The Three Musketeers

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Originally published in 1844, the many incarnations of The Three Musketeers have embedded into our collective unconscious the image of three men in plumed hats, raising their swords while a fourth, d’Artagnan, cries, “All for one, and one for all.” Yet, before reading the book I could not have named the three – Athos, Porthos, and Aramis – or given any account of what the musketeers actually did. When a new translation arrived, with a historical introduction and endnotes, and that is reportedly more faithful to the original than previous English translations, I decided it was time to discover why it is such an enduring classic.

D’Artagnan is a near-penniless young Gascon adventurer newly arrived in Paris in the spring of 1625 to seek his fortune. He presents himself to the captain of King Louis XIII’s musketeers on recommendation from his father. Accidentally, and almost to his misfortune, he falls in with three of the captain’s favorites. From then on, they work together, all-for-one, etc. It is d’Artagnan’s intrigues that drive the increasingly complex plot. He is drawn into a mission to protect the honor of the queen against the manipulations of Cardinal Richelieu. Yet that plot becomes secondary when d’Artagnan’s lady love disappears and the mysterious Milady takes center stage.

The writing is somewhat old-fashioned. The humor is a bit dated although still funny in places. The heroes are not as heroic as I expected. Women are frankly treated abominably. And yet… crack open the book and you can’t put it down. The story races along, and amidst the rollicking fun and adventure, Dumas sticks in some surprisingly lovely and timeless truisms about politics and human nature. So, it is an enduring classic and, in this new translation, a delightfully enjoyable read.

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