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Knowledge of our past is our inheritance. What we do with that knowledge will shape our destinies...

Monday, January 6, 2014

Book Review: Man in the Iron Mask

So this is going to be the week of many reviews between my two blogs! I finished several books either during the holidays or right before and haven't had a chance to review them yet. So, I'm playing catch up with my reviews this week.

Right at the end of the year, I realized I hadn't read as many of the classics as I'd wanted to, so I decided to just slip one in under the wire and read Alexander Dumas's Man in the Iron Mask. I've wanted to read this for a while, both because I'd never read Dumas before, and also because I loved the DiCaprio film that came out in 1998 and I was curious as to how it differed from the book.

And the answer is A LOT!

Plot: So the basic plot of the book was the same: A less-than-desirable king has a secret twin brother in prison, and a group of middle-aged musketeers hatches a plot to put the other sibling, Philippe on the throne in his brother Louis's place.

But, that's where the similarities end. Spoiler alert*** I'm going to talk about how the book is different from the film, and it's pretty much synonymous with spoilers. 1) In the book, Phillipe doesn't have the iron mask on at the beginning of the novel. It isn't forced on him for later. 2) In the book, the plot doesn't work at all, and in the end, the same king--Louis--stays on the throne and his brother is thrown back into prison. End of story. The "good" king, as portrayed in the film doesn't stay on the throne of France. 3) It's really Aramis, more than anyone else who does the entire plot. Porthos plays along, but is pretty clueless all the while, just doing as Aramis tells him. Athos knows nothing at all about it and really isn't involved. D'Artagnon brings down the plot and remains loyal to Louis. Even though the plot is different, D'Artagnon's character and motivations were the most the same in the book. 4) Athos's son, Raoul, doesn't die until near the end of the book. Losing his son is kind of what kills him, rather than being a motivation to join in the coup. 5) There's no D'Artagon being the twins' real father because he had an affair with the queen plot at all. That was entirely a Hollywood thing.

Ending: Overall, I felt like the book was more about what happened to these musketeers (first introduced in The Three Musketeers) in middle age. The plot to replace the king was over by half way through the book and after that it was about the king trying to kill Aramis and Porthos for their treason, D'Artagnon struggling with his loyalties, and Athos struggling with sending his son off to war. The "man in the iron mask" is actually a trifling part of the story. The biggest change was that three of the four musketeers die by the end. Aramis is the only survivor of this book. While all the deaths were tragic, I actually thought Porthos' death was the most powerful. It was poignant and very well-written. It was probably my favorite part of the book, not because he died, but just because it's the part I had the biggest emotional connection to. Like I said, I think Dumas wrote it more as a way to write about the musketeers in older age than anything else. ***End of Spoilers 

Overall: It wasn't bad for all that; just not what I expected. Over all, did I like it? Was I glad I read it? Yes. I am. But, would I recommend it? Eh. I didn't love it. A big part of that was that it was really hard to read. It's a very old novel and a translation from French, which makes it choppy and almost entirely in passive voice. 

Don't get me wrong, I'm glad I got through it. Now I can say I've read Dumas. But, unless you enjoy wading through difficult stories, I wouldn't dive in. As for me, I'm open to reading more Dumas, but probably won't pick another of his stories up anytime soon.

And for the record, the film was better. Not because it's a film or because it had Leo in it, but rather just because the story was strong, more compelling, with much more clearly defined themes and morals. I just enjoyed it more. 

Has anyone else read any Dumas?

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