An Audiobook Review: Everyone Loves Rochefort!


Twenty Years After

By Alexandre Dumas

Unabridged recording published by Blackstone Audiobooks, Inc.

Read by Frederick Davidson

The Book:

Sequels are nothing new. The whole sequel thing started out thousands of years ago with Gilgamesh 2: The Return of Enkidu. It was originally entitled “The Twelfth Tablet” which I suppose is a more intriguing title, but sales were disappointing.  And who can forget “More Commentaries; the Civil Wars” by G. J. Caesar?

By the Nineteenth Century publishers knew exactly what to do when a book was successful. That’s right, even then they knew enough to make it into a blockbuster series and milk that cow until it goes, “Oink!” Only a few successful authors figured it out for themselves, of course, otherwise Wuthering Heights would  have been broken up into two parts: Wuthering Heights and Wuthering Heights: The Next Generation. We might also have had Oliver Twist: The College Years, Moby Dick: Ahab Strikes Back and The History of Tom Jones in Parliament.

Alexandre Dumas, however, both successful and prolific as a writer cottoned on quickly to the fact that it is easier to sell a book with popular characters from a previously successful story than it is to make one up out of whole cloth and thus the “D’Artagnan Romances” came into being. The D’Artagnan Romances were trilogy that began in The Three Musketeers, which I reviewed last February. Twenty Years After is the second volume in the series and it is followed by The Vicomte of Bragelonne: Ten Years Later (which is turn is divided into a trilogy: The Vicomte of Bragelonne, Louise de la Vallière and The Man in the Iron Mask.

I’ll get to that third book sometime in the future, for now, let us see what our heroes have been doing since we last saw them. It’s been twenty years since Richelieu grudgingly promoted D’Artagnan to the rank of lieutenant of the Musketeers and since that time our young Gascon lieutenant has become a middle-aged Gascon lieutenant who somewhat inexplicably is now on a friendly basis with the Comte de Rochefort, who you may remember as one of the villains from The Three Musketeers. Apparently Rochefort is not such a bad guy after all and once he’s firmly ensconced in the Bastille, D’Artagnan decides he likes him…

Meanwhile, Athos aka the Comte de la Fère has settled down with his ward (secretly his son) Roul, the Vicomte de Bragelonne and is enjoying the life of a country gentleman. Porthos is fabulously wealthy and living a life of luxury and yet he is not content, wanting to be a baron. And Aramis, having finally become a priest, the Abbé d’Herblay, now desires to once more be a soldier.

The Queen, Anne of Austria, so named because she was Spanish (hey, I am not making this up) is now the Regent of France on behalf of her son, Louis XiV, and Dartagnon’s one-time servant, Planchet is a rising star in La Fronde, a series of rebellions that took place from 1648-1653. Planchett stumbles in through D’Artagnan’s window one night while on the run because he had just helped Rochefort escape. Notice how suddenly Rochefort is a good guy? It is not really all that important in the long term of the story, but he does, indeed, seem like a very different person than in the first book.

Cardinal Richelieu is dead and likely glad to be so because his successor is Mazarin, an Italian one-time protégé of Richelieu. In The Three Musketeers Richelieu may not have been one of the good guys, but Dumas’ portrait of him was not entirely unflattering. Richelieu might have been a political schemer, but he was also not above donning armor and riding off to battle among his troops. Mazarin, on the other hand comes off and both avaricious and cowardly, seeking to be the power behind the throne bybeing the Queen’s lover.

Another dead character who had to be recast is Milady de Winter. Guess what? She had a son. There was a loose adaptation of this book made with the cast of the 1970’s version of “Three (and Four) Musketeers” that was released to the USA network in the late 80’s. It was a very abbreviated adaptation and a lot of liberties were taken. For example Christopher Lee got to reprise his role as Rochefort, although he was still a villain (oh come on! Christopher Lee as a hero? Well, I think he could have pulled it off, but Lord Count Dracula Summerisle Dooku as a good guy? I don’t think so – no doubt someone will send me a list of hero roles Lee played now). But Milady’s child in “The Return of the Musketeers” was played by Kim Cattrall. I could accept Christopher Lee as a hero long before I could envision Cattrall playing Milady’s son. In a way the makers of that film were being lazy. They had a formula that had been very successful in the first two films, but by casting Cattrall, the story became a carbon copy of the original. Not bad, but not really a different story.

In Twenty Years After, Milady’s son is called Mordaunt and he is on a rather convoluted mission to find and kill the “murderers” of his mother. The kid is an interestingly drawn character, subtly twisted and only just sane enough to fool enough people not to lock him up in a bedlam. And one of the people he has managed to fool is Oliver Cromwell who at this time is at war with Charles I. Eventually King Charles is captured and Mordaunt gleefully volunteers to execute him when D’Artagnan attempts to forestall the execution by locking up the City of London’s executioner in a wine cellar (note: all basements in a Musketeers story are wine cellars. This is important to know… if you ever find yourself in a Musketeer story)

Anyway, if you have only seen the movie of this book, you will have missed most of the highlights, such as Athos’ and Aramis’ battlefield elevation to the Order of the Garter. On the other hand, the movie did have a fun cameo with Cyrano de Bergerac and his, invention, the hot-air balloon (somewhat over a century before the Montgolfier Brothers). The incident may have been inspired by a host of other stories and movies in which Cyrano and D’Artagnan met up. Their real life counterparts were contemporaries, so, why not?

The story is a marvelously complicated tapestry of plot lines but I doubt it would have ever been sellable to modern publishers if written today. A 21st Century rendition would have gotten our four friends together almost from the start and  kept them together throughout the story. In Twenty Tears After the four are split into two pairs, D’Artagnan/Porthos  and  Athos/Aramis and they are usually politically at odds with one another in spite of constantly protesting their mutual love of each other. They do come together in their defense of King Charles I and at the end in their opposition to Cardinal Mazarin, but the story tends to only deal with one pair or the other when they are apart. As I said, it’s a good story but would never sell to the modern market.

Should you read or listen to it? Well, if you enjoyed The Three Musketeers you should enjoy this one too.

The Audiobook:

 

I had the distinct impression that Frederick Davidson was trying to read this book with a heavy French accent when he started out. Fortunately that passed after the first chapter or so. Perhaps it was the fact that he was trying to pronounce all those French names correctly? I am not sure, but fortunately once he got going that aspect faded.

His reading is, in fact a fairly smooth and professional one. He has a distinct voice for each character, although his choices of voice differed drastically from how I envisioned the characters. D’Artagnan comes off as a crusty older man (he is only in his late thirties or early fourties in this book) while Athos sounds much younger. I may be unduly influenced by the actors who have played these characters, however.

All in all, though, Davidson reads the story well and held my attention right up to the end of what turned out to be a rather long and Byzantine plotline.

My conclusions: It’s a sequel. Dumas was cashing in on the success of The Three Musketeers and not without justification, but as sequels go, it was an interesting story and the author did not fall into the trap of so many others wherein they just pull out the old “cookie-cutter” and stamp out story after story, sometimes not even changing the names from one book to the next. This is definitely a story that involves the characters from the first book but in situations that did not exist a mere twenty years earlier. Definitely worth a read.

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