Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Book Review: The Man in the Iron Mask by Alexandre Dumas

I'd like to welcome Alexandre Dumas to my blog as part of the Classics Circuit tour.  For other stops on the tour, visit the Classics Cirtuit blog.


The Man in the Iron Mask is the continuing story of those famous musketeers who were introduced to us in The Three Musketeers - Athos, Porthos, Aramis, and d'Artagnan.  While it has been more than twenty years since their great deeds were performed, the four appear to be just as strong and brave as then.  An interesting prisoner is central to this story of intrigue and betrayal - a man whose face is powerful enough to remain hidden behind an iron mask.  The fortunes of all are drawn into a dangerous plot surrounding this mysterious prisoner.  Will they each prevail or is it the end of the four musketeers?

The Man in the Iron Mask (Oxford World's Classics)

Things I Liked:
One of my favorite books of all time is The Count of Monte Cristo, also by Dumas, because of its fast-paced and action-packed plot.  This conclusion to the musketeers' adventures does not fail in that regard.  From the first pages, I was sucked into this story that is literally bursting with plots and intrigues and sword fighting (though not so much as in The Three Musketeers).  Dumas has a skill in creating complicated and interesting plots - plots that will keep you biting your nails.  He switches from storyline to storyline, leaving you on the edge of your seat the whole time.  He manages to keep track of what seems like forty different plots and then to weave them together.  I love the characters, some of whom I have loved through the whole series of their adventures (or at least those parts I've read, The Three Musketeers and Twenty Years After).  I have to admit to liking Porthos the most - who doesn't like a funny and somewhat dimwitted, but exceedingly good-hearted guy?  It does have a rather sad ending, but that is expected for some seriously aging musketeers.  Here are just a few of the parts I enjoyed:

"You will have the kindness merely to tell M. de Saint-Aignan that he has, in the first place, insulted me by changing his lodgings."
"By changing his lodgings?  Good," said Porthos, who began to count on his fingers - "next?"
"Then in getting a trap-door made in his new apartments."
"I understand," said Porthos; "a trap-door; upon my word this is very serious; you ought to be furious at that.  What the deuce does the fellow mean by getting trap-doors made without first consulting you?  Trap-doors!" p 96
"What is the matter, monsieur?" inquired Saint-Aignan.
"I regret to say that I hve broken your chair."
"Not at all, monsieur," said Saint-Aignan; "not at all."
"It is the fact, though, Monsieur le Comte; I have broken it - so muh so, indeed, that, if I do not move, I shall fall down, which would be an exceedingly disagreeable position for me in the discharge of the very serious mission which has been intrusted to me with regard to yourself." p 99
"I am strong against everything, except the death of those I love.  For that only there is no remedy.  He who dies, gains; he who sees others die, loses." p402
"In the presence of this ingenuous greatness of soul, Aramis felt himself little.  It was the second time he had been compelled to bend before real superiority of heart, much more powerful than splendour of mind." p478
Things I Didn't Like:
I admit to skimming over long passages that didn't seem to add much to the plot.  He has a lot of extraneous material that he appeared to be obliged to include.  I should next time choose an abridged version, if available.  Also, probably because I didn't read the rest of The Vicomte de Bragelonne or Ten Years Later, I was confused by some things referenced about the previous books (apparently, The Man in the Iron Mask is the third part of this extremely epic tale).  I also wondered at some of the motivations of characters that didn't seem clear to me.  I've probably forgotten much about Madame de Chevreuse, but I really had no idea what her purpose was, other than to stir things up.  I would have liked a little more introduction (though, I was surprised that the introduction to the edition I read seemed to indicate that Dumas was always summarizing what happened in previous books - I obviously missed all those summaries).  And Raoul?  Uh, don't get me started.  What a wimpy, moping fellow.  He's kind of like the male version of the broken-hearted girls depicted in many recent books.  Get over it.  

The Three Musketeers by Dumas (of course)

The Count of Monte Cristo by Dumas

s-factor: !
(well, they are in French I think)

mrg-factor: X
mostly just intrigues implied throughout

v-factor: XX
of course, they fight, sometimes to the death

Overall rating: ****

And even with all those things that bothered me, I still enjoyed it.  What do you think of Dumas?

If you buy through my Amazon linkage, I will get a very small percentage


  1. So, this one comes AFTER Twenty Years After? Sheesh. Aren't these guys getting too old for this stuff!! :) I'm really struggling with Twenty Years After right now, too many other things I'd rather read at the moment. I need an abridged version or something!

  2. I've only read Count of Monte Cristo which I remember being long but good! I've seen movies of both though of course too. Great recap!

  3. Suey, yes it comes after that. I guess it's supposed to be mostly about Athos' son Raoul, but I think it has a lot more Aramis and d'Artagnan. Abridged would be nice, wouldn't it? Or even just highlights.

    Amused, I'd say pretty much the same here - long, but good. Though, definitely not as tight in plot.

  4. I'm currently reading the unabridged version (at the last chapter now). It's a real page turner. Love the way Dumas beautifully recreates days of gallantry, loyalty, wit and dignity. I have a second edition print of Three Muskateers inherited from my father which I am looking forward to reading next.

  5. Anon, ooh a second edition? That is so awesome. I too love the stuff Dumas writes about and how darn exciting it is!

  6. I was thinking about reading 'The Man in the Iron mask', was holding it in my hand really, when I was told that the characters are first introduced four books earlier. I knew about 'The Three Musketeers', but not the other three. So basically, I was wondering whether I should read the prequels before I read the 'Tve Manin the Iron mask', or would a summary of all the novels suffice?

    1. I wouldn't say you have to read the books before, a nice summary would do it (or even if you just want an intro to the characters, watch some of the old 3 musketeers movies :). Hopefully you'll still be able to enjoy this one!

    2. Thanks for your help! I'll do that... :)

    3. Alright, I'll do that... Thanks for your help :)

  7. I am listening to the audiobook as I did with 3 Musketeers and also Count of Monte Cristo. The cavalcade of characters is difficult to keep up with and so are the seemingly unlinked storylines that make the story so very long, but I would encourage anyone to try that method to get through the unabridged versions (it's nice to be read to as you go through traffic and complete mundane house tasks) All of the story comes together and paints a very detailed collage of the story characters. commenters: Don't give up on unabridged versions, just try a different delivery method. Dumas' works are too magnificent to chop away at and just get the story gist. He is truly a masterful story teller and that is why the books are still entertaining hundreds of years later.

  8. PS (the reason i stopped by this page is that i'm totally getting confused by all the characters in the first 10 chapters in the unabridged version - and I don't seem to see a summary that includes all of this opening treachery). no need to post, this is just to you, the owner :-)


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