by Alexandre Dumas
in collaboration with Auguste Maquet
“We are often criminals in the sight of the great of the earth, not for having committed a crime, but because we know that crimes have been committed.”
The Man is the Iron Mask is really not a book, per se; it is actually the third and final volume of the 268 chapters long novel “The Vicomte of Bragelonne: Ten Years Later”, the sequel to “The Three Musketeers” and “Twenty Years Later”
The story begins roughly 30 years after the events of The Three Musketeers, and serves as the conclusion to the d’Artagnan saga.
This book also marks the beginning of my fascination with historical fiction, and its elements like the bloody battles, the epic romances and the notions of chivalry and honour.
Set in the mid-17th century, it chronicles the tumultuous rise of King Louis XIV, the longest reigning monarch in French history.
As a consequence of the prior events, d’Artagnan is now the Captain of the King’s Musketeers.
Athos, the Comte de la Fère, has taken to the ill-side of the King, and has narrowly escaped imprisonment; Porthos has married and retired; and Aramis, by virtue of a massive secret, has become the general of the Jesuits.
This knowledge of, and scheme regarding, a secret prisoner in Bastille who bears a striking resemblance to the King serves as the primary plot-line for the third volume.
The ambitious Aramis, with the assistance of the reluctant Porthos, hatches an elaborate plot to replace the inept King with an imposter, which puts them in the crosshairs of d’Artagnan.
The entire story repeatedly draws contrast to the characters’ friendship to one another, despite having grown apart over the years, and their allegiance and loyalty to contrary parties.
Another recurring theme is that of justice, and its subjective nature.
One of the most notable feature of this book is the transformation of the characters, with the passage of time.
- The impetuous d’Artagnan has matured and mellowed, during his service for the King, but his loyalty and honour remain intact.
- The noble Athos, now a grieving father, has been left a shell of a man he once was.
- The simple-minded and strong-bodied Porthos has probably changed the least. He remains the loyal to Aramis, which turns out to be a terrible idea.
- The shrewd Aramis has changed the most, and perhaps plays the biggest role in the plot. His growing ambition jeopardises his life, and that of his friends, and as he is repeatedly forced to make tough decisions, he repeatedly exhibits a dearth of trust, loyalty and honour.
The narrative style, being quite objective, serves the plot well, as the focus is kept at actions and events, rather than emotions and intent.
In hindsight, this book probably influenced my writing style more than I realised.
Also, this is one of the books that could really benefit from an illustrative map. I mean, a citizen of 1850 France may have known where Gigelli is, or what United Provinces refers to, but I don’t.
Despite this, the descriptive detail in the setting does bring it to life, and this can be attributed to Dumas’ experience as a playwright.
The true identity of The Man in the Iron Mask has, to this day, not been definitively established.
Of course, if you want to read it, you will have to read the prior parts, otherwise you will find yourself lost in the sea of recurring character and the ripples of past plot-lines.
Either way, you can find it here, and yes, it is free:
And yes, there is a movie based on it, but it would not recommend you watch it. At least not before you read the books…
And yes, there is also a movie based on The Three Musketeers, and I would strong urge you NOT to watch it. Granted, Ray Stevenson is perfect as Porthos, and casting Orlando Bloom as a crafty villain is a brilliant idea, the movie works better if viewed as a spoof of the book, and not an actual adaptation.
Basically, they tried to do what Guy Pierce did with Sherlock Holmes, but did not succeed.
Anyhow, that is all for today…
Additionally, it is tragic how Auguste Maquet’s name is hardly remembered, when people mention Dumas’ great works; in 10 years of collaboration, the duo wrote 18 novels. And all this while Maquet wrote 3 by himself.
And these were historical masterpieces, not the “romantic novel based on my life” pieces of crap flooding the market these days which require less effort than any of my blog posts might.
Their eventual conflict and subsequent rift is explored in the movie L’Autre Dumas