I do love a good tale of jaunty folks doing jaunty things. Throw in some sinister clergy and a femme fatale who’s the perfect combination of cunning and diabolical and you have yourself a whopping good romp. Multiply it by four and you have Alexandre Dumas’ incredible tale of The Three Musketeers (plus one).
When (plus) one dreams of being a Musketeer, one should start with a dashing name. Fortunately, our protagonist has one – d’Artagnan. Packing all the essentials, like one letter of introduction, some fatherly advice and a few of his mother’s recipes, the young d’Artagnan sets off from his humble little squire for the City of Lights, only this is before electricity, so it’s just the City.
The absence of any actual necessities shouldn’t be a problem, because jaunty people get by on their jaunt.
D’Artagnan’s first stop in the town of Meung goes swimmingly, except that he’s beaten unconscious and the only important possession he had – his father’s letter of introduction – is stolen. Once awake, d’Artagnan catches a glimpse of ‘Milady.’ The whiff of sulfur she leaves in her wake and the lack of any other name but ‘Milady’ should probably give one pause, but this is d’Artagnan and caution has no place in his world. Nor, it seems, does any of his father’s advice.
Once in Paris, d’Artagnan finds the musketeers to be a bunch of layabouts and braggadocios who mock the Cardinal. Like so many literary portrayals of men of the cloth, the Cardinal must be a good guy, right? D’Arty is appalled by these musketeers and therefore decides the only thing to do is join them. Armed with no letter of introduction and a pretty sparse resume, d’Artagnan marches in to the head of the musketeers, M. de Treville, and asks for a job. De Treville puts d’Arty through a rigorous test of answering a question which convinces him that d’Arty is not an agent of the Cardinal (it’s good to know French politics haven’t changed). Since d’Artagnan shows promise for more than just prancing about palaces, de Treville hires him for the King’s Guard. D’Arty had his heart set on musketeering, but his disappointment is cut short when the man who stole his letter of introduction appears, doing jazz hands – the Man from Meung (played by Peter O’Toole at the Schubert).
D’Artagnan races after the Man from Meung (played by Dustin Hoffman at the Old Vic). Unfortunately, d’Arty is unable to crash into a person without insulting them afterwards; which he does, thrice, with the Three Musketeers. There are hundreds of musketeers, it turns out, but only three that matter – Aramis, the pious one who smells nice, Porthos, the vain one who never met a truth he couldn’t ignore and Athos, the old one who remains in a perpetual state of being wounded.
The following day, the Three Musketeers appear for the duels they had each challenged d’Artagnan to as a result of those insulting crashes. D’Arty proves himself the gentleman by apologizing to the latter two who may not be able to kill him as they’d hoped – and they say chivalry is dead (no, but d’Arty might be.) There’s only one (!) small problem with this scenario, dueling is illegal; the Cardinal’s Guards (honestly, Alexandre, how many factions do we need?) arrive right before the duel begins. The Musketeers must choose whether to face de Treville and a proper tsking or the Cardinal and his jail. Spoiler Alert: they choose to fight the Cardinal’s Guards. D’Artagnan, previously viciously loyal to the Cardinal, suddenly decides to fight with the Musketeers against the Guards. It’s all a matter of principle, you see – someone else’s.
During the battle, d’Artagnan bests the head Guard and saves Athos who – surprise! – is wounded. King Louis XIII, along with the rest of us, is impressed that these four men with flouncy feathered (plumed!) hats defeated an entire trained Guard and invites them all to the palace for lunch. The King, however, decides his attendance is optional; left to their own devices, the boys go off to play tennis. During the match, another fight with Cardinal Guards breaks out (at which point we should pause to contemplate what would have happened if John McEnroe had ever had a sword at his side – Game, Set, SCHWING!).
But back to d’Artagnan, who effortlessly defeats the Cardinal’s Guards once again. He cements his place at the cool kids’ table and the King gives him a bunch of money, that the Musketeers decide is best spent on dinner.
