Monday, January 21, 2008
The Three Musketeers
The first thing that jumps out about The Three Musketeers is how fun and sunny it is. I guess I start most classic books with the prejudice that I'm in for a serious undertaking. Why I picked The Three Musketeers I don't really know, except that it was just published in an attractive new edition translated by Richard Pevear (more on him in a second) and that never having read anything by Alexandre Dumas, I might as well roll the dice.
Then it starts and immediately I was immersed, as entertained by the book as any escapist bestseller or beach read. This is a book about young men who fight, gamble and chase skirts (long frilly skirts with lace and jewels, but skirts). Basically, a young man who hasn't hit twenty leaves the provinces for Paris, hoping for military fame. He falls in with the Three Musketeers, who are in their late 20s and early 30s. Originally the musketeers and D'Artagnan plan to kill each other, until the musketeers are impressed by his bravado and decide to adopt him as a protege.
Then it's 600 pages of dueling, chasing and scheming. There are villains and royals and young men who can't decide whether they want to pork the pretty, innocent servant or the polished, beautiful royal. Villains get stabbed, good guys spend time in jail, butlers save the day and everyone celebrates by getting drunk and rebelling against authority.
It's been a long time since I've read a book that has so much pure fun. The translator, Richard Pevear, turns out one great edition after another. I thought I didn't like Russian literature until I read a translation of The Brothers Karamazov that he and his wife published. They could make a cereal box label seem dramatic and exciting.
I decided that in 2008 I'm only going to read books that were written before I was born. I read too much middle-of-the-road junk. Books by new young writers that receive strong reviews but are usually just pleasant or minor. Plus, I have a whole shelf of books with titles like America Betrayed! Bush, Cheney, Iraq, Evangelical Christians and the Beshitting of the Constitution. (I made that up, but the real titles are pretty close.) It seemed time to pursue some new interests.
Whenever someone tells me that I need to read Harry Potter, I tell them that I'm sure he's fine but that I don't want to invest myself in thousands of pages when there are a lot of great books I haven't read. Maybe this should apply to new books by David Mitchell and Richard Ford too. At least in 2008.
I haven't read any Harry Potter, but I'm pretty sure that The Three Musketeers is more fun.