My Book Story: The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
My favorite book should be something out of the science fiction or fantasy oeuvre. Perhaps from the grandfather of fantasy, Tolkien, or something by Verne, or those rare funny sci-fi fantasy writers, Pratchett and Adams? While I do love them (except for Verne – I can’t stand British literature from the romantic period. Deal with it, Dickens!) my favorite book has nothing to do with speculative fiction.
I first learned about its existence from a talking dog. Specifically, a talking dog with a massive renn-faire wardrobe and a show on PBS. Wishbone introduced me to a lot of the classics that our test-focused education system skipped over, but nothing held my attention and love the way The Count of Monte Cristo does.
Written by Alexandre Dumas, it’s about Edmond Dantés, a man who’s about to have everything. He was just promoted to captain and is about to marry a woman he adores. The only problem in his life is that he puts too much trust in people. They all conspire to take away Edmond’s promotion, his fiancé, and money by tossing him into Château d’If. In prison, Edmond befriends an old man who teaches him how to write and read as well as pointing out the conspiracy against him. On his death bed, he tells Edmond about an island with more coin than god.
Breaking out of prison by sewing himself into his friend’s death sack, Edmond discovers the island and with it vows to take revenge. What follows is another 600 pages of the most intricate vengeance I’ve ever read. Sure, there’s absolutely no way his plans were plausible. And, in order to afford half the shit the Count of Monte Cristo does, somewhere a small country went bankrupt. And how did spending a decade in a prison keep Edmond looking so youthful? Can we convince the 1%ers that a couple decades in prison will reverse aging?
But none of that matters, because what I love, what keeps pulling me back, are the complex threads Edmond’s woven for years for that final day when he needs to only give a light tug for all his enemies to come crashing down. The best part is that he doesn’t have to hurt them himself. Instead, he relies upon their own greed and hubris, ferreting out their secrets and quietly bringing them to light. A few road blocks are thrown up — he winds up having to save a girl from her own stepmother’s poisoning because the son of the only man left to care for Edmond loves her. And his ex-fiance who married one of the men that wounded Edmond recognizes the Count and begs for her son’s life. She doesn’t care if he hurts Ferdinand when the truth is revealed and Edmond relents.
The Count of Monte Cristo is karma itself, a mysterious figure who floats into Parisian society to reward the virtuous and punish the wicked. It’s a tale of vengeance that despite there no longer being court society, fears of Napoleon, or everyone passing out in corsets resonates with the human need for justice. Deep in our conscience we know how fragile and illusive justice truly is. To keep going we need to believe there is some balance in the universe. That at the end, there’s a ledger tallied up. Rather than wait for a god to step in, Edmond does it himself.
Dumas, while not of the same literary talent of Hugo also doesn’t randomly dump his research into a few chapters and insist it’s the most fascinating thing you’ve ever read. It’s a strange comparison, but I’d say Hugo is to Mary Shelly as Dumas is to Stoker. Everyone knows, or thinks they know the story of Frankenstein, the same can be said of Les Miserables or The Hunchback of Notre Dame. They’re novels wound up in a ball of romantic literary rhetoric. But Stoker’s Dracula is a much lighter read by comparison. The action is at the forefront, introspection occurs in small spurts and not massive passages, as does the Count.
I love The Count of Monte Cristo so much, in my search for an unabridged version, I’ve purchased five copies. It took getting the gilded one from Barnes & Noble to finally accomplish my life long task (Which leaves me with a lot of free time). I’ve read some okay abridged ones – they drop the neighbor’s storyline, and some god awful ones – abandoning Danglar’s fate despite that being Edmond’s final redemption from the avatar of vengeance. It’s a tale I adore so much I don’t want to miss a single word.
S.E. Zbasnik is the author of the Dwarves in Space series – think Tolkien and Hitchhiker’s merged in a horrific transporter accident – as well as a bunch of other fantasy novels. You can find her on Twitter as well as Facebook, and hopefully not standing right behind you.