Every year millions of books are published in the world. However, only few characters from all these novels, thrillers and stories stay with us for somewhat noticeable period of time. Only several stay with humankind for centuries. To create such a character is a rare success for the novelist.
We live in the fast changing world, really fast changing. Every new decade, every year brings new ideas, new stories, new literary fiction with its heroes. But for more than century and a half, steadily and effortlessly the brave Gascon D’Artagnan and his loyal comrades-musketeers stay with us.
It looks like they will not intend to leave us in foreseeable future.
D’Artagnan, Athos, Porthos and Aramis became more real for many generations than their historical prototypes who lived and fought in XVII century France. The reason is Alexander Dumas’ writer’s magic.
Dumas was born on July 24 (some say July 23), 1802, in Villers-Cotterêts, a small town northeast of Paris. His father was a general in French republican army, served bravely and loyally, but, despite of his illustrious service, had fallen into disfavor with Napoleon, was imprisoned and died broken.
Alexander received only limited education. He was a self-made man.
He went to Paris dreaming to conquer The City of Lights (exactly as D’Artagnan did in the very beginning of The Three Musketeers). Dumas was just three years older than young Gascon. This fact (or, maybe, his farther former connections) let him to obtain a modest job of a copyist. Employer, however, was not so modest person. He was Duke of Orleans, the future King Louis-Phillipe.
So, Dumas was lucky. At least, a little bit. But he also was talented and creative. He started his literary pursuits very soon. He worked hard. When he was asked about his favorite genre his usual answer was “I like all genres except the boring”. And he never ever worked in this genre.
Dumas started as a playwright and succeeded. Then, he transferred his attention to serial historical novels. It was in the year 1843-44 that all Paris found itself avidly reading the adventures of “The Three Musketeers” as fast as they appeared. The fame of Alexander Dumas, this “Great Storyteller” soared to astronomical heights. It is a rare occasion, that the literary fiction have caused such a sensation as did Dumas’ story of adventures of D’Artagnan and his three trusty comrades.
The story was based upon the real historical prototypes. The main character was young poor nobleman D’Artagnan, who arrived from his native south province of Gascony to Paris, dreaming to be enlisted into the ranks of elite King’s Guards – legendary Royal Musketeers.
In the capital he found three “inseparables” – king’s musketeers Athos, Porthos and Aramis, whose friendship became famous. D’Artagnan also met his love – Constance, whose future will add some tragic note to the entirely optimistic fabric of the novel.
Being involved in the schemes and intrigues of Paris life, young Gascon could not escape from obtaining powerful enemies. Most prominent of them is the King’s First Minister Cardinal Richelieu, while most wicked and dangerous is cardinal’s agent – the blond mysterious Milady.
War against England, the clash of political titans, love affairs and swordplay follow…..Sparkling dialogs, adventures, good and evil – solid history and brilliant fiction – all is here.
Why this novel became so popular? After all, Alexander Dumas wrote about three hundreds of other novels and dramas, and only “The Count of Monte-Cristo” can be compared with the musketeers’ saga (in 1845, the first sequel to The Three Musketeers “Twenty Years After” was published, followed by the final book of the trilogy “The Viscount of Bragelonne; or, Ten Years Later” between 1848 and 1850).
The answer is, probably, simple and difficult in the same time. The obvious reason is the brilliant talent and imagination of the writer, who reached the top of his skill to the moment of creating his masterpiece. Breathtaking and romantic adventures, swordplay, war and love, loyalty and treachery, an aura of intrigues, mysteries and court plots – what reader can stay neutral!
Another reason is that in main characters of D’Artagnan and his three friends Dumas created the collective virtual image of French national spirit. These four brave men is the soul of “La Belle France” (while not at all idealized and not free of many flaws and, sometimes, comic features).
Clever, sometimes shrewd and tricky, but still honest and loving toward his friends Gascon D’Artagnan, noble and brave, witty and phlegmatic (sometimes drunk) Athos, who “can raise to almost semi-god, but also can fall down to hardly a man”, pompous, laud and vainglorious Porthos, who – in the same time – can be naive like a child and loyal like a dog, and elegant, mysterious, crafty Aramis, whose religious zeal can compete only with his romantic (almost womanizing) nature.
They all look real (and we love heroes not only for their worthiness and positive features, but for their flaws, too). They are human beings; they can be sad, angry and – sometimes – not very smart. But never – cowardly, treacherous or dishonest.
We love their dignity, their Code of Honor “One for All and All for One”, and their comradery, when they face numerous enemies and dangers.
Another reason of this fame and popularity is in the chosen historical period itself. Dumas wrote that he knows only four Great Historical Epochs in the history of mankind and the closest to his time was XVII century France during the reigns of two kings: Louis XIII and his son Louis XIV.
One can surely argue about it (you and I obviously can), but it was interesting time. It was time of turmoil, wars, great discoveries and breakthroughs, remarkable events and people. Dumas studied those events and people with great interest and attention. And use them as a material for his stories.
“History is the nail, which I hang my dramatic canvas on”.
Nail was good, not rusty and stuck in the wall hard. So, the dramatic canvas was based upon the solid base.
All these reasons are surely valid. As well as many more, everybody can easily find many more. And still the mystery presents and despite the tons of research devoted to Alexander Dumas’ writing, devoted to his life, we have no perfect answer. Because the act of a literary creation is still, somewhat, enigmatic. As any creation act.