramis, and D’Artagnan