10.20.2007

The Three Musketeers, Twenty Years After and The Vicomte de Bragelonne, by Alexandre Dumas, pére

The Three Musketeers
Twenty Years After
The Vicomte de Bragelonne



Dumas' grand trilogy. Or, at least, I see it as a trilogy, he saw it as one story. But there's tragedy at work now that forces it apart. The trilogy's conclusion is so long (Le Vicomte de Bragelonne is a total of about 1800 pages) that Oxford World Classics and Modern Library—the two main publishers of the series—divide Le Vicomte into 3 books and give them the following titles: Book One- The Vicomte de Bragelonne, Book Two- Louise de la Valliere, Book Three-The Man in the Iron Mask. I respect these publishers, honestly, I do (reasons to be seen), But they have in fact, done Dumas a disservice. For the sake of argument, I'm going to use Star Wars as an example. Kind of. Also, for writings' sake, I will refer to The Three Musketeers as "T3M" and to Twenty Years After as "20YA" and to the three volumes of Le Vicomte de Bragelonne as "VB1" "VB2" and "VB3" or by their published titles.

To begin: T3M and 20YA are like "A New Hope" "Empire Strikes Back" and "Return of the Jedi" in that they can stand alone if they wished to. T3M is likened to "A New Hope"—we understand it as the introduction to something bigger, and we value it as such, but it is also its own story, completed. It is its own stand alone work of historical (ish) fiction. In the same thread, 20YA is like Jedi in that the Fronde and the Frondeurs are a war on their own and we are re-introduced to everyone in turn. As a work of Fiction, 20YA may be its own work because one can read it without having read T3M, just as I grew up watching Return of the Jedi over and over without having the introduction of the first two films.

But then comes Le Vicomte de Bragelonne: The story of a young man that happens to be steeped in Musketierre history. Split into 3, although it could exist as one longer novel. This chunk of brilliance I shall liken to Episodes 1-3 of Star Wars (The Anakin Years, if you will….even thought I really despised episodes 1-3…). There are 2 differences that should be paid attn in this comparison—for one, there is a 10 year gap between SW Ep. 1 and Ep. 2. This gap does not exist between VB1 and VB2, but between 20YA and VB1 instead (which is appropriate since 20YA is when we're introduced to Raoul (The Vicomte de Bragelonne, for those of you who still have no idea what I'm talking about). The point is…you still need to know T3M and 20YA to get Le Vicomte (just like you need to know SW 4-6 in order to GET 1-3. The second difference to call attention to is the fact that VB is a sequel to its predecessors while SW 1-3 are supposed to be prequels. I say supposed to be because anyone who knows 4-6 can view 1-3 as a sequel since…well…me personally…I hate them and don't think them worthy of being prequels. And anyway, in VB the old men are youthful, returned to youth by the presence and actions of Raoul. So time is a beneficial difference in this comparison.

At the beginning I said that there was a tragedy at work in splitting up the volumes of VB. That tragedy exists in the separation of ideas supported by the novel as a whole. The entire work (all 1800-some pages) are titled Le Vicomte de Bragelonne because the entirety of the trilogy's finale centers around Raoul, the Vicomte de Bragelonne while also being about the Musketeers (whereas T3M was about the Musketeers (note: my spelling of Musketierres/Musketeers is not consistent. Over. It.) while also about D'Artagnan…in reality the entire series focuses mostly on D'Artagnan, but that's not my point right now.) But publishers have enabled readers and other publishers to forget that. VB2 is titled Louise de la Valliere because the pages it contains have been tailored to start where the bulk of our encounter with Raoul ends, and end upon Raoul's discovery of what La Valliere has become. VB3 then picks up where VB2 ended, and has been called "The Man in the Iron Mask" because that is a large episode of that portion of the novel. But the tale of Phillipe is not what Hollywood has made it out to be. It's also much shorter and has a greater impact…but the separations as such have given other publishers free reign to go ahead and split it up anyway they please (it would be like publishing a book called "Snape" and starting with the death of Dumbledore, and ending with the Epilogue of Book 7 where Harry tells Albus Severus Potter that blah blah blah blah brave.)

For EXAMPLE. Penguin Classics. From whom I shall never ever again buy a translation. Not only did Penguin choose a translator by the name of Neugroschel who is an excellent and award-winning translator of German and Russian (read: Not French.) but they allowed him to begin his translation 139 pages into the Oxford World Classics version. In other words, there are 139 pages worth of information excluded from the beginning of the Penguin version. Which totally blows for anyone reading from book to book. This makes the Penguin version even more incomplete than it was inherently by being separated from the rest of Le Vicomte as it is.

And, of course, getting copies from the library I took no notice of this. I reserved VB3 while reading VB2 and was surprised on getting VB3 from the library to see that it was A) a different publisher and B) a different translator. Well! Imagine my BIGGER surprise when I opened it up (mind you, I'd JUST finished VB2 about 2 hours before) and could not decipher WHERE I was. You have to understand, Dumas' detail is incredible and would never leave you for want of description of locale, nor of properly leading you up to a specific event. Well, when you open the Penguin edition of VB3, D'Artagnan and Porthos haven't seen each other for weeks and they're readying for the even at Faux. But…at the end of Louise…D'Artagnan and Porthos were last seen together, and the even at Faux has not yet been announced. Penguin treated…or allowed Neugroschel to treat…VB3 (their version) as a follow-up to T3M. An "episode" of it, if you will. Which is completely ridiculous. VB3…well…VB itself, but the end of VB…the second half of VB3…it's the final saga of the Musketeers—the culmination of all they hold holy and dear—it's the end. And unless you've read all 2700 pages leading up to the second half of VB3, you cannot possibly fathom the depths to which its poignancy goes.

*breathes…*

I was sobbing on my bed. It was 7:45pm and I was curled up in a ball sobbing in my bed, clutching my sheets, and pressing the book against the bed because it was THAT painful to read the final 6 chapters of the Oxford World Classics VB3…forget Penguin classics. I couldn't get through the 8th page of that version. Penguin should be ashamed of themselves. I'm sure they've gotten angry letters from Dumas scholars and people who have nothing better to do with their time than read 3000 pages of brilliance, but if they did read mine, I'd hope they'd cry out of shame.

I've never been this angry at a company since my 10-hour-week-long conversation with DELL during the winter break of 2004 over a corrupted-when-they-sent-it-harddrive.

Part of my anger is, of course, residual emotional anguish from finishing the series last night. But enough of it is out of hatred for translators and publishers who essentially destroy literature. "Oh, well, we're making it more accessible…" No. you're lowering the average reading level of America. That's what you're doing.