Book Review: The Man in the Iron Mask

fa039-classics2014Hollywood has a lot to answer for. If you have only seen the big budget Hollywood movies of Alexandre Dumas’ work you would believe:

  1. The Man in the Iron Mask is the immediate sequel (and only sequel) to The Three Musketeers
  2. The Man in the Iron Mask is an action-packed romp that ends with the good guys winning one last heroic battle against unbelievable odds
  3. The character of ‘the man in the iron mask’ is the central focus of the novel

None of these things are true, so lets start sorting out the truth from the Hollywood myths shall we?

1. The d’Artagnan Romances, as the series is properly called, consists of the following novels.

  • The Three Musketeers
  • Twenty Years After
  • The Vicomte of Bragelonne: Ten Years Later (Which is further broken up into three volumes:
    • The Vicomte de Bragelonne
    • Louise de la Vallière
    • The Man in the Iron Mask)

Another two novels, The Son of Porthos (or the Death of Aramis) and D’Artagnan Kingmaker were written after Dumas’ death by Paul Mahalin, under the pen name “Alexandre Dumas”. Are you learning something yet? I didn’t know any of this until I was half-way through the book!

2. The Man in the Iron Mask is mostly about political intrigues, and an awful lot of the novel consists of people writing letters to each other, selling compromising letters from/about their political rivals to their political allies and making pointed digs about their political rivals whenever they think it might make the king like them more. Quite often these political machinations occur over meals, while walking or riding in uninhabited forests, or in the King’s private chambers just before bed-time.

The four musketeers (Athos, Porthos, Aramis and d’Artagnan) have limited communications between one another, but they are all very old men, and only Porthos and Aramis spend any large portions of the novel together. I don’t recall a single scene where all four are together in the same place at the same time. As far as I can remember, Athos raises a sword only once, to break it in protest at the King’s behaviour. There are a few action scenes involving the others, mostly towards the end of the novel and *spoiler alert* just about everyone dies.

3. These action scenes have little if anything to do with ‘the man in the iron mask’ (Phillipe) who appears briefly about 150 pages in to the (480 page) novel, has a slightly larger part to play around the middle (from about page 250 onwards), but is almost completely forgotten 150 pages before the end. Contrary to the Hollywood version, there is no triumphant second rescue and successful substitution for King Louis XIV, who is not quite as evil in the book as he was made out to be in the film. Instead most of the action is related to the arrest of the King’s finance minister (Fouquet), who stole a large sum of money from the royal coffers at some point before the novel began. This arrest then leads to the hunt for Aramis and Porthos, who brought in Phillipe in an attempt to protect the Fouquet, and are charged with treason because of it.

I guess the most important question, now I’ve got all that out of the way, is did I enjoy the book? Yes, and No. It took me a very long time to get into the story (about 150 pages actually) and then with NaNo I barely read any over November. I read about 200 pages yesterday, and the last 100 or so today, so I suppose you could say the ending was certainly able to keep my attention, but it wasn’t what I was expecting. Thank you Hollywood, for making a movie that was better than the book – although the only thing the two have in common are the title and the main characters…

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Categories: Books | Tags: , , | 6 Comments

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6 thoughts on “Book Review: The Man in the Iron Mask

  1. Pingback: A reading challenge | Musings of an aspiring scribbler

  2. Isn’t there a saying something to the effect of “never see the movie first . . .” I think this would qualify. I might have to check this book out though after your review. I always appreciate a slam against Hollywood blockbusters. I have read The Three Musketeers. Was kind of hard in that they saw their horses as tools and not living creatures. Other than that, it was a very good action adventure.

    • A couple of times in this one there were references to riding horses until they died, or shooting horses so they could capture the rider alive… very sad.

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