Review: “The Three Musketeers” by Alexandre Dumas


Alexandre Dumas is still recognized throughout literature as one of the most prolific writers of historical fiction.  Two of his most famous novels are The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo.  The Three Musketeers, the first volume in the d’Artagnan Romances, is one of Dumas’ more conflictive works, since there is a virtual tug-of-war between the roles of the protagonists and the antagonists.

While Dumas presents a very expressive and detailed outlook on the environment of seventeenth century France and the global politics the country was then entrenched in as a monarchy, he failed to produce a captivating storyline with impressive characters.  Satirical or not, the story is just confusing.  Cardinal Richelieu poses a powerful threat to King Louis XIII as a shrewd politician, but most of the time he is the unofficial ruler of France during the king’s numerous marital disputes with his wife, Queen Anne.  He seems to have good intentions despite all of his scheming with evil Milady de Winter and good-natured Rochefort, except for the war he wants between France and England.  Therefore, when he offers d’Artagnan a position at the end of the novel, it is hard to figure out which statesman d’Artagnan should pledge allegiance to—uncaring Louis XIII or intelligent Cardinal Richelieu.  Although Richelieu tries to expose the queen’s love affair with the current Duke of Buckingham and manages to assassinate her lover, this seems to be more of a good deed than a bad one.

After all, one of Dumas’ trademarks in his writing is how he paints historical characters with all their vitality, their faults, and their sins in the spotlight.  In Dumas’ point of view, no one can ever rightly judge who is the true villain or hero in life, nor can anyone rightly judge people’s motives for their actions.  History is a continuous chess game being played, and Dumas’ visualization of people who were powerful pieces in the game of life emphasizes how humans, regardless of political or social status, are always pressured into action, whether in matters of government, romance, or everyday living.  In this way, Queen Anne is an unhappy woman in a bad marriage, Louis XIII was simply born king but not meant to be king, and Cardinal Richelieu was unfortunately pressured into becoming a clergyman before he discovered his knack for politics.

The same applies to the three musketeers.  Although Dumas uses only Athos, Porthos, and Aramis to signify the brotherhood and loyal friendship behind this group of eccentric cavaliers, d’Artagnan belongs to this union as well.  Skilled swordsmen and devoted subjects, all four have their own personal histories that contribute experience to their line of work, and their understanding of human manipulation helps them to evade the traps set by Richelieu.  They also manage to enjoy their lives with honor at the same time, which can’t be said for many soldiers of those times.

Young d’Artagnan has a hot temper and a brash way of acting before thinking, but his new three friends teach him how to control himself and master his energy.  They all make a good team, but this cannot replace what is lacking in The Three Musketeers as a narrative.  Perhaps it is the superficiality of d’Artagnan’s love for married Constance, Aramis’ sarcastic desire to become a priest without adhering to any vows, Athos’ rage against Milady de Winter, and Porthos’ uselessness that detract from the merit of The Three Musketeers.  There is no denying that the storyline is exciting and historically plausible or that the settings are realistic, but one shall never know what lies hidden in Alexandre Dumas’ original manuscript of the novel.

The fact is that English translations of the French text of The Three Musketeers are hopelessly erroneous.  Numerous English editions of the novel have extracted sections of the story without explanation and certain necessary details within the plot are missing altogether.  Therefore, The Three Musketeers as it is now is so flawed and untrue to the author’s first vision of his narrative that there is no way of knowing what the original was really like.  Nevertheless, despite the many downfalls of its content, The Three Musketeers will not disappoint a reader eager for a well written and well researched historical novel with Dumas’ signature action scenes, his satire, and his singular judgment of history.

Original review: Part 1: Bad translations degrade ‘The Three Musketeers’Part 2: Bad translations degrade ‘The Three Musketeers’Part 3: Bad translations degrade ‘The Three Musketeers’,



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