Alexander Dumas

Georges Simenon wrote more than a hundred books without a dud. Alexander Dumas wrote hundreds and hundreds and hundreds. They’re not as easy to read, but they’re all equally rewarding, if not more so because they’re all a lot longer.

Everybody thinks they know “The Three Musketeers” from the ten gazillion movies made of it, but all the plots and subplots are way too intricate for any one movie and what you wind up with is an idiotic jumble of randomly selected scenes where the viewer is left utterly confused about the connections between them, which are much too complicated to explain.

In the book, it’s all laid out brilliantly. Not just in “The Three Musketeers,” but in all the sequels, “Ten Years After,” “Twenty Years After,” “The Man in the Iron Mask,” and a bunch of other books about D’Artagnan, Athos, Porthos and Aramis; there were actually four musketeers, you see. And that’s just one bunch of books. Dumas wrote hundreds more and his son wrote a bunch of great ones too.

If you haven’t read “The Count of Monte Cristo” — well, I don’t know what to say. Take all the interesting parts of fifty modern Hollywood ‘blockbusters,’ or ‘thrillers,’ splice them all together masterfully, supposing you could, and… there’s still no comparison.

Why? Well, for one thing Dumas’ father, the son of a slave and a nobleman, was a brilliant and courageous soldier under the various revolutionary governments, rising to the rank of general at the age of 31, and served in the campaigns of Napoleon I. But after the Egyptian campaign he was betrayed and imprisoned for 20 months, emerging partially paralyzed and penniless.

Dumas himself, though he had fair skin and blue eyes, had an Afro (like Pushkin) which he wore as a badge of honor. He encountered the scorn of racists throughout his life but he laughed it off and shamed them with his brilliance, becoming far and away the most popular writer and dramatist of his or any other era.

After the opening of his first play, when he was 20, the audience stood and cheered “as if seized by madness.” From that day on his popularity never waned. He earned enormous amounts of money, and spent even more on mansions and mistresses.

He knew profound poverty as a child and vast wealth as an author, so in the course of his life he met people from all walks of life.

Although his father died when young Alexander was only four, his mother’s stories and those of his father’s comrades gave Dumas an intimate view of power politics in France during some of the most exciting times in the nation’s history.

He recounts it all — the excesses of the Bourbon court, the political infighting, the guillotine and the terror, the street fighting, the funny names like Brumaire and Thermidor that the revolutionaries gave to the months of the year and the days of the week, the worship of the Goddess of Reason, the empire, the restoration, the whole ball of wax.

But he always recounts it from the point of view of the characters involved, and they’re always so lifelike they just about step out of the book and into your living room.

Okay, okay, sometimes you need to skim over the parts where the hero is being truer than true and the heroine is being purer than pure. But the minor characters are all so great — like the crooked innkeeper and the drunken friar and the monk turned public prosecutor who likes to order a few dozen executions every day.

Dumas has an unerring sense of drama that infuses all his works. They are all based on historic situations of which he had a bird’s-eye view, but they are all treated brilliantly as well. Just as Mozart created an immortal opera based on a simple barber named Figaro, Dumas created immortal novels based on historic personages and incredibly lifelike characters.

And there are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of them — a virtually inexhaustible source of great reads.