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What is the Three Musketeers?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 27 November 2016
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The Three Musketeers is an 1844 novel, first published in serialized form, written by Alexandre Dumas (the father). It chronicles the adventures of the young and idealistic character D’Artagnan, a youth from Gascony, who desperately desires to become one of the king’s musketeers. The book is based on an autobiography Memoirs of Mister D’Artagnan, Lieutenant Captain of the First Company of the King’s Musketeers, which was published in 1700. An interesting bit of trivia is that Dumas checked out the book from the Marseille library, and never returned it.

The action of the The Three Musketeers spans a three year time period, from 1625-1628, when D’Artagnan first enters Paris, and lives through the Huguenot Siege at La Rochelle. In the first few chapters, the young hero meets three musketeers, Porthos, Athos, and Aramis, and the foursome become devoted friends. The musketeers in general are depicted as allied against the guards of Cardinal Richelieu, who is forever attempting to gain power over King Louis XIII. D’Artagnan at first unwittingly, becomes involved in this power struggle, by supporting the king against the cardinal, and then by acting in several ways to save the Queen’s lover, the English Duke of Buckingham.

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D’Artagnan’s friends are soon involved in this struggle too, helping the young lad in his various dangerous missions. The last of these involves the attempt to capture Milady, an evil to the core woman serving the Cardinal, who successfully manages to kill the Duke of Buckingham, and who also causes the death of D’artagnan’s mistress, Constance. In the middle of the book, the existence of Milady first puzzles and then deeply saddens Athos, whose true name is the Comte de la Fere. Milady, it turns out is his wife, who he believed he had murdered after discovering she had been branded as a prostitute.

Though the plot sounds like a political plot only, the charm of the novel lies in the intensely funny, and sometimes moving scenes Dumas depicts. There are moments of great humor, as well as considerable action and swordplay, that with the plot have turned the novel into one of the best loved of all time. Though written in French, numerous English translations exist, and it’s difficult to count the number of film versions, including a musical, of The Three Musketeers. Though the book contains some references to the sexual escapades of D’Artagnan and his friends, these are treated with great delicacy, and many kids of about the age of 10 or older adore the book, particularly if they are precocious readers.

Despite the many great elements of The Three Musketeers, Dumas was not by in large a careful writer. In particular he makes D’Artagnan a musketeer twice. This may be attributed to the speed at which Dumas wrote, the serialized form in which The Three Musketeers was published, or the fact that Dumas regularly employed ghostwriters. Actually, this last fact remains in much dispute regarding the novel’s authorship. Many believe that Dumas solely or at least mostly wrote this book. Later sequels to the novel may have been ghostwritten.

As for film versions of The Three Musketeers, to date, the most faithful to the book split the film into two parts released in 1973 and 1974, The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers, and were directed by Richard Lester. The two films are much more comprehensive in covering the book’s material, and the cast is first rate. Michael York plays D’Artagnan, and other cast members include Faye Dunaway as Milady, Richard Chamberlain as Aramis, Oliver Reed as Porthos, Charlton Heston as the scheming Cardinal, and Raquel Welch as Constance. These two films have held up well over time and though some may like other adaptations better, if you’re a particular fan of the book, this is probably the best version to view.

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