Summary Thoughts: Classics are classic, but they do not necessarily have good values.
One of my reading goals this year is to read more old books. I checked the audiobook Three Musketeers out of the library. I listened to half of the unabridged version before I realized that the second half of the book was missing. So I am 13.5 hours in and I don’t have the ending. I will check out the rest eventually, but I have a couple thoughts to share now.
I read a children’s abridged version of the Three Musketeers at some time when I was a pre-teen. And there was a short lived Three Musketteers cartoon when I was a kid (actually it was on TV five years before I was born, but I watched the re-runs.) So clearly I did not have the complete story line walking into this book
The Three Musketeers is an old soap opera. There is a one sided almost Disney-esque villain. Shady bad guys, good guys that spend too much money on clothes and food for their pay checks. There are love pursuits and mistresses and marriages of connivence not love. The women are more interested in the gifts and salary of the guys than their character. And the men are more interested in the beauty (or connections) of the women than marriage partners or companions or their personhood. All in all, it feels very much like a soap opera.
The thing that struck me almost immediately, is the importance of pride in this book. The book opens with d’Artagnan (the main character) getting into a duel because he thought someone might be laughing at him because of his horse (which was an old, worn out horse that his father gave him as he set out.)
Then he manages to end up in duels with all three of the other main characters before being interrupted by the bad guys. This keeps happening throughout the book. Because these ‘gentlemen’ have very little money or political clout, all they do have is their name. So they are hotheads that go around dueling (and often killing people) in order to protect it.
I honestly thought that this was just a cultural problem with the era, until I saw several instances of it happening around me. People walking away from jobs because they are offended, road rage, political fights. Essentially, all of these things that I saw were not about issues or anything of importance, they were about pride. And pride clearly is sin. People are getting hurt, not for issues or beliefs or the sake of people that can’t protect themselves, but because of pride.
The second thing that struck me as very odd is the plot of the book. The King is married to Queen, who is from Spain and mistrusted both by the King and the Cardinal (the bad guy). The King is supposed to be a good, but often ignorant character that is often fooled by the Cardinal. The Queen is portrayed as always good, but placed in situations where she makes some bad decisions.
So the Three Musketeers (with d’Artagnan) end up risking their lives, and killing people, because of political intrigue that they do not know simply because they support their person. The Cardinal is made out to be the bad guy, but this book could have been written just as easily from the perspective of the Cardinal’s guards without only a minor edit. Even in the book, there is a comment about the fact that they will likely die for reasons that they will never know.
There is no grand narrative or great idea or purpose that the Three Musketeers are fighting to uphold. It is simply that their Queen and King don’t want to be embarrassed.
Last week I read a blog post that was concerned about the books that are coming out now, especially teen paranormal romance (like Twilight). Essentially it was arguing that teens cannot really understand how damaging the content of the books are to the future understanding of actual romance because the books are aspirational. That may be true, but it is just as true that some of the classics like Three Musketeers uphold ideas and values that are just as damaging to both men and women.
I was not a fan of restricting access to Twilight any more than I am to restricting access to Three Musketeers. I simply wish that we had more books (and tv shows and movies, and video games, etc) that were focused on leading people toward character. I think that Christian culture is just as bad as secular culture at this. Discussions of men’s and women’s roles, restricting behavior based on physical traits, encouraging stereotypes has nothing to do with fulfilling our Christian calling. It has to do with harking to a Victorian cultural ideal that will not get us in the 21st century any further than it did with the real Victorians in the 19th.
I do not want this to be read as a screed against books that portray people doing the real things that people do. I want my book characters to act like real people. I just want to see some of my book characters rise above. Maybe that is why I like fantasy and superhero stories so much. Even flawed superheros know they should be better than they are. To often, we do not even realize that there is more that the little that we are striving after.