A short time later, d’Artagnan is confronted by a stranger at his home. The stranger’s wife, who is one of the Queen’s ladies-in-waiting, has been kidnapped and needs d’Arty’s help. It turns out the Queen is having an affair with the Duke of Buckingham, which is gross because he’s English. The strange man (a relative term in this story) suspects the Cardinal is behind his wife’s kidnapping. D’Arty is skeptical because one should never agree to help any old stranger find their kidnapped wife, does no one watch Brian de Palma movies?
But wait – this stranger is none other than M. Bonacieux!
Oh, sorry – M. Bonacieux is d’Artagnan’s landlord and we don’t really know why d’Arty didn’t know that. But he can get some free rent out of the deal so he gallantly offers to assist. Making his serious face, d’Artagnan gets a full description of the kidnapper, who sounds eerily like The Man from Meung (played by Alan Alda in Brussels) and nothing makes d’Arty happier than chasing the Man from Meung. Conveniently, the Man from Meung (played by Marcel Marceau in Quebec) appears right behind the creepy landlord and d’Arty is off, like, well, a d’art. But, as is always the way with the Man from Meung (played by Kenneth Branagh at the Sydney Opera House), d’Artagnan loses him.
He asks his new Musketeer buddies to help him find Constance Bonacieux and, since doing so would royally tick off the Cardinal, they agree. Just as they decide on a plan, M. Bonacieux shows up with yet another plea; now he needs to be rescued as the Cardinals Guards are going to arrest him because apparently the Cardinal hates the Bonacieux family. D’Artagnan shrugs and shows the Cardinal’s Guards where M. Bonacieux is hiding and everyone is smug in the knowledge that this all makes sense… except to anyone reading it, and Porthos.
M. Bonacieux is hauled off to the Bastille, while the police hang out in his home questioning anyone who crosses the threshold. D’Arty cleverly hides downstairs, listening surreptitiously to everything, hoping to gain information as to the whereabouts of Mme. Bonacieux, when she renders the prior scene moot by walking in the front door. Constance says she must go to the Louvre to meet up with the Queen who is meeting the shockingly English Duke of Buckingham. D’Artagnan escorts Mme. Bonacieux and falls in love with her along the way, because that certainly won’t complicate anything, nor will the stalker-like tabs he keeps on her in the days to come as her husband rots in the Bastille.
The Duke of Buckingham is terribly emotional in his meeting with the Queen but she feels she must remain distant. This is either because she’s impersonating the Mona Lisa or because she is the Queen of France, cavorting with an Englishman, having married into a lineage that is keen on removing heads from shoulders.
As he whiles away the hours in jail, M. Bonacieux, and thus the reader, finally meets the Cardinal with the all the inept guards – Cardinal Richelieu. Despite his name sounding like a beautifully aged wine, this is no one you want to have for Christmas dinner. M. Bonacieux agrees to spy on his own wife (which is actually not a bad idea) and is allowed to return home, because spying from jail is kind of silly. Meanwhile, de Treville and the Cardinal head over to the King to deal with Athos who we totally forgot had been arrested. After a few rounds of “Nuh-uh/Yah-huh/He started it”, the Cardinal backs down and Athos is released; a perplexing twist as the Cardinal isn’t known for his compassion.
When the others have left, the King asks if the Cardinal has anything else on his mind, to which the Cardinal replies no, not really, except that the Queen is having an affair with the Duke of Buckingham and how ’bout that game last night?
Because M. Dumas has not added enough elements to his plot, the Cardinal convinces the King that the Queen’s affair involves Spain and Austria and incriminating letters. The King, who is upset that his wig-fitting time is being cut short by all this treason, orders a search of the Queen’s rooms. Letters are found, but since they’re only incriminating against the Cardinal and nobody likes him anyway, the King throws a party for the Queen to apologize for the mess his guys made of her stuff.
The Cardinal, annoyed that nobody is getting mad at anyone else, suggests the Queen wears a diamond brooch the King gave her. The catch is the Queen has given the brooch to Buckingham, which the Cardinal knows. To ensure that this plan doesn’t go wrong, the Cardinal enlists help to steal a piece of the brooch.
