Set in 1625–1628, it recounts the adventures of a young man named d'Artagnan (based on Charles de Batz-Castelmore d'Artagnan) after he leaves home to travel to Paris, to join the Musketeers of the Guard. Although d'Artagnan is not able to join this elite corps immediately, he befriends the three most formidable musketeers of the age—Athos, Porthos and Aramis—and gets involved in affairs of the state and court.
In genre, The Three Musketeers is primarily a historical and adventure novel. However, Dumas also frequently works into the plot various injustices, abuses, and absurdities of the old regime, giving the novel an additional political aspect at a time when the debate in France between republicans and monarchists was still fierce. The story was first serialised from March to July 1844, during the July Monarchy, four years before the French Revolution of 1848 violently established the Second Republic. The author's father, Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, had been a well-known General in France's Republican army during the French Revolutionary Wars.
In the very first sentences of his preface, Alexandre Dumas indicated as his source Mémoires de Monsieur d'Artagnan (1700), a historical novel by Gatien de Courtilz de Sandras, which Dumas discovered during his research for his history of Louis XIV, printed by Pierre Rouge in Amsterdam. It was in this book, he said, that d'Artagnan relates his first visit to M. de Tréville, captain of the Musketeers, where in the antechamber, he met three young Béarnese with the names Athos, Porthos, and Aramis. This information struck the imagination of Dumas so much—he tells us—that he continued his investigation and finally encountered once more the names of the three musketeers in a manuscript with the title Mémoire de M. le comte de la Fère, etc.. Excited, Dumas requested permission to reprint the manuscript–a permission which was granted:
Now, this is the first part of this precious manuscript which we offer to our readers, restoring it to the title which belongs to it, and entering into an engagement that if (of which we have no doubt) this first part should obtain the success it merits, we will publish the second immediately.
In the meanwhile, since godfathers are second fathers, as it were, we beg the reader to lay to our account, and not to that of the Comte de la Fère, the pleasure or the ennui he may experience.
This being understood, let us proceed with our story.
The book he referred to was Mémoires de M. d'Artagnan, capitaine lieutenant de la première compagnie des Mousquetaires du Roi (Memoirs of Sir d'Artagnan, Lieutenant Captain of the first company of the King's Musketeers) by Gatien de Courtilz de Sandras (Cologne, 1700). The book was borrowed from the Marseille public library, and the card-index remains to this day; Dumas kept the book when he went back to Paris.
Following Dumas's lead in his preface, Eugène d'Auriac (de la Bibliothèque Royale) in 1847 was able to write the biography of d'Artagnan: d'Artagnan, Capitaine-Lieutenant des Mousquetaires– Sa vie aventureuse– Ses duels– etc. based on Courtilz de Sandras.
The Three Musketeers was written in collaboration with Auguste Maquet, who also worked with Dumas on its sequels (Twenty Years After and The Vicomte of Bragelonne: Ten Years Later), as well as The Count of Monte Cristo. Maquet would suggest plot outlines after doing historical research; Dumas then expanded the plot, removing some characters, including new ones, and imbuing the story with his unmistakable style.
In 1625 France, d'Artagnan (a poor young nobleman) leaves his family in Gascony and travels to Paris to join the Musketeers of the Guard. At an inn in Meung-sur-Loire, an older man derides d'Artagnan's horse. Insulted, d'Artagnan demands a duel. The older man's companions beat d'Artagnan unconscious with a cooking pot and a metal tong that breaks his sword. His letter of introduction to Monsieur de Tréville, the commander of the Musketeers, is also stolen. D'Artagnan resolves to avenge himself upon the man (who is later revealed to be the Comte de Rochefort, an agent of Cardinal Richelieu, who is passing orders from the Cardinal to his spy Lady de Winter, usually called Milady de Winter or simply Milady).
