Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Count of Monte Cristo

Back in high school, at the end of a year of AP calculus, the teachers decided the best way to use the legally mandated seat time was by showing us movies.  While this would be a great time to jump off on a tangent regarding the follies of state-run schooling, I will refrain, and I could go off on wasted tax monies, but, that, too, must wait for a different place and time.  One of the movies that many of my classmates were very excited about was called the Count of Monte Cristo.  Not having anywhere near the level of pop-culture exposure as my peers, I didn’t get what all the rage was about and ended up sleeping through most of the movie.  Still, my curiosity was piqued, and I have always wondered what caused such commotion.  Almost twenty years later, I’m still not much for movies, especially if they've been made since about 1980, but I have come to appreciate classic literature much more than AP English could ever have hoped to instill (there's something to be said for reading something of one's own volition and being forced to read something).  A good adventure story makes a book that much more appealing.

Book cover.The prolific French writer Alexandre Dumas’s epic adventure, The Count of Monte Cristo (ISBN: 0-679-60199-6), tells an intricately woven tale of injustice, revenge, hope, mercy, and even forgiveness.  The first part of the book gives the reader no indications whatsoever of the impending treachery and troubles as one is acquainted with the hero, Edmond Dantès, a dashing, honest, and hard-working sailor about to fulfill a few of his life's dreams.  A jealous neighbor, a competitor for the affections of his love, and colleague who couldn't bear seeing Dantès promoted before himself stop those plans, though, and send the main character's life in a totally different direction.  Prison, though, affords us with our first adventure: sneaking out of prison in another prisoner's body bag.  After that, there are many adventures to be had with Dantès on ships, with smugglers, and finally, in Paris as he exacts revenge on those who put him in prison and deprived him of his father, his beloved, and his desired job.  In Paris, the rich Count of Monte Cristo wows the elites, works his way into their lives, and manages to bring those lives to screeching halts, usually through ignominious deaths.  Although Dantès exacts his revenge, he starts to realize that maybe it's not all about justice, especially as he sees his former girlfriend reduced to a thoroughly depressed and unhappy state.  His shows mercy almost to a fault toward those who were once nice to him, but eventually even to one of his avowed enemies.

The book was an enjoyable read, but toward the end, I mostly felt sad for the main character and wished that the book could have included a stronger redemptive message.  It seems that Dantès's final act of forgiveness and ability to again find love were afterthoughts by Dumas.  They didn't make up for 1,000 pages of a man spending all his time and energy on finding ways to be smarter, stronger, and better prepared than one's avowed enemies so one could more fully destroy them.  Dantès's confusion of God's justice with his desire for revenge was also somewhat distracting from the story.  Finally, while I turned page after page as quickly as possible, and enjoyed the story, I realized that the vast majority of the story took place in the parlors of the Parisian elite.  It was adventure minus swords, guns, ships, armies, and other, more traditional forms of daring.  Still, the intriguing web of characters, storyline that was complex at times, and quick-moving events make for a good read and it is understandable why the Count of Monte Cristo is such a fixture in western culture.  It is also worth noting that as I read the book I found myself thinking a lot of the Princess Bride and figured that the author of that book and (later) screenplay must've been intimately acquainted with the Count of Monte Cristo.  It’s a very long book, but the unabridged version is really the only way to go since it provides the richest character development, deeper understanding of the plot lines, and a more complete picture of the settings, motives, and world views of the characters, all of which makes the reader more easily drawn into the world of the characters — one full of faraway places, exotic people, intigue, crime, high society, petty theft, politics, and human foibles and emotions.

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This work, including all text, photographs, and other original work, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives 3.0 License and is copyrighted © MMXI John Pruess.

1 comment:

Papa Tom said...

Nice review. You don't need to post this but you may want to take a relook at the first sentence of the second paragraph and the very last sentence.