The fact that he did this doesn’t matter because the Cardinal is a boob and we all know his plan’s going to fall apart. It’s who he enlists that’s important: Milady.
Remember her? No? Well, I can’t tell you any more right now but you really should have goose-bumps.
That damned brooch turns out to be quite problematic. The Queen needs to get it back from Buckingham and Constance Bonacieux offers to tell him so, but she needs M. Bonacieux to go with her. M. Bonacieux refuses and races off to tattle on her to the Cardinal. Fortunately, our dashing d’Artagnan pops up just in time persuade Mme. Bonacieux to let him tell Buckingham instead. This involves leave from the Guard (the good guard, not the Cardinal’s clown posse).
Fortunately for story progression, De Treville says sure, but makes d’Arty take the Three Musketeers with him for continuity’s sake and off they all go on a Road to London adventure. These are the Musketeers, so there are brawls, gunshots, ambushes and a sale at Harrod’s which forces d’Artagnan to abandon them and get to Buckingham by the skin of his teeth.
All I can say is: I hope this married fille, whose husband is reporting back to the sworn enemy of our protagonists, is worth it.
Buckingham coughs up the brooch but not before Milady makes off with part of it. A panicked Buckingham orders blockades to stop her. This works swell, except that Milady gets away despite blockades and the blockades themselves are considered an act of war against France.
But none of that matters because we’re finally told who the hell this Milady chick is: she’s Lady de Winter! If you don’t understand the significance of that, never mind and keep reading because that’s what we all did!
Back at the Sorry-I-Accused-You-of-Philandering-and-Treason Ball, the Cardinal offers the missing brooch piece (compliments of Lady de Winter) to the Queen, in front of the King. Only the brooch isn’t missing anything because Buckingham had it fixed, that being the first thing he’s done right. Everyone is confused except for d’Artagnan, who doesn’t care because he’s still mooning over Constance. The Queen is so tickled her date with the guillotine has been cancelled, she invites d’Arty to her chamber for a kiss on her hand and then gives him a ring, despite the fact that giving away jewelry just got France into a war with England. De Treville advises d’Artagnan to get rid of the ring as soon as possible, but d’Arty files that away with his father’s advice and keeps the ring while promising to be really, really careful. Why worry, just look at his track record?
Constance invites d’Artagnan for a little afternoon delight, which he heartily accepts, but she gets herself kidnapped (again) in the process. De Treville suggests d’Arty go get his Three buddies because he A) left them for dead and B) the book’s title indicates they are kind of integral to the plot(s).
D’Artagnan finds Porthos, who’s a mess – wounded (so he says) and unable to move – so d’Arty leaves him to find Aramis. Aramis had decided to give up the world and join the church again, but decides heaven can wait after all. D’Artagnan moves on to fetch Athos, who has barricaded himself in the basement of the inn in which he was ambushed. Since the innkeeper was part of the ambush, Athos has decided to drink all of the inn’s liquor as recompense. D’Artagnan persuades a very drunk Athos to come out and they take a room together at the inn of the dubious innkeeper (given the choice, Athos is who I’d hole up with, too). Drunk and vitamin D deprived, Athos tells a tale about his “friend,” who married below his station for true love; only True Love had a criminal’s brand, so he ended the relationship by hanging her.
On second thought, maybe I will bunk with Porthos.
The gang eventually remembers their obligations and makes their way back to Paris, only to find out some bonehead in England set up blockades and now everyone’s going to war. Geez, I wonder what kind of twit aided that endeavor? D’Artagnan spies the Woman from Meung (Faye Dunaway replacing Kenneth Branagh in Prague.) Oh! Forgot to mention – the Woman from Meung is actually Milady, who we know is Lady de Winter. D’Artagnan becomes obsessed with her (get in line) and gets himself an appointment to be killed by her brother-in-law the very next day.
The duel is an exercise in futility, which begs the question as to why they keep challenging each other to them, and d’Arty and the boys get the better of their opponents once again.
D’Artagnan pretends to be in love with Lady de Winter so her brother-in-law will arrange a meeting. He is in real love with Constance and pretend love with Lady de Winter only it’s not so pretend because they did have three full minutes together on the street which is practically intercourse.
