The Three Musketeers
By Alexandre Dumas
Read by John Lee
Unabridged Edition Published by Tantor Media Incorporated.
Cannot get much more classic than this, huh? I mean, wow! The very first “Classics Illustrated” Comic (then called “Classic Comics”) was a graphic depiction of The Three Musketeers. This story has been adapted to the “Silver Screen” more often than any other in history although some of those adaptations had less to do with Dumas’ work than others. It has also inspired a host of parodies and satires. Such as Yippee, Yappee and Yahooey. Anyone else remember these guys?
Back to the real Musketeers, my favorite adaptation was, by far, the two movie series “The Three Musketeers” and “The Four Musketeers: Milady’s Revenge” directed by Richard Lester and starring (in no particular order) Oliver Reed, Raquel Welch, Richard Chamberlain, Faye Dunaway, Christopher Lee, Michael York, Simon Ward, Geraldine Chaplin, Charlton Heston, Roy Kinnear and the oft overlooked Spike Milligan as M. Bonacieux and others. Lots of others… As I say, it is my favorite, possibly because it is arguably the most faithful adaptation or maybe just because it is the one that came out while I was in college… To my delight, Lester and the original core cast got back together to do a version of Dumas’ sequel “Twenty Years After.” Its major flaw, to me was replacing the character of Milady’s hitherto unknown son with a daughter played by Kim Cattrall. It was as though Lester thought he had found a winning formula and was afraid to trust to what Dumas had written. Also the use of Athos’ son, Raoul, was unnecessary. He was mentioned in the book but was not a key player. However, the film had its world premiere on the USA network, so it may not be easy to find… and I think I should carefully step back from this tangent.
Back to the books. You know books? Thick, papery things with words written on them? Anyway, I had seen the movies, read the comic and therefore more or less knew the story, but until now I have never actually read (or listened to) the actual Dumas classic. Part of that is due to the fact that I have read supposedly amusing stories from the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries and found them dry or else too circuitous in their path to the humorous parts. Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones I am sure was considered very funny to his contemporary readers, but even at the supposedly racy scenes, his writing style sort of sapped the vitality of them for me. Consequently, I always engage in pre-Twentieth Century fiction with some hesitation. That may not be fair to compare writing styles of Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries, but I read Tom Jones in high school and I think it scarred me for life.
Happily, The Three Musketeers is very readable. This may well have to do with the translation. The translator is not credited on this edition, but I am fairly certain Dumas wrote it in something vaguely resembling French since that would have made it an easier sell to the magazine, Le Siècle. Or maybe not. Maybe English was very chic that year? I doubt it. Well, whoever translated this edition of the Classic, did a wonderful job and somehow managed to engage my all-too modern mind while still giving me the historic feel of the characters during the reign of Louis XIII.
So… Great book. You should read it.
The Three Musketeers is actually the first volume of a series referred to as the d’Artagnan Romances. Book Two has the very sequelish name of Twenty Years After, which actually takes place twenty-three years after the first book, with d’Artagnon still just a lieutenant in the Musketeers and his friends have all separated and gone their ways. And then there is the very long novel The Vicomte de Bargelonne: Ten Years After which has also been publish in three, four or five volumes. Most people will have heard of the final section; The Man in the Iron Mask. Furthermore, there were two further sequels written by Paul Mahalin (using Alexandre Dumas as his pen name), The Son of Porthos, and d’Artagnon Kingmaker the latter of which may have been based on a play by Dumas even though it was published twenty years after his death. Not sure where that last one fits in the sequence since so far as I know, d’Artagnon is killed by canon shot moments after he is promoted to Marshall of France. Actually, of the original four, only Aramis survives to the end of The Man in the Iron Mask (Something that does not usually happen in the movies! Too dark, I should think.) Kinda hard to write sequels when all the characters are dead… Then again it never stopped Michael Moorcock, did it?
John Lee reads The Three Musketeers very smoothly and is easy to listen to… most of the time. He certainly understands that this is a fun fiction and seem to enjoy reading it as much as the listener should enjoy hearing it.
My only complaint is that throughout most of the book his voices for the characters are subtle but clearly delineated, and then we get to the siege of La Rochelle and we meet various foreign soldiers who speak with outrageously comic accents for no good purpose. His portrayals and voices are quite similar to the characters in the Lester films (which may be where his inspiration came from and may be why I enjoyed the reading) but I can only guess it is to show these men are foreigners that he resorts to “Funny voices and accents.” I can only wonder, however, why he felt the Swiss soldier should sound even more French than the French. I know French is one of the languages of Switzerland, but I think I might have chosen a mild German accent in this case. Maybe that’s just me?
Of course with all the French names for places (was I expecting names in Swahili? Well no…) at one point I could have sworn our heroes were going to a house on the Rue de Voldemort… Too much Harry Potter? Maybe.
In conclusion: The Three Musketeers has gone from my “I know it’s a classic” list to my bucket reading list (now checked off, thanks to Mister Lee). It is a heck of a lot of fun from start to finish. No wonder it was so popular that it spawned so many sequels , adaptations, satires and so on. And while his reading could be improved on, John Lee does a wonderful job pulling you into the story and keeping you there right up to the very end.