I don’t think it’s much of an exaggeration to say that one of the biggest influences on my early development was the Barbie film series. My first-ever (and by default favourite) Barbie movie was Barbie and the Three Musketeers, which I discovered when I was about 3-and-a-half.
Watching a scene from Barbie and the Three Musketeers with my newly-born sister where Corinne (Barbie) meets the movie’s villain.
Though I found some parts a bit scary, I was amazed by Barbie and her animated costars. Strong female characters fighting against the patriarchy and saving the day contradicted the typical “boy saves girl” narratives in the fairy tales my parents had read me, and I wanted nothing more than to follow in their footsteps. Every subsequent Barbie film I watched (including numerous re-watches of Barbie and the Three Musketeers) , whether about mermaids or princesses (or both), featured strong female characters who taught me the values of family, friendship, and standing up for what was right. I think it’s due in part to observing these values championed by my on-screen role models that I became the woman I am today. Why am I mentioning all of this, you ask? Today’s blog post is dedicated to the inspiration behind the Barbie movie that started it all for me- Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers.
Whenever I sit down and brainstorm ideas for future Ultimate Reading Challenge posts, there’s been one challenge that I can’t seem to figure out: Re-read a classic you hated in high school. How can I re-read a classic I hated in high school if I’m currently in high school and really enjoyed the one “classic” I’ve read in English so far? There’s a strong possibility I’ll end up hating a classic I have to read for school sometime in the near future, but for the time being, there’s nothing I can do with this prompt as it is. I hope you don’t mind, then, if I modify the challenge slightly. Instead of re-reading a classic I hated in high school, how about simply reading a classic in high school? An opportunity to do just that has fallen into my lap, leading to the subject of today’s blog post.
The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas:
From left to right: Barbie and the Three Musketeers, my copy of Les Trois Mousquetaires that I read for a novel study in French, and The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas.
Set in 17th-century France, The Three Musketeers follows a young man named D’Artagnan who dreams of becoming a musketeer, a soldier charged with protecting the royal family. Though he gets off to a rocky start by causing offense to musketeers Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, D’Artagnan’s bravery and swordsmanship soon gains him their friendship. Meanwhile, Cardinal Richlieu (the king’s most influential advisor) and his network of spies are working to maintain France’s power and reputation, often through nefarious deeds. After an act of deception makes D’Artagnan an enemy of Lady de Winter, a cunning and manipulative agent of the cardinal, D’Artagnan and the Three Musketeers will have to find a way to prevent her from carrying out Cardinal Richlieu’s orders and save D’Artagnan’s lover from her wrath, for Lady de Winter will stop at nothing to complete her mission and enact revenge on those who have wronged her.
When I learned that we were doing a novel study in French class, I was ecstatic that the chosen book was The Three Musketeers. I’d finally be able to appreciate the context behind my favourite Barbie movie! However, my French comprehension proved to be weaker than I thought, and I started doubting whether I was correctly understanding the plot of each chapter. I decided to solve my problem by reading the original translated work and seeing if the English matched my interpretation of the adapted French text.
Even though I started reading The Three Musketeers as self-assigned homework, I found myself choosing to read it for fun instead. I can’t quite put my finger on what made it so hard to put down. The fast-paced action? The suspenseful play out of the musketeers’ attempts to foil Lady de Winter’s schemes? The historical setting and how 17th-century France differs from 21st-century Canada? Besides these, another factor that certainly contributed to my enjoyment of the book was the masterfully preserved narrative captured by translator Lowell Bair. Despite the fact that the text was originally written in French in 1844, the writing style has been preserved so well in the translation that it reminded me of Pride and Prejudice and other English novels from the same time period. I can barely form grammatically correct sentences in French, let alone capture the writing style of another era, so I am extremely impressed by the efforts of the translator and have him to thank for making the story feel as close to the original novel as possible. Finally, the characters themselves made the story worthwhile. Though hotheaded and inexperienced in the ways of the world, D’Artagnan’s adventures in combat and love teach him the maturity needed in a musketeer. His friends Porthos, Aramis, and Athos, while similarly interested in drinking and fighting, each have hidden emotional depths which reveal much about their actions and decisions over the course of the story. Villainess Lady de Winter surprises you at the lengths she will go to achieve her twisted goals, yet is such a convincing actress that you can’t help but feel a twinge of sympathy when she gets her comeuppance. The supporting cast, from fair Constance to the lovesick Duke of Buckingham, tie this melodramatic masterpiece together beautifully.
After finishing the rather lengthy English translation of The Three Musketeers, I decided to watch Barbie and the Three Musketeers for the first time in at least six years to see if I could enjoy it more with contextual knowledge of its source material. To get around the fact that the majority of Dumas’ novel isn’t suitable for an audience of six-year-olds, Mattel casts Barbie as Corinne, D’Artagnan’s daughter who dreams of following in his footsteps and becoming a musketeer too (despite the fact that there has never been a female musketeer since the story is set in the 1600s). Her adventures loosely follow the plot of the original story, but it’s debatable whether it would have been better to use the same girls-save-the-day elements in an original story instead of trying to match a classic that the target audience wouldn’t have any reference for. That being said, it’s still a good movie. I enjoyed getting to sing along to songs I’d forgotten I knew the words to, and occasional references to The Three Musketeers were delightful surprises. Though I only learned this while writing this post, knowing that the villain in the Barbie adaptation was voiced by Tim Curry, the actor who did an excellent job of portraying villain Cardinal Richlieu in the 1993 Disney adaptation, made my overall experience that much better. All in all though, I have to say that in this case, as in many cases, the original book was better than the big-screen adaptations. There’s so much nuance, important minor characters who were left out, and connections to real historical events that simply can’t be matched by the best of scriptwriters. That’s not to say that I won’t be watching the film adaptations, though! The Barbie version will always hold a special place in my heart, and I thought that the 1993 Disney adaptation was quite good even though changes were made to the plot. Next on my film adaptation list is Mickey, Donald, Goofy: The Three Musketeers; my book adaptation list includes One For All by Lillie Lainoff, The Last Musketeer by Stuart Gibbs, and All For One by Sophia Beaumont. Though each version interprets the original text in a different way, the core message still remains the same: All for one, and one for all!