For most people, classic literature covers books that are very well written, reflect the times they were written in, that make one think and realise truths of life, have in-depth character sketches…well, in short, are excellent and should be read, but which are not exactly…entertaining. Classical literature is often given the kind of treatment that “serious cinema ” (or “art cinema,” as some would call it) is given – great, amazing, intense, timeless and worthy of admiration. But not exactly the kind of stuff that would perk you up.
Fortunately, there are thoroughly enjoyable exceptions to this stereotype. You have the tense detective fiction of Arthur Conan Doyle and Wilkie Collins. And you have the insanely entertaining, almost Bollywood film-like, works of perhaps the greatest storyteller of them all, Alexdandre Dumas. And he is perhaps at his best in the epic The Three Musketeers.
It is essentially the story of a young man, D’Artagnan, who travels to Paris to become a Musketeer, a special rank of military officers serving the French King (Louis XIII at the time of the book). He makes friends and enemies and has adventures and at the end of it all, you discover whether he achieves his ambition of becoming a Musketeer.
Sounds simple enough? Typical young adventurer story? Well, not quite.
For, Dumas infuses this simple plot with a number of sub-plot lines, and amazing characters. So you have the political struggle between the King and his Prime Minister, Cardinal Richelieu; the tensions between England and France even as the Prime Minister of England, the Duke of Buckingham, falls in love with the French Queen, Anne of Austria; the internal politics of France, with those supporting the King on one side and the Cardinal on the other; a mysterious beautiful secret agent who betrays everyone after seducing them; a man with an eye patch who passes in and out of the narrative, changing it always…
And then you have the three musketeers themselves – the quiet and gentlemanly Athos, the tall and outspoken Porthos, and the cunning and clever Aramis. Three different people who are very close friends (and who follow the follow “all for one, one for all,” and who befriend our young hero after having threatened to kill him within the first few pages of the book. Yes, this is that kind of book. If there was one term I would use to describe it, it would be “swashbuckling.” There are duels being fought, kingdoms being saved, people falling in love and secrets being revealed at just about every ten pages.
All of which makes The Three Musketeers perhaps one of the most entertaining books you will ever read in any genre of literature. There is something happening all the time, and when you have finally put the book down – it is a big read at over five hundred pages – you will find yourself having gone through the whole plethora of human emotions: you will have laughed, wept, felt shocked, been horrified and at times, will have used your teeth as nail trimmers as the tension rises.
Anyone who says classical literature is generally not entertaining has not read The Three Musketeers. And this is one book that everyone simply must read!