In Paris, d'Artagnan visits M. de Tréville at the headquarters of the Musketeers, but without the letter, Tréville politely refuses his application. He does, however, write a letter of introduction to an academy for young gentlemen which may prepare him for recruitment at a later time. From Tréville's window, d'Artagnan sees Rochefort passing in the street below and rushes out of the building to confront him, but in doing so he offends three Musketeers, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, who each demand satisfaction; d'Artagnan must fight a duel with all of them that afternoon. As d'Artagnan prepares himself for the first duel, he realizes that Athos' seconds are Porthos and Aramis, who are astonished that the young Gascon intends to duel them all. As d'Artagnan and Athos begin, Cardinal Richelieu's guards appear and try to arrest d'Artagnan and the three Musketeers for illegal dueling. Although outnumbered, the four men win the battle. D'Artagnan seriously wounds Jussac, one of the Cardinal's officers and a renowned fighter. After learning of this, King Louis XIII appoints d'Artagnan to Des Essart's company of the King's Guards and gives him forty pistoles.
D'Artagnan hires a servant (Planchet), finds lodgings, and reports to Monsieur des Essart. Des Essart's company is a less prestigious regiment in which he must serve for two years before being considered for the Musketeers. Shortly after, his landlord speaks to him about his wife Constance Bonacieux's kidnapping. When she is presently released, d'Artagnan falls in love at first sight with her. She works for Queen Anne of France, who is secretly conducting an affair with the Duke of Buckingham. The King, Louis XIII, gave the Queen a gift of diamond studs but she gives them to her lover as a keepsake. Cardinal Richelieu, who wants war between France and England, plans to expose the tryst and persuades the King to demand the Queen wear the diamonds to a soirée that the Cardinal is sponsoring. Constance tries to send her husband to London but the man is manipulated by Richelieu and does not go, so d'Artagnan and his friends intercede. En route, the Cardinal's henchmen repeatedly attack them and only d'Artagnan and Planchet reach London. Before arriving, d'Artagnan is compelled to assault and nearly kill the Comte de Wardes, a friend of the Cardinal, cousin of Rochefort and Milady's lover. Although Milady stole two of the diamond studs, the Duke of Buckingham provides replacements while delaying the thief's return to Paris. D'Artagnan is thus able to return a complete set of jewels to Queen Anne just in time to save her honour. In gratitude, she gives him a beautiful ring.
Shortly afterwards, d'Artagnan begins an affair with Madame Bonacieux. Arriving for an assignation, he sees signs of a struggle and discovers that Rochefort and M. Bonacieux, acting under the orders of the Cardinal, have assaulted and imprisoned her. D'Artagnan and his friends, now recovered from their injuries, return to Paris. D'Artagnan meets Milady de Winter officially, and recognizes her as one of the Cardinal's agents, but becomes infatuated with her until her maid reveals that Milady is indifferent toward him. Entering her quarters in the dark, he pretends to be the Comte de Wardes and trysts with her. He finds a fleur-de-lis branded on Milady's shoulder, marking her as a felon. Discovering his identity, Milady attempts to kill him but d'Artagnan eludes her. He is ordered to the Siege of La Rochelle.
He is informed that the Queen has rescued Constance from prison. In an inn, the musketeers overhear the Cardinal asking Milady to murder the Duke of Buckingham, a supporter of the Protestant rebels at La Rochelle who has sent troops to assist them. Richelieu gives her a letter that excuses her actions as under orders from the Cardinal himself, but Athos takes it. The next morning, Athos bets that he, d'Artagnan, Porthos, and Aramis, and their servants can hold the recaptured St. Gervais bastion against the rebels for an hour, for the purpose of discussing their next course of action. They resist for an hour and a half before retreating, killing 22 Rochellese in total. They warn Lord de Winter and the Duke of Buckingham. Milady is imprisoned on arrival in England but seduces her guard, Felton (a fictionalization of the real John Felton), and persuades him to allow her escape and to kill Buckingham himself. On her return to France, Milady hides in a convent where Constance is also staying. The naive Constance clings to Milady, who sees a chance for revenge on d'Artagnan, and fatally poisons Constance before d'Artagnan can rescue her. The Musketeers arrest Milady before she reaches Cardinal Richelieu. They bring an official executioner, put her on trial and sentence her to death. After her execution, the four friends return to the siege of La Rochelle. The Comte de Rochefort arrests d'Artagnan and takes him to the Cardinal. When questioned about Milady's execution, d'Artagnan presents her letter of pardon as his own. Impressed with d'Artagnan's willfulness and secretly glad to be rid of Milady, the Cardinal destroys the letter and writes a new order, giving the bearer a promotion to lieutenant in the Tréville company of musketeers, leaving the name blank. D'Artagnan offers the letter to Athos, Porthos, and Aramis in turn but each refuses it; Athos because it is below him, Porthos because he is retiring to marry his wealthy mistress and Aramis because he is joining the priesthood. D'Artagnan, though heartbroken and full of regrets, gets the promotion he coveted.
