I've been rereading my favorite book recently, The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas, and it reminded me of the very first time that I read it, and why it still remains my favorite.
It was fall in Minnesota. I was young and had just moved out of a punk rock house which I had naively, yet heroically, moved into three years prior. Just as heroically, I left the woes from that experience far behind. I moved into my own place for the first time, struggling with the feelings of loss associated with the betrayal of would-be friendship. I was dead set against anything resembling friendship at that point, seeking only solitude and the kind of companionship one finds from the simplicity of a pet. In this case, a cat named Damnation.
It was then that I discovered what has remained my favorite book of all time, and not simply because of what it would teach me of friendship, but also because of its vast fulfilling magnitude. Alexandre Dumas's "The Three Musketeers" is truly the stuff of legend. It is classic literature in every sense.
I will never forgotten that week, the week that I first delved into those pages. My mood was nihilistic and completely juxtaposed to those crisp, breezy, fresh days, warmed ever so slightly by the late afternoon sun. I would sit amongst the newly fallen, gloriously colored leaves in the front yard, with Damnation pouncing about the crackling palette, seeking his own bit of unseen adventure. I was enraptured, marveling as I delved into that far off Parisian world and the complex characters that populated it with such grandness and pageantry.
Here was a story that literally had it all; from harrowing action and sprawling, fast-paced adventure, to religious drama, political intrigue and themes of love, romance and sobering betrayal. There is nothing missing from these pages. At once so fantastical in its epic stride and historical basis, it is masterfully engaging and profound in its moral implications.
“You are young, and your bitter recollections have time to change themselves to tender remembrances.”The Three Musketeers Ch. 67 Pg. 351[Alexandre Dumas Published by Trident Press International 1999]
I was quickly drawn into the life of D'Artagnan, the young Gascon, as he leaves his common farm life in search of adventure and the honor of being a Musketeer, like his father before him. His eagerness is as pure as his blind naivety, he was truly fortunate to have befriended the three men when he did. The Three Musketeers, each was the epitome of some ideal; Athos, the wise, Aramis, the spiritual, and Porthos, the lover of life. Though their first encounters would lead to appointments for duels, the young Gascon would quickly win over the three gentlemen with his absurdly dashing sense of duty, loyalty and honor. The bonds of friendship had been forged.
"They walked arm in arm, occupying the whole width of the street and taking in every Musketeer they met, so that in the end it became a triumphal march. The heart of D’Artagnan swam in delirium; he marched between Athos and Porthos, pressing them tenderly."The Three Musketeers Ch. 5 Pg. 62[Alexandre Dumas Published by Trident Press International 1999]
The camaraderie of the four is continuously put to the test however, by a cabal of dastardly villains that keep the plot filled with twists and cunning turns, the likes of which never left me to the trappings of a moment's boredom. There is the mastermind, Cardinal Richelieu, who through his manipulative maneuverings of King Louis XIII himself, constantly looms darkly over the heroes and their noble deeds. D'Artagnan, in a defining moment of immaculate character, incurs the wrath of the seductive Milady de Winter, the Cardinal's beautiful yet deadly spy, when he cleverly foils her coup and also discovers her deepest darkest secret. And of course there is Count Rochefort, the Cardinal's right hand man and closest advisor, who would become D'Artagnan's greatest adversary and deadliest foe.
The 17th century setting is almost a character itself. Dumas paints a vivid, detailed France with a full sense of atmosphere. This was a hard, dirty time and place, where war was constant, and disease ran just as rampant as poverty. Populated by peasants all scrambling about so matter of fact-like, juxtaposed to the exuberant, pomposity of rich Royalty, the lines between the two are always made clear.
"Athos and D’Artagnan, with the activity of two soldiers and the knowledge of two connoisseurs, hardly required three hours to purchase the entire equipment of the Musketeer. Besides, Athos was very easy, and a noble to his fingers’ ends. When a thing suited him he paid the price demanded, without thinking to ask for any abatement. D’Artagnan would have remonstrated at this; but Athos put his hand upon his shoulder, with a smile, and D’Artagnan understood that it was all very well for such a little Gascon gentleman as himself to drive a bargain, but not for a man who had the bearing of a prince."The Three Musketeers Ch. 38 Pg. 68 [Alexandre Dumas Published by Trident Press International 1999]
For all its broad scope, it was still the theme of friendship that drew me to the book initially. The motto: "One for all and all for one!" What I received from that first reading, and all subsequent readings, was a moving sense of camaraderie that is replete with ups and downs, forward and the inevitable backward steps. The Three Musketeers taught me that there are no absolutes in life, but that at the same time, life is so broad and brimming with experiences yet to be had, that to hide from so much potential would be a disservice to self.
"D’Artagnan is right… So let us go and get killed where we are told to go. Is life worth the trouble of so many questions? D’Artagnan, I am ready to follow you."The Three Musketeers Ch. 19 Pg. 216 [Alexandre Dumas Published by Trident Press International 1999]
The Musketeers exercised my emotions with mature sensibilities, and clarified my misguidedly bitter outlook on friendship. Life was meant to be lived, and to never let the disappointments that accompany it draw me away from achieving my potential, nor prevent me from building the bridges to fruitful friendships and relationships that would far out reach my greatest expectations.
“Life is a large chaplet of little miseries, which the philosopher shakes with a laugh. Be philosophers, like me, gentlemen: come around the table and let us drink. Nothing makes the future of so rosy a hue, as to look at it through a glass of chambertin.”The Three Musketeers Ch. 48 Pg. 171[Alexandre Dumas Published by Trident Press International 1999]