I wish you could put up ‘Wanted’ notices for books. Wouldn’t that be perfect? “WANTED: adventure, historical fiction, mystery, indisputable grammar, clever construction, captivating characters, enthralling story line, perfect length.” would be my notice. I would post it around town and, I suppose, on the internet. That way, we could discover titles we’ve never heard of, novels from our own countries and cultures that have simply slipped away from library shelves or works from places and times different from our own. It’s interesting how unassuming books open up the most enchanting worlds and riveting stories, isn’t it?
Anyway – back to the whole ‘Wanted’ notice.
It’s been a pitifully long time since I’ve read a new good book. And when I say ‘new’ good book, I don’t mean a modern publication. I simply mean a book I’ve never read before. I’m the type of person who reads and re-reads her favorite books, so it would be a lie if I said I haven’t read any good books in a while. Good Lord I’m digressing more than I ought to, huh. As I was saying, it’s very difficult for me to find suitable reading material nowadays, especially since I’ve become a picky reader. So a couple months ago I was telling (more like complaining 😐) my mother how distressing my lack of pleasant reading materials was. I then was assigned The Count of Monte Cristo for English. I nearly swooned when I saw the book in real life. It’s a whopper; 1270 some pages in small-ish font. I dove into it grudgingly, not trusting the glimmer of enjoyment I received from reading the first few chapters. “It has to get boring at some point. Wait for it…wait for it…” was my motto as I began reading.
Somewhere around page 200, however, I realized I was loving the novel. The characters were just fictional enough so that I felt as though I were reading a good story but could also see them as functional human beings in the real world. The plot appeared simple at the outset but had turned into a splendidly serpentine storyline full of the most unexpected (sometimes too-improbable) events. Dumas crafted this tale with just enough reality to keep it grounded. I feel like he pushed the limits between obvious fantasy and reason, a move not usually successful with most authors (Madeleine L’Engle does a great job of it in A Wrinkle in Time).
The Count of Monte Cristo was originally serialized – it was published in parts, in a newspaper. For this reason, each chapter ends with a marvelous cliff-hanger, a trait questionable in its virtue when someone can only read a chapter or two at a time. So don’t let the book’s size intimidate you – it’s not one of those stories which you have to force yourself through. If you’re like me, you’ll actually find that it ends sooner than you’d hope! (Yes, I do wish it was longer!)
Due to the length of this novel, I decided to put together a quick blurb. I read a couple descriptions online and didn’t think they did The Count of Monte Cristo justice…as if mine will. 😐
Edmond Dantès is, like any good hero, an virtuous, handsome young man. He has just recently been offered the job of his dreams as the officer on a ship and is planning on marrying the lovely Mércedès. Dantès is not the only one aware of his good fortune – a fellow shipmate Danglars and the love-sick cousin of Mércedès, Fernand, are jealously eyeing Dantès’ state of affairs. In the span of a chapter, Dantès suddenly finds himself carted off towards the ominous Château d’If, a notable prison with charges of treason. Fortunately, Dantès’ case is reviewed by a young, honorable judge. But the judge, prompted by his desire to secure himself in royalist society (his father was a despised Bonapartist), re-emphasizes Dantès’ culpability even though he realizes that the entire deal was simply meant to rid Dantès from the lives of those who hated him. Dantès is in prison for around twenty or thirty years during which he vows revenge against his adversaries.
Dantès eventually manages to escape prison, after which he claims an incredibly gargantuan treasure and assumes the name ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’ among many other alter egos. (One important thing you must keep in mind when reading this book is that Dantès has numerous alter egos…I sometimes forgot them and was worse off for it.)
I am not going to describe the rest of the book because I will invariably give away vital details while doing so. I suppose I’ll end this blurb by saying that this novel was not your average adventure story. It really encapsulated the struggle many Christians had at the time with understanding verses from the Bible that indicate that revenge can only be undertaken by God and verses that state the whole, “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” idea. In a way, Dumas crafted an excellent investigation of sorts with The Count of Monte Cristo. He experimented with the idea of revenge and used it in both its depiction as something belonging solely to God and its manifestation as a human action. In addition, I feel as though he explored the actions that can be brought about by a person feeling as though he or she is acting as an emissary of God but is simply being propelled by one’s own whims.
So, that was a terrible blurb, but I tried to pour the thoughts I had while reading it into my writing. It’s 2:31 a.m. as I’m typing this post, so I’ll probably be coming back in the next few days after posting this and making changes and re-wording the blurb and what not. I guess the essence of my thoughts are this: though this novel appears to be a relaxing adventure story (and it is, if you want to read it that way), it really incites some intriguing thoughts due to the ideas it explores. In that way, this novel could be read as a scholarly work of a very non-scholarly author. (From what I’ve read about Dumas’ life, he isn’t exactly the right person to seek religious consul from, but he has some pretty interesting ideas.) And I like how the novel ended very laissez faire. You could take the ending for what it is, or you could read deeper and realize that Dumas really doesn’t have a final verdict. I wonder if he simply confused himself by writing this book? Or did he discover some closure for his ideas?
Well, you must be hoping I discovered some closure for my ideas because this post is ridiculously long. You’re lucky because today I have! I think the Count of Monte Cristo aka Edmond Dantès would have done more good if he had been willing to simply forgive and move on. Sure, his revenge works out exactly as he planned, but is he happier in the end? Is he pleased with himself? Did he do the world any real good? The answer to all three questions is no. Dantès’ enemies were destined to pay for their misdeeds without his interference, and while reading, I often thought, “Hold on…theoretically, wouldn’t this have happened even if Dantès didn’t do anything?”
So, if you don’t have much going this summer (and even if you do!) grab the unabridged edition of The Count of Monte Cristo and prepare to be dazzled. Also, lug it around with you wherever you go – it serves as a good conversation piece.
In the comments, let me know if you’ve read The Count of Monte Cristo, and what you thought of it! Also, what would be on your ‘WANTED’ notice?
If you were wondering where this book lies on my silly scale…it’s an obvious ‘beneath the bed’ book!