Review: Between Two Kings by Alexandre Dumas


This brand new translation of Between Two Kings immediately picks up the story and themes of Blood Royal, where d’Artagnan tries to thwart destiny by saving England’s Charles I; now, he will be instrumental in the restoration of his son, Charles II, the first of the two kings of the title. Disappointed in the irresolution of young Louis XIV, d’Artagnan takes a leave of absence from the King’s Musketeers and ventures to England with a bold plan to hoist Charles II onto his throne, a swashbuckling escapade in which he is unwittingly assisted by his old comrade Athos. D’Artagnan returns triumphant to France, where he is recalled to service by the second king, Louis XIV, who is now finally ready to take full advantage of the extraordinary talents of his officer of musketeers.

This newly translated volume by Lawrence Ellsworth is the first volume of Alexandre Dumas’s mega-novel Le Vicomte de Bragelonne, the epic finale to the Musketeers Cycle, which will end with the justly famous The Man in the Iron Mask. This marks the first significant new English translation of this series of novels in over a century.

My Review

When I was approached by the publisher to review the new “Between Two Kings” by Alexandre Dumas, I was both thrilled and  stumped. What was this volume, purported to be a sequel to “The Three Musketeers”? Why hadn’t I heard of it? Of course, I was soon to discover that book editors often played fast and loose with titles, all the way back to the beginning. I had read this book, albeit forty years ago. It is the first volume of The Vicomte de Bragelonne. I have it in my 1910 Collier’s set of Dumas, and even then they changed “The Three Musketeers” to “The Three Guardsmen”. Who knows why? (Just for the record, the Collier titles run thus: THE THREE GUARDSMEN, TWENTY YEARS AFTER, THE VICOMTE DE BRAGELONNE, TEN YEARS LATER, LOUISE DE LA VALLIERE, THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK.)  The titles in this set are different:  THE THREE MUSKETEERS, THE RED SPHINX, TWENTY YEARS AFTER, BLOOD ROYAL, BETWEEN TWO KINGS, and… we’ll see! I realize that there will be more than six, for this book ends in Chapter L and my Collier goes on to Chapter LXXV. I understand that the originals were released as a serial, so compiling them into books is also up to interpretation.

Of course, I wasn’t disappointed that this was not a missing book; it was time to revisit my old friends. Back in 1910, publishers couldn’t be bothered telling us who the translator was, but these days they are much more reasonable and credit is given to Lawrence Ellsworth, who did a very fine job, indeed. In fact, he translated all the other books in this series. I couldn’t resist comparing this new version with the old one, and I found the original French book on the internet, so I spread all three onto my lap. I’m happy to say that both translations were true to the original, and only differed with minor words and phrases. So I put the other two aside and read Ellsworth’s translation. For those of you who are a little rusty (like myself), this story takes place at the end of Cardinal Mazarin’s reign. I say reign, because he was more the king than Louis XIV who was largely ignored by the courtiers. The exiled Charles II has come begging for help from his “brother king”, but Mazarin persuaded Louis to turn him away, much to the young king’s chagrin. Our hero d’Artagnan, the king’s lieutenant, was equally chagrined—so much so that he quit the king’s service and concocted a plan to kidnap Charles’s enemy, General Monck, and turn him over to the refugee. Unbeknownst to d’Artagnan, Athos had also volunteered to help Charles II (in a previous book, the doomed Charles I told him where his treasure was buried—from the scaffold). Our two heroes were practically working against each other; luckily it didn’t hurt that their reputations preceded them and the English put two-and-two together:

“So, Monsieur d’Artagnan,” continued Charles, “here is what’s been interrupted: the Comte de La Fère, whom you know, I believe, had gone to Newcastle…”

“Athos?” cried d’Artagnan.

“Yes, I believe that’s his nom de guerre. The Comte de La Fère had gone to Newcastle in hopes of arranging a conference with me or my representative when you somewhat violently abbreviated the negotiation.”

“Mordioux!” replied d’Artagnan. “That must have been him I saw coming into the camp the same night I entered with my fishermen…”

Happily, our friends are united and Charles, of course, is restored to the throne. At first, d’Artagnan deemed him ungrateful—but no, the king remembered his service and made him a wealthy man (along with Planchet, who generously helped fund the venture). Then we go back to the French court and witness the demise of Mazarin and the rise of Louis XIV, aided by the up-and-coming Colbert. Interestingly, this is the first novel I encountered with footnotes. At first I was a little taken aback, but in truth many of the Dumas anecdotes are topical, and without reference to them my understanding would be slightly diminished. By the end I was grateful for the notes. Ellsworth also included a glossary of historical characters in the back (referenced by an asterisk). It’s good to be reminded just how different the 19th century novel reads to the 21st century enthusiast. Dumas himself never ceases to delight me, and I always come away a little more educated. I’m as happy reading this book today as I was forty years ago.

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