Les Trois Mousquetaires was translated into three English versions by 1846. One of these, by William Barrow (1817–1877), is still in print and fairly faithful to the original, available in the Oxford World's Classics 1999 edition. To conform to 19th-century English standards, all of the explicit and many of the implicit references to sexuality were removed, adversely affecting the readability of several scenes, such as the scenes between d'Artagnan and Milady.
The most recent English translation is by Richard Pevear (2006), who, though applauding Barrow's work, states that most of the modern translations available today are "textbook examples of bad translation practices" which "give their readers an extremely distorted notion of Dumas' writing".
Dogtanian and the Three Muskehounds is a Spanish–Japanese anime adaptation, where most of the characters are "funny animal" dogs. Another anime adaption was later made in Japan called The Three Musketeers Anime, only this time the characters were human.
The Young Blades television series is a sequel to the novels, centered on the son of d'Artagnan; similarly, Albert the Fifth Musketeer is an animated sequel. Three Musketeers is an anime series adaption while The Three Musketeers was an animated adaption that aired as part of Hanna-Barbera's The Banana Splits Comedy-Adventure Hour and The Banana Splits & Friends show.
In 2009, Barbie and the three musketeers was released.
The Three Musketeers is a musical with a book by William Anthony McGuire, lyrics by Clifford Grey and P. G. Wodehouse, and music by Rudolf Friml. The original 1928 production ran on Broadway for 318 performances. A 1984 revival ran for 15 previews and 9 performances.
In 2003, a Dutch musical 3 Musketiers with a book by André Breedland and music & lyrics by Rob & Ferdi Bolland premiered, which went on to open in Germany (both the Dutch and German production starring Pia Douwes as Milady De Winter) and Hungary.
Playwright Peter Raby, composer George Stiles and lyricist Paul Leigh have written another adaptation titled "The 3 Musketeers, One Musical For All", originally produced by the now defunct American Musical Theatre of San Jose.
1995 saw the release by publisher U.S. Gold of Touché: The Adventures of the Fifth Musketeer by video game developers Clipper Software, a classic point-and-click adventure game. In 2005, Swedish developer Legendo Entertainment published the side-scrolling platform game The Three Musketeers for Windows XP and Windows Vista. In July 2009, a version of the game was released for WiiWare in North America and Europe under the title The Three Musketeers: One for All!. In 2009, Canadian developer Dingo Games self-published The Three Musketeers: The Game for Windows and Mac OS X. It is the first game to be truly based on the novel (in that it closely follows the novel's story). 2009 also saw the publication of the asymmetric team board game The Three Musketeers "The Queen's Pendants" (Настольная игра "Три мушкетера") from French designer Pascal Bernard by the Russian publisher Zvezda. In 2010 a co-operative game called "Mousquetaires du Roy" was released by Ystari and Rio Grande. The alternative spelling of "Roy" was taken from the old French and is rumoured to be preferred over the regular spelling because the publisher's desire to have a letter "Y" in the name of the games they publish.  Designed by François Combe and Gilles Lehmann for 1-5 players, the medium heavy game depicts the quest to retrieve the Queen's diamonds, while at the same time fending off disasters back in Paris. A sixth player expansion, called "Treville" was also made available in 2010.
Publisher Albert Lewis Kanter (1897–1973), created Classic Comics for Elliot Publishing Company in 1941 with its debut issues being The Three Musketeers. The Three Mouseketeers was the title of two separate series produced by DC Comics; the first series was a loose parody of The Three Musketeers.
In 1939, American author Tiffany Thayer published a book titled Three Musketeers (Thayer, 1939). This is a re-telling of the story in Thayer's words, true to the original plot but told in a different order and with different points of view and emphasis from the original. The Khaavren Romances by Steven Brust are fantasy (or science-fiction) novels heavily influenced by The Three Musketeers and its sequels; the characters and social background are closer to Dumas's than the plots.
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