Are you keeping up? Good.
Upon actually meeting Lady de Winter, who smiles beautifully one minute and has the look of a feral boar the next, d’Artagnan falls head over heels, because who wouldn’t? Luckily for him, Lady de Winter’s maid falls for him and tells him all the important little details of their household, like, say, Lady de Winter works for the Cardinal – aha! D’Arty was right! (There’ll be no living with him now.) The maid also lets slip that Lady d is in love with the Comte de Wardes. So, for reasons only Dumas can explain, d’Artagnan disguises himself as the Comte and beds Lady de Winter, who is so impressed with the Comte’s mysteriously renewed vigor, she gives d’Arty a ring; proving once again that jewelry and sex go hand in hand.
After a walk of shame to Athos’, d’Arty seeks advice on the wisdom of bedding his first love’s kidnapper. Athos, however, is more curious why d’Arty is wearing a ring he used to own.
D’Artagnan poses as the Comte once again and ends things with Lady d, which does not sit well with her. For revenge, she decides to seduce d’Artagnan to get back at the Comte, who is really d’Artagnan, FYI.
If we know anything at this point, it’s that this plan could possibly go wrong.
D’Arty goes to Lady d’s and whoops! is seduced again. D’Arty doesn’t know if he’s d’Artagnan or the Comte and confesses everything, like an idiot. Lady d decides that it’s high time d’Artagnan be separated from his pulse and flies at him. In the ensuing chaos, her sleeve is torn, revealing a branded Fleur de Lys on her shoulder – the brand of a criminal. Wait, wasn’t someone in d’Artagnan’s crowd just talking drunkenly about a hanged woman with a criminal’s brand? What a coincidence!
Athos is disturbed that the hanging of his wife didn’t quite take and gets the Musketeers together to help d’Artagnan. Constance sends d’Arty a note asking him to meet her on a deserted bridge in a part of Paris where no one can hear you scream, and the Cardinal asks if perhaps he could have a word with d’Artagnan too. Not suspecting anything at all amiss, all four Musketeers head out to the bridge where Mme. Bonacieux races by in a carriage; d’Artagnan had kind of been hoping for a little more than that. The Cardinal says he knows all about d’Arty’s misbehavior; however, there is a spot on his Guards for him if he wants it, which is an odd reaction for someone who has been actively trying to kill d’Artagnan for lo, these many chapters. Oh, and speaking of which, if d’Arty doesn’t take the position, he’ll be killed.
So of course, d’Artagnan says no.
He then has to go off without the Musketeers to the war he kind of helped start. Lady de Winter exerts a whole bunch of energy trying to kill d’Artagnan in various ways because she doesn’t like losing jewelry. D’Artagnan maims everyone instead and is about to drink a celebratory libation laced with poison when the Three Musketeers arrive and advise against it. With d’Arty being forced to work, the Musketeers are left to wander about when they run into the Cardinal who asks them to be his bodyguards for reasons no one could possibly explain. Since they are the ones most likely to kill the Cardinal, it seems like an easy enough billet and they head off with him to a secret meeting.
During the meeting, the Musketeers figure out they can hear everything through the stove’s pipes (why does the NSA go to so much expense?) and, as if we didn’t know, the Cardinal is meeting with the Lady de Winter, Athos’ not really dead wife after all. In exchange for Lady de Winter executing the Duke of Buckingham, the Cardinal must agree to kill d’Artagnan. It’s also discovered that Constance Bonacieux is being held in a convent.
Good thing the Musketeers were there to overhear all of this, because, really, it would have taken them eternity to figure all that out..
Athos tells the other two to go on ahead and doubles back to confront Lady de Winter. She is shocked that he’s alive, which is confusing because she was the one that was hanged. Athos, with little concern for Buckingham’s well-being, issues a warning about harming d’Artagnan. With the four united at camp, they agree they need to sort all this out and maybe, just maybe, the reader can catch up on a few of the plot points.
