Dumas Scrapbook

Recreating (and advancing) pk’s censored domains: Macroinformation.org &
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@ K. 2005 01 03

In my youth I knew my Dumas from the movies, not from reading. As a slow-reading English major I could never keep up with the English literature: my general reading suffered for decades. But I’m just as glad to be reading The Three Musketeers now for the first time. (I’ve already commented a bit in my piece on Authorship: Single versus Multiple. link to be added) But what prods me to launch this file is more cultural and political than Romance literary.

Three Musketeers
thanx examiner

D’Artagnan arrives in Paris, seeking his fortune. France is ruled by the King and by Cardinal Richelieu. D’Artagnan could try to serve either. He meets Athos, Aramis, and Porthos, three of the king’s musketeers and his decision for the king is confirmed. From what we see of the king, the king is not particularly clever. Richelieu in contrast is famous for genius. At no point do we believe that the king is missing much by being ordinary; in contrast, we never trust the Cardinal’s intellect.

Richelieu’s genius is for himself and for his idea of the state. At no point do we suspect that a smidgeon is left over for God, for Christ, for Jesus, for the church that made him a cardinal. When we’re with the king, the king as man may as well not be in the room. When we’re with the Cardinal … uh oh, zip your pockets.

The tension is not between church and state; the tension is between secular Louis and secular Richelieu: the traditional state versus the Richelieu state: which we would come to see more of in the governments of Stalin, Hitler, Roosevelt, Bush …

Louis, Richelieu
Louis, Richelieu

I know I’ve written something about liking Ike in the 1950s because he was invisible to me: a few months of I Like Ike buttons and then a blessed peace of government in the background. Once Kennedy got in our face, how I longed for Ike. Not, I emphasized, because I thought Ike was benign, or harmless; only that he was invisible. If I have to be poisoned, I’d rather be poisoned by the invisible fumes from the four-stroke engine than the white smoke from the two-stroke engine (though I’d rather ride the little Yamaha than drive the car!)

In cuisine, people have been eating butter for a long time. A lot of butter may be bad for you, makes you fat if nothing else, may eventually kill you; but we know it’s harms, we haven’t slid straight into extinction from it. Margarine? Sacherine? God know what they’ll do to us if we keep up with them! Do even the chemical companies have a future with these products? Not if we all die.

Point is: kings we’ve know for ever. We are connoisseurs of what harms they do. The king may be a moron, a killer, a rapist, may love torture … But we’ve survived with kings. Better to be rid of them, but not absolutely vital. The Richelieu state though! Nationalism! Communism! Socialism! God help us.

In all cases though, D’Artagnan is the hero. Not Louis, not Richelieu.

Not Kennedy, not Nixon, not Bush … D’Artagnan!

That’s what I’d like to see: little George in a fencing match! against Errol Flynn! against Mifune’s Yojimbo! Hell, I’d like to see him in a fencing match against Kill Bill‘s Uma Thurman!


I wrote the above before reading myself to bed. At breakfast associations came to me related only by Dumas in common. In the Eighteenth Century authors didn’t worry overmuch about everyday probabilities in their fictions. Audiences wanted a good story. They wanted their culture, their biases, endorsed. They were not looking to refute Kant; they were not looking for Godel or Heisenberg. Thus, Defoe could have his Robinson Cruso strip naked, swim to the wreck, then fill his pockets! with forty pounds of gold!, then swim ashore, no problem. After Flaubert it’s big news if the grocer gives odd change from an even bill. Many a literary Sherlock could read Madame Bovary a dozen times and not catch that error: spawned no doubt by far too many rewrites. Personally, I have an idea what I’m doing in the first draft, perhaps in the second, but six years latter, in the four hundredth power editing reformat of the file, I have no idea what butcheries I’m committing.

Dumas adjusts his characters to the plot, of the moment. Aramis expects to take orders, then vows to remain a musketeer. A chapter later he’s once again planning to be ordained. D’Artagnan seeks the bubble reputation even in the cannon’s mouth without second thoughts? then, in another situation we all recognize that his best friends know him for his circumspect discretion. Once upon a time, trained more by Flaubert than by Dumas, this would have infuriated me. Now I don’t worry: I’m with Defoe, with Dumas (while reading Dumas).

Anyway: it occurred to me at breakfast: Through much of the Twentieth Century everyone was trained by “Flaubert” (whether they ever heard of Gustav or not!) Realism was the thing. We imagined that our innovations in convention were real. HiFi once sounded hifi, then CDs sounded hifi. Who knows what they’ll sound like in another decade. (Maybe they’ll sound just fine but won’t look right: where’s the image?) Six years ago my 300 pixel HTML graphics looked fine; now if they’re not 600 pixels they look ridiculous.

But of course some things are highly stylized: the Simpsons, for example. Well, I haven’t seen much of the Simpsons (despising most animation styles of the past half century), but: I try to see some occasionally. My son’s descriptions leave me in awe. Bart is little boy terror, bad at school: all the attributes of the “real” boy. Homer is a lowlife blue collar who somehow gets into management without altering his habits a bit. But then I see a bit of plot where Marge is suddenly out of Little Women, or writes a respected novel, is compared to Melville … Suddenly the little girl is some kind of genius? Where did any of this come from?

Exigencies of the calendar. Different staff. Different sponsor. They ran out of blue collar ideas. … But then in one episode Homer is Santa Claus. That’s no problem, any dad can dress up. Ah, but then in another Bart is Sherlock Holmes, Bart is Huck Finn, Bart is D’Artagnan!

Where did the Twentieth Century go?

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About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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