Les Trois Mousquetaires in the original French. I read the Finnish translation which has almost a thousand pages and illustrations by Maurice Leloir.

I’m more familiar with the various movies and the cartoon than the book. Given how distorted the movie versions of books usually are (at least the ones I’ve seen), I was a bit surprised how well the movies usually capture the personalities of the four main characters. The plots, however, are often shortened or changed although I seem to recall that the most usual plot is the three musketeers plus one racing from Paris to London in order to retrieve something precious to the French queen. This is, in fact, the second plot in the book. I assume that people know enough about the book, so there are going to be spoilers.

At the start of the book, the protagonist D’Artagnan is described as a hot-headed young man who is just looking for an excuse for a duel. When he meets the three musketeers one by one that’s exactly what he does – insults them in a seemingly small way and arranges a duel with each of them on the same day. However, once the four fight together against the group of the Cardinal Richelieu’s men, D’Artagnan and the musketeers aren’t as quick to take insult. Or if they are, that’s not significant to the plot and it’s not shown. However, later, when he returns from London, the narrator describes him as man who is cautious by nature and this characteristic is attached to him throughout the rest of the book.

The other musketeers keep their personalities throughout the book, though. Athos is the silent strong type (sorry, couldn’t resist :)). He rarely smiles. He’s even taught a sign language to his servant Grimaud so that he doesn’t have to talk with the servant. He’s had one tragic encounter with one woman in his past and so he hates and mistrusts all women everywhere. Aramis is a dandy and a poet. He would like to be a priest except that he likes women more. Porthos is a hard drinking and loud man who thinks slowly but occasionally gets good ideas. All of them are very good swordsmen and eager to fight. At the start of the book, it’s made clear that these names are just covers for their real identities, and that they are really high-born nobles.

The concept of honor that the musketeers have here is somewhat different than in the movies and certainly different than in the cartoon. For one thing, except for Athos, they all have affairs with married women and this doesn’t go against their honor, or the honor of the ladies, either. They have all sworn allegiance to the King but at the same time, they have an on-going feud against the Cardinal’s men who also serve the King. In duels they are, in essence, murdering faithful Frenchmen. Also, D’Artagnan essentially seduced Mylady’s young maid and abused her trust thoroughly, and yet he didn’t see it as dishonorable.

Mylady is the most significant female character in the book. She’s very beautiful, merciless, and devious; in other words, an excellent antagonist. In fact, even though the Cardinal is perceived as the main antagonist, he’s seen rarely and in more the instigator of plots. Mylady is is one of his henchmen (henchwoman?) and during the latter part of the book we get to see her point of view. Still, I was left wondering what made her so evil. Near the end, when the tale of her escape from the monastery during her teenage years, is told, I wondered if this was the whole tale or perhaps the monk whom she escaped with didn’t coerce her or at least take a more active part than mere seduced sap.

I was expecting D’Artagnan’s mistress, Constance, to be a significant character but she wasn’t seen much. She’s kidnapped (for the second time) pretty early on, around page 350 and don’t appear until very near the end. She wasn’t even a real plot device because for the majority of the book she isn’t seen at all. D’Artagnan thinks about her a couple of times but promptly gets on with his life. Because the book is centered on adventure, this might seem reasonable but when D’Artagnan professes his undying love for her near the end, I can’t help put think of him as a hypocrite. After all, since Constance and D’Artagnan had last seen each other, D’Artagnan has fallen in love with Mylady (and been passionately jealous of her supposed other lovers) and seduced the poor maid. Poor Constance!

Constance’s husband (yup, she was married) was described to be pretty despicable fellow; a money grubbing merchant who had the audacity to charge D’Artagnan rent! The landlord was also a coward and became the Cardinal’s spy.

Then again, pretty much all merchants and tavern owners were depicted as greedy cowards, and the nobles who tried to get away without paying for their meal or room, were just getting their due. I guess that was the attitude at the times. Of course, plenty of people to day, too, think that they are entitled to free things.

Even though it took me almost two months to read the book, it was well worth it. It was fascinatingly different from modern times and I might even call it a more alien culture than what I’ve seen in most of the science fiction and fantasy I’ve read. I might even look up the sequels. I’ve already borrowed the first sequel from the library.