(Originally published May 6, 2009)
In the unlikely event that my readers have NO idea what this book is about…”The Three Musketeers” follows the adventures of young Frenchman d’Artagnan as he and his friends (the titular Three Musketeers – Athos, Porthos, and Aramis) fight for the King of France and thwart the plotting of the malevolent Cardinal Richelieu. Through a series of exciting and harrowing events, d’Artagnan becomes a young man of honor and bravery, thanks in large part to the positive influence of the Three Musketeers.
This book is a must-read for every boy. Swordfight follows swordfight and peril follows peril, supported by a memorable cast of characters including the vengeful Athos, the jolly Porthos, the theologically minded Aramis, and the beautiful-but-deadly Milady de Winter. It’s a rollicking, exciting, and generally pleasant ride through late-medieval France. Even the numerous murders and deaths are treated as merely casualties of war. For most readers, “The Three Musketeers” is little more than a rip-roaring adventure story.
However, a few points of worldview analysis might prove interesting. While most of the characters operate from a personal code of ethics (centered around loyalty to “God and the King”) a few of the finer moral elements are less than laudable. Marriage, for example, is seen as a burdensome requirement easily circumvented (there is very little value placed on marital fidelity).
Example: The Queen of France is engaged in an illicit relationship with the Duke of Buckingham, and gives him a ribbon of diamond studs as a proof of her love. Cardinal Richelieu gets wind of this and invites the Queen to a ball, at which she is asked to wear the diamond studs (that she had just given away to Buckingham). If she appears without the studs, it will prove to the King that she has been unfaithful to him. Enter d’Artagnan and the Musketeers – who hurry to England to reclaim the diamond studs from Buckingham, and then return to France just in time to preserve the Queen’s honor.
Is this the right thing to do? By attempting to preserve the Queen’s honor, the Musketeers are helping to conceal her infidelity to the King. This is a perfect example of the kind of “situational ethics” that run rampant throughout “The Three Musketeers.” Certainly interesting to think about.
Oddly, it seems that absolute values DO exist in Dumas’ world – why else would he portray manipulative characters such as Milady de Winter in such an obviously negative light? – but the good characters have derived their own standards and ethical codes. D’Artagnan and the Three Musketeers obviously have some fuzzy notions of right and wrong, but they are inconsistent in the principles they claim to uphold. Is this merely a sign of human weakness…or is it minimizing the consequences of sin?
From a literary standpoint, “The Three Musketeers” isn’t nearly as good as Dumas’ other famous work, “The Count of Monte Cristo.” There are fewer obvious “moral dilemmas” and the characters aren’t as well-developed. There are fewer plot twists and less suspense. Nevertheless, it is certainly worth your reading time, and could provide some interesting ethical food for thought.
Not quite “Monte Cristo” but still worth your time.