They head to an inn but it’s loud so they take over Saint Gervais Fort for a little peace and quiet. While taking over a fort to have a meeting sounds easy enough, it is quite a feat and gives our boys a reputation that would make a Fraternity brother proud. While having lunch in the fort’s parade ground, they decide to send out some correspondences to warn people of their impending assassinations. The Cardinal, who clearly harbors a school-boy’s crush on the Musketeers, convinces de Treville to make d’Artagnan one officially.
Finally! – wait, what?
Letters are received, plots are foiled and Lady de Winter is arrested and held under the watch of John Fenton, a stern male soldier. That should go according to plan.
While the poor Cardinal is baffled because the war keeps on going and no one is being murdered, Lady de Winter is fast at work on Felton. In a performance that would make Bette Davis proud, she convinces the pious Felton that she, too, is full of fervor and that is why she’s in this godforsaken cell to begin with. She tells Felton that Buckingham wants her and, because she is such a good girl, she rebuffed him so he killed her husband and she asks if John would be a dear and kill himself for her? Her brother-in-law, Lord de Winter, barges in and Lady de Winter stabs herself for authenticity. I guess if you survive being hung, you start to get an Immortality Complex.
Not only does she succeed in getting Felton to rescue her, but gets him to kill Buckingham. And I can’t get Mr. de Plume to take out the trash.
The Musketeers depart to retrieve Constance from the convent that’s protecting her. On the way, d’Artagnan spots the Man from Meung (now played by Alan Thicke at the Maple Leaf Gardens) and – wait for it – he gets away. But at least this time he had the courtesy to drop a letter with a bunch of information the boys need.
Lo and behold, Lady de Winter gets to Constance and they become best friends, only one of them, and just guess which one, is full of crap. Seeing a way she can kill a whole bunch of people she doesn’t like at once, Lady de Winter arranges for a carriage with the Man from Meung (now played by David Hasselhoff on any stage that will have him) and convinces naïve Mme. Bonacieux to run away from the Cardinalists, who are coming for them both (sshh, Lady d is actually lying). As the Musketeers ride up, Constance freezes, which prompts Lady de Winter to cut bait and offer Mme. Bonaciuex a glass of toxic wine. Lady de Winter gets away as Constance Bonacieux dies in d’Artagnan’s arms.
That’s right. She dies. 4,000 pages of chasing this broad across Europe and she dies in a convent.
Lord de Winter joins the boys and they all set off to go find Lady d and Comte de Rochefort (formerly appearing as the Man from Meung). On the way, Athos picks up a mysterious man in a red cloak because who doesn’t like a good red-cloaked mystery man? Lady de Winter is found and charged with a laundry list of crimes, to which she says, “yeah? Prove it.” Fortunately they thought to bring along a mysterious red-cloaked man who just happens to be the guy who branded her in the first place. Noting that she might be in a bit of a pickle, Lady de Winter bats her eyelashes one last time before they’re severed from the rest of her, along with her head, and dumped into the Seine.
Everyone heads back home, but before the reader can sort half of what has happened out, Rochefort (now appea… oh forget it) intercepts d’Artagnan to arrest him on behalf of the Cardinal. Once in the Cardinal’s presence, the charges are read and the Musketeers attest the charges are not real because Lady de Winter is dead. And since no one is making sense at this point, the Cardinal decides he has two choices – kill d’Artagnan or promote him to head of the Musketeers.
After a few tense moments, he figures what the heck and gives d’Arty the promotion. The other three wipe their brows and decide to retire to various lives of luxury and religious orders.
The epilogue assures us that Rochefort and d’Artagnan bury the hatchet (fortunately not in each other’s backs), become buddies and go on to The Man with the Golden Gun and Logan’s Run respectively, and everyone lives happily ever after; except the reader, who spends the next twenty years trying to conclude all the subplots.
I give The Three Musketeers 94 Plumes for the Saint Gervais Fort scene and Lady de Winter 177 Plumes for her clever use of beverages
Take Away – Cherchez la femme before she cherchezes you and when in doubt, start a new plot line
*Thank you to SparkNotes.com for the literary assistance and to L.C. Neal of Fictionique.com for editing.