The Man In The Iron Mask

Published July 31, 2011 by myliteraryleanings

The Man In The Iron Mask by Alexandre Dumas

Overview from 

France in the 1660s is a boiling cauldron of plots and counter-plots as King Louis XIV struggles to extend his power and transform himself into the “Sun King.” Locked within the dreaded Bastille prison may be his enemies’ ultimate weapon: an anonymous prisoner forced to wear an iron mask so that none may see his face—and learn his astonishing secret. But soon the famed d’Artagnan and the Three Musketeers are swept into the action—but not on the same side! Will they actually be forced to fight each other?

As much a tale of mystery and political intrigue as a swashbuckling adventure, The Man in the Iron Mask is the final novel in Alexandre Dumas’s series of d’Artagnan romances. The story follows the heroic young man from the country who, along with his three comrades, becomes a powerful influence on the course of French history. Yet what seems to be the most fantastic aspect of the story is based on fact. During Louis XIV’s reign, a mysterious masked prisoner did dwell in the Bastille and his identity remains a question to this day.

My Review:

Though this was a classic novel I had never read it before this time so I believe that my review is as fresh as could be.  I did see the movie that came out a while ago, with Leonardo DiCaprio starring.  I have always thought it sounded like an interesting story since this time.  However, had I known that the book would be this long, I would not have read it.  To date this is the longest book that I have read, coming in at 728 pages on my Nook.  (No, I have not read War and Peace.) This total includes the forward, written by some professor or other, and some end notes, which I mostly skipped right through without reading due to the length.

I have to say this book was not what I thought it would be.  Don’t get me wrong, I still liked it.  Very little of it carried the story of the man in the iron mask, though he seemed to be part of the catalyst that set the plot moving.  A summary of this book would be a difficult undertaking but the action basically begins with Athos’s son Raoul who has returned from a trip to England only to find that his fiance is now having an affair with the married king.  Raoul is understandably distraught to discover that the love of his life, as she later admits, never loved him and doesn’t want to marry him but prefers to remain mistress to the king.

This prompts his father to have a nasty fight with the king who seems to care very little for his or Raoul’s feelings.  Both father and son decide to have nothing more to do with the king and retire to the father’s country estate.  Meanwhile Aramis is trying to help a friend M. Fouquet avoid possible dismissal and imprisonment on charges of embezzlement of this king’s funds.  It seems a M. Colbert want to be rid or M. Fouquet and has found some letter that seem to prove his guilt but which really are forgeries, still he will look guilty and this concerns Aramis, who is also Bishop of Vannes by this time.

All of this sets into motion a plot by Aramis to replace the current king with his unknown twin brother who has been locked up in the Bastille for many years to prevent the world from discovering his existence.  The plot is only briefly succesful and is foiled by M. Fouquet of all people who at least is kind enough to give Aramis and Porthos (who was tricked into assisting Aramis) a four-hour head start to run as well as the use of an island that he owns.  This starts the whole thing in motion and is the point in the book where things start to get interesting.

I think some of that stuff in the beginning could have been left out but on the whole I still found most of it to be interesting though perhaps a lot of the unnecessary dialogue could have been omitted.  I suppose the only thing that made it less tiring was the humor in it, at least I found it humorous.  To show you what I mean I am going to quote a somewhat long passage where Raoul is attempting to enlist Porthos’s help in avenging his honor, before Aramis sets his ill-fated plan in motion.  Remember that he cannot challenge the king directly so he wants Porthos to help him challenge the man who is assisting the king in planning his liaisons.  The passage is a little long but please bear with me as it is very funny, at least I thought so.  It begins with Porthos speaking, then Raoul.

“‘However, tell me what the cause is.’

‘It is too long a story to tell; only as one must particularise to some extent…. 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 make without first consulting you? Trap-doors! mordioux! I haven’t got any, except in my dungeons at Bracieux.’

‘And you will add,’ said Raoul, ‘that my last motive for considering myself insulted is, the portrait that M. de Saint-Aignan well knows.'” p. 141

Maybe I am crazy but I thought that this was hysterical and kind of made up, for the most part for the slow start of the book.  But, as I have already said, the action begins when Aramis and Porthos execute their plot and then are forced to run.  I won’t relay the whole story here.  Neither will I insert another quote since this review is already getting long and I don’t want it to be as long as the book.  I have not read any of Dumas’s other book yet but this one was entertaining in spite of the length and made left hungry for more, as soon as my brain has rested long enough to recover from this one.  Nevertheless, I highly recommend this book, though I think my next one will consist of something much shorter.


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