Thursday, 21 June 2012

Reflections on Dumas' D'Artagnan Romances

Today, I was going to do a book review, but in light of something that happened last night, my brain revolted against me and decided that I had to post about this instead. Personally, given my last post on emotional scenes, I find this to be a rather fitting follow-on.

I started reading Alexandre Dumas' d'Artagnan Romances (otherwise known as the series of books featuring the famous Three Musketeers) sometime before Christmas last year. I'd heard a lot about the books, and I'm a sucker for gallivanting mischief-making heroes, so I thought I'd give it a go. 

It didn't take long for me to become completely besotted with the series. To anyone who hasn't read it, it's wonderful stuff; adventure, romance, mischief-making, and more laughs than I would have expected any such book to contain. I got very attached to our four main protagonists, and thus I knew I had to hunt down the other books in the series to find out what happened to them next. I could scarcely believe that they would all just part ways and go off to live quiet, separate lives, nevermore to embroil themselves in ludicrious, yet somehow bizarrely effecive, feats of breaking-and-entering, terrorising the cardinal and generally bringing laughs and love to all who meet them.

Thus, I went forth, and bought Twenty Years Later. Though somewhat more complicated than its predecessor, the adventure was bigger and better than ever, and the new villain was a wonderfully eerie reminder of business left unfinished from the first book. 

On and on I went through the books. The plots got thicker, the reading got slower, and we spent more and more narrative time away from our four protagonists. I'll admit I nearly gave up on the series a couple of times here - we were dealing with characters that we had had no previous introduction to or reason to care about, everything seemed to be happening very slowly ... and what the heck have you done with Athos!? Seriously, we hardly see him at all through most of the later books, focussing mainly instead on a character we meet in Twenty Years Later, Raoul, and his friends, with the occasional cameo from D'Artagnan. As lovely as Raoul is, it wasn't him I wanted to read about. 

And then came The Man in the Iron Mask, the final installment of the series. The books had been growing steadily darker, and the fierce friendship between the Musketeers had been stretched and pulled and twisted in all directions as the factions surrounding the young king shifted and scrabbled for handholds. While D'Artagnan struggles to make sense of it all, Athos chews his nails and tries to work out why he feel something is about to go horribly wrong, Aramis schemes and Porthos is seen in places even more inappropriate than usual, the reader slowly becomes more and more confused. 

But I'll be eaten by tribbles if I say that the last book didn't grip me. Gone was my old lethargy - the stakes were high, the battle-lines were drawn, and the players' moves were stunning (even if several of them did come swinging wildly out of the left field to hit you in the face). Love, betrayal, powermongering, loyalty tried and tested ... words cannot  describe the emotion.

And no one came out unscathed. Not even Raoul, who has no further designs than marrying the woman he loves and protecting his friends. The king himself is in so many knots that the untangling ruins not only his finance minister, but also damages his family and friends.

But the greatest blow of all comes to the Musketeers. I never expected their story to end like this. They have all had their share of ups, downs, and sickening lurches that have resulted in situations involving cellars, awkward disguises, and at least one goat between them, but you would never, ever, expect a story with such gallant, unfearing, and remarkably adept escapists to end so well. These guys have survived the English Civil War, the scheming of Richelieu and Mazarin, and the personal vendetta of a woman who could eat Lucrezia Borgia for breakfast.

But in the end, that doesn't save them.

Aramis bites off more than he can chew.
Porthos trusts someone more than he should.
Athos leaves something crucial until too late.
And D'Artagnan has to make a terrible choice between his past, and his future.

For a long while, I just sat there staring at the page, not quite able to believe what had happened. Everything had unravelled so inexorably, and yet with every second I kept hoping that there would be one last twist, one last stroke of genius, that would stop it.

But it never came, and I was left sitting there, tears welling up, watching D'Artagnan's last words fade into blurriness before me.

"Athos, Porthos, au revoir! Aramis, adieu for ever!"

~ Charley R


  1. Now I know I have to read this series. Soon, I promise. Once I finish HP#4,5,6,7; Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel #3,4,5,6; Septimus Heap (all); and possibly Tamora Pierce's Beka Cooper series. When I'm done with all that, I'll read d'Artagnan Romances. (I like that title much better than, say, Twenty Years Later.)
    The Custard Ending, eh?

    1. Tamora Pierce is awesome - I love those books. It uses the diary narrative, you know, and does it very well! Septimus Heap is great fun too.

      Eh, "Twenty Years Later" is the title given on the Kindle Edition to the larger volume often called "The Vicomte De Bragellonne". It's confusing, but given the age of the works themselves its not surprising.

      Custard ... maybe. I found it more Raisin Cookie myself. So sad :(

    2. ...As well as at least three books from Kenneth Oppel, one from Brandon Mull, one from Matt Myklusch, and a few more recommendations.

      But this was one of the books you specified as a Custard ending! Or was it just one of the installments, not the entire series?

    3. The book here, individually, is raisin cookie in its own right, but the series as a whole (and the book I mentioned as being the one with the custard)is probably custard. Most of the books have happy-ish endings ... this one just kills us all.

    4. I'm preparing myself to love it. Dumas was the master of bittersweet endings that don't seem bitter or sweet.

    5. Read them and find out for yourself. The later books can be a bit of a trial, as I said above, but The Man in the Iron Mask is awesome. Enjoy ;)

  2. And out of curiosity - have you seen the Man in the Iron Mask, movie? I haven't. And I had no idea it was named after/based upon a 'Three Musketeer' book.

    (Funny that 3 isn't it? When there are 4 companions - unless in reading the book it makes more sense.) :}

    1. I haven't, no. Just read the book. Still gives me twists in the chest when I think about it.

      Yeah, it's a bit weird ... though after the first book, only D'Artagnan is still a musketeer, ofically. Which really makes no sense at all xD

  3. I love books that leave you in shock like that. I had that feeling when I finished "The Luminous Life of Lily Aphrodite" - I sat there and stared at it going BUT IT CAN'T END LIKE THAT YOU CAN'T NO DON'T YOU DARE NO.

    1. I know! I was literally distraught here - I jus couldn't believe it happened! It was like George R. R. Martin took over the story - EVERYONE I LOVED! WHYYYYYYYYYY!?

      I feel borked now. I need something happy to read :(

  4. Um, Charley, do you have a blog button? :)

    1. No, I must confess I don't ... why do you ask?

  5. I began reading the D'Artagnan romances back in May and finished the series ladt night. Despite feeling like I've lost some precious friends, I can be okay with the ending and I can even see why Dumas ended it all the way he did... Except for the ambiguity surrounding Aramis! Was he redeemed/redeemable or did D'Artagnan's last words imply that he was irrevocably damned? I've searched everywhere but have been unable to find what Dumas' intentions were. What do you think? How did you read it?