By Chet Yarbrough
By Alexandre Dumas
Narrated by Simon Vance
This is a mess of a novel about romance and chivalry in 17th century France. Honor and loyalty, above life and liberty, spray a misogynist’ scent on the history of a myth about a betrayed King, loyal subjects, and bereaved lovers. This is the last of the D’Artagnan series that starts with “The Three Musketeers”.
Louis the XIV’s mother, Queen Anne of Austria,in “The Man in the Iron Mask”, is said to have sired twins; i.e. two sons, equally entitled to inherit the throne. Louis XIII fears equally entitled heirs will foment jealousy and competition that will rend the state of France in two. Queen Anne and King Louis XIII choose to exile one of the twins to insure an uncontested heir. (This myth has some historical basis but no uncontested proof.) Louis the XIV ascends the Throne of France. He becomes the longest-reigning king in European history.
Harkening back to the three Musketeers of the first book of the Dumas’ (D’Artagnan’) series, “The Man in the Iron Mask” shows D’Artagnan, Porthos, Aramis, and Athos as aged cavaliers. They have attained social positions that comport with the valor of their earlier lives in Dumas’ first book; i.e. D’Artagnan has become the captain of the Musketeers; Porthos remains a somewhat comic giant of a man who has little wit, huge strength, and unqualified loyalty to friends; Aramis dons the robes of the priesthood and foments the tragedy of “The Man in the Iron Mask” out of love for justice and loyalty to his own beliefs; Athos becomes a wealthy aristocrat with a beloved son that he defends, without fear of consequence from action he takes against a King. Athos’ love for his son is well portrayed in a confrontation with the King but, aside from that one incident, Athos fades from view as a doddering old man who is losing his son to melancholia from the loss of a fiancé to a feckless King.
Myths have been created with films that explored “The Man in the Iron Mask” in different ways;
MOVIE TRAILER FOR–”The Man in the Iron Mask”: <iframe width=”560″ height=”315″ src=”http://www.youtube.com/embed/eRal_feCStc” frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>
however flaws of execution and Dumas’ authorship make it a poor accompaniment and denouement for the classic “…Three Musketeers”. The man in the iron mask is exiled and imprisoned by a twin King after he attempts to take over the monarchy. Though there is humor, hijinks, love, pathos, and Thanotos in the tale, there are too many characters to keep track of and too grim an ending to satisfy one’s appetite for entertainment. There is no villain equal to the “lady in black” of “The Three Musketeers”. Louis the XIV is a scoundrel but he seems more a caricature of absolute power than a King of world hegemony. His villainy seems base and unimaginative.
Aramis is a disappointing hero. On the one hand Aramis masterfully manipulates the Bastille’s jailer but judges Fouguet (France’s finance minister and second tragic victim in the novel) too poorly for him to have credibility as a brilliant schemer. Dumas fails to suspend disbelief as he artfully does in “The Three Musketeers”.
D’Artagnan and the Finance Minister are the most evenly drawn heroes in this final book that exemplify honor and loyalty but Dumas fails to tell a tale with an ending that does justice to its beginning. One feels little sympathy for “The Man in the Iron Mask”. It is as though Dumas has lost his muse in a tale that is too disjointed and unbelievable to be entertaining. On the other hand, one cannot help but smile at Porthos and his obstinate refusal to understand subtlety of conversation and appearance. He, alone, offers some comic relief in the story of “The Man in the Iron Mask”.