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Although this book is set in seventeenth century France, it’s easy to forget that it’s actually Victorian literature (and is actually based on a real-life d’Artagnan). Dumas wrote it as a weekly serial for a newspaper; the translation in the edtion I read – Wordsworth Classics – also dated from the nineteenth century.

At first, I found reading The Three Musketeers quite heavy going for the most part. It starts with d’Artagnan travelling up from his home town to Paris where he plans to join the musketeers; he has a letter of introduction from his father to M de Treville, the musketeers’ chief. On the way, at a place called Meung, he picks a fight with a stranger for no particularly good reason; also for no particularly good reason, the stranger takes his letter of introduction once he’s laid d’Artagnan out cold. This theft, however, proves to be of no great consequence, as he manages to get in with Treville with no problem – although he doesn’t have the experience to join the musketeers just yet.

The description above is pretty representative of an annoying randomness and pointlessness to some of the plot points. It’s also full of very long conversations (although none compare to the scene where Linden Avery resurrects Thomas Covenant at the end of Fatal Revenant and the resulting discussion that takes up the first five chapters of the following book, Against All Things Ending). Characters discuss their histories, go into excessive detail and ejaculate interjections such as ‘Plague!’ and ‘God’s blood!’

The mysterious man whom d’Artagnan fought at Meung seems to have been intended as a mysterious bad guy, but he doesn’t really play much of a part – although he does crop up regularly and becomes something of an ally at the end. He takes second fiddle to Lady de Winter, also known as Milady, who, at towards the end of the book, becomes the central character for several chapters. This episode is not uninteresting, but could have been left out.

The introduction to the book describes how Dumas banged out each chapter at a fair lick in order to meet his weekly deadline, and it shows. The plot is meandering, it can be excessively verbose and the characterisation is uneven – the hotheaded d’Artagnan of the early chapters is quickly replaced with a wise and wily fighter. As a novel, it could have done with a lot of rewriting. There is no great poetry of language in the text – indeed, one chapter near the end even begins, ‘It was a dark and stormy night’ – but it’s very direct: everything is either conversation or action (mostly conversation, though).

There are some dubious morals on display. Seemingly, if any musketeer sees a man of the cardinal and takes offence, the man’s life is fair game in a duel. D’Artagnan himself all but kills a man he encounters in order to take his papers so he can sail to England. The love interest is a married woman; her husband is a coward who works for the cardinal, so she, too, is fair game.

However, it wasn’t terrible, by any means. Although I stopped reading it for a couple of months, when I finally returned to it, I enjoyed it much more. There is a fair amount of humour in it – most notably Athos’s manservant, Grimaud, who is forbidden to speak. The language – while undeniably ersatz, being written two centuries after its setting – has a certain authenticity to it. I even felt a pang of emotion when d’Artagnan mourned his love near the climax.

Overall, it was an OK read – not the most classic of classic literature. The Three Musketeers is actually the first in a trilogy, the third book of which is extremely long and often published in three parts, one of which is The Man in the Iron Mask. I may check out Twenty Years After and The Vicomte de Bragelonne at some point.

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I’m nearly two months into my new job and it’s going OK. Sleep and getting up in the morning hasn’t been too much of a problem. I usually try to sleep a little on the express bus down to Bundang, but it’s not easy. The drivers often have the radio on, sometimes at annoying high volumes. They also often have a beep that sounds when the engine revs too high – presumably to let them know when to change gear (unlike the UK, where people drive real cars, the vast majority of Korean cars are automatics (not that I’ve ever driven a car, manual or automatic)).

The main problem, though, is the buses themselves. They’re coaches, really, but living in such an American-oriented society I inevitably think of them as buses. Korea has a great public transport (not transportation) system – there are lots of bus routes and buses, subway lines and trains. The buses are all pretty rickety, though: they jolt and judder and jump up and down every time the driver changes gear or applies the brakes. The drivers also don’t drive too well: they tend to accelerate as fast as possible and then brake as hard as possible.

I’m back into reading as a result. If I can’t sleep on the bus in the morning, I might as well make a little more progess on The Three Musketeers (a novel about four soldiers who rarely use muskets). I can only manage a couple of pages in the evening, though, before exhaustion overtakes me.

My roleplaying game system continues to progress. I’ve been working on a new version that is taking longer than the first version to complete – I don’t have any full days to dedicate to it, now, though. From a high point of six players, the group has shunk a little to three regulars. The campaign that I’m running has taken a lot longer than I imagined to get to the point it’s currently at. The players are at a turning point, however, and I think I need to change my approach for the coming episodes – cutting out extraneous combat, maybe dealing with longer periods in condensed form. We have fun, though, which is the important thing.

Habiba and I are planning our trip to Europe, which will start early in the spring. I learnt from the internet that all international train services in Greece were cancelled earlier this year because of the financial crisis there, also it’s a very chancy business getting inter-island ferries at that time of year. This changes some of our plans – we’ll have to bus it (that word again) from Istanbul to Athens, or maybe Thessaloniki. The next stop will be Albania – transport links there and in the former Yugoslavia also look a bit ad hoc, so that’ll be interesting times.

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