There are certain books every literate person needs to read. Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers is one of them. I love Arturo Perez Reverte’s The Club Dumas which was made into The Ninth Gate starring Johnny Depp. The Three Musketeers was a major plot point in Vikas Swarup’s Q and A which was made into Slumdog Millionaire. I have been wanting and feeling the need to read Dumas’ masterpiece but kept putting it off. Mostly out of laziness. Sadly, the size threw me off. Finally, I was prepared. I picked up the book, opened the cover, and felt a chill. Looking at the title page, I thought of all the people who had read this book. All the people who had reread this book. All the copies that existed. And I was at last joining that legion. Reading a classic book is like walking on those worn down stone steps at Westminister Abbey, Notre Dame Cathedral, or the Louvre. As you turn the pages, you feel that weighty history, of hundreds of thousands of other readers turning the same pages, in different editions, different languages, different translations.
Because the story is a part of our culture, I was aware that there were actually four musketeers. I also knew there was a femme fatale with a fleur de lis tattooed on her shoulder. I knew there were sword fights. That was all. What I was happy to discover is the female, Milady—aka many other names—is a major character. And while yes, she is a villain and described rather coldly, there is much attention and respect given regarding her intelligence.
Why does The Three Musketeers continue to interest readers? The story moves quickly, and our hero, d’Artagnan is from a small town with a letter of introduction and big dreams. Along the way to deliver the letter he gets into fights with three separate men,
You are doubtless unaware that one of us is never seen without the others, and that we are known among the musketeers and the guards, at court and in town, as Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, or the three inseparables. However, as you come from Dam or Pau . . . . your ignorance of that detail is permissible. (54)
Our lowly hero meets with the musketeers and wins them over. We root for him throughout the adventures, hoping he will rise and be made a musketeer. We see his hero worship of each of the three musketeers and we see their flaws and watch him accept their mistakes without judging them. Each of the men are willing to die for one another. It is this loyalty, this friendship, that drives the book. Their quick acceptance of d’Artagnan is what everyone hopes for. We all want to be accepted by those that we admire.
For their part, the three musketeers loved their young friend greatly. The friendship that united the four men, and the need to see each other three or four times a day, either for a duel, or for business, or for pleasure, kept them constantly running after one another like shadows; and one could always come upon the inseparables if one searched between the Luxembourg and the place Saint-Sulpice, or between the rue du Vieux-Colombier and the Luxembourg. (88)
The men share everything: clothing, money, food, drink, horses, servants. One of the musketeers sleeps with another’s ex wife and even that doesn’t disrupt their loyalty for one another. Instead, it only strengthens their loyalty to each other. Reading this book allows us to fantasize about a camaraderie that no longer exists. To reiterate, it’s a fantasy of four friends who are willing to die defending one another. In reality, if I were to meet one of the musketeers, I’d be thrown off by men whose honor is so easily insulted. I’d be put off by men who gamble all their money away in one night. I’d be disgusted by men who treat their servants as slaves. But again, this is a fantasy, where we cheer the heroes and hiss at the villains.