The Man in the Iron Mask (The Book and the Adaptations)

When I was in college, I saw The Three Musketeers (1948), the one with Gene Kelly as D’Artagnan.  I thought it a bit silly, all that smiling and laughing while he and the title characters fought with swords, but I enjoyed it nevertheless.  So, I decided to read the novel, written by Alexandre Dumas.  I struggled through one bewildering chapter after another, overwhelmed by all the complications and intrigues, until I finally gave up and returned to my studies, which I should never have neglected in the first place.

The novel was originally published in serialized form, and was the first of the D’Artagnan romances, the last of which was The Man in the Iron Mask, which I shall refer to as a novel, though it is sometimes regarded as the third part of a larger novel. These two novels are the most well known, but there is lots of other stuff in between. And even though I am now retired and have neither school nor work to make demands on my time, I admit that I simply am not up to reading all those D’Artagnan romances.

And yet, I am sympathetic to it all.  It was the nineteenth century when all this was written. There were no movies, no television, and certainly no internet.  As a result, reading stories in serialized form in regular installments in a magazine must have been a pleasant diversion in those days.  The reader, if he was enjoying the story, had no desire for it to end too quickly, and thus was not the least bothered by all the complications and intrigues that completely did me in when I was in college. Dumas, being paid as he was for each installment, was at pains to milk it for all it was worth, never hesitating to introduce new characters, who would allow for further complications and intrigues.

As a result, I contented myself with watching movie versions of these two novels, along with movie versions of The Count of Monte Cristo, the only other novel by Dumas with which most people are familiar. And that would have been the end of it save for variations in the versions of The Man in the Iron Mask that struck me as a story that was struggling against itself.  The movie versions of The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo have variations of one sort or another, the difference between one version and another being unremarkable, the only consideration being whether one has enjoyed the movie or not. In the case of The Man in the Iron Mask, however, there are significant differences between the novel and the movie versions, as there are among the movies themselves, differences that have resulted from more than the mere need to simplify the story in one way or another.  Instead, in whatever way the story is told, it can make people uncomfortable, and when the story is changed to put them at ease, others are likely to find it disturbing in a different way.  To explain what I mean, I have decided it will better to discuss the movies first and then the novel.

The Iron Mask (1929)

The first movie version is The Iron Mask, made in 1929.  D’Artagnan (Douglas Fairbanks) and the Three Musketeers, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, all sleep together in one big bed.  The English translation of what is inscribed on the upper part of that bed is “All for one and one for all.”  This gives those words a whole new meaning.  Much of the movie consists of a lot of swashbuckling on their part, which need not be described in detail, except that they are typically smiling and laughing, just as they were in the 1921 version of The Three Musketeers, which also starred Douglas Fairbanks.

Queen Anne, wife of King Louis XIII, gives birth to a son, Louis, which is hailed as great news. But then she also gives birth to his twin, who is unnamed in this movie, referred to only as the “Twin Brother.”  He is regarded as bad news by Cardinal Richelieu, who fears his existence might mean revolution.  He decides this must be kept hidden from the people of France and arranges to have the Twin Brother taken to Spain. However, the Count de Rochefort, the villain of the piece, finds out about him, kidnaps him, and raises him for his own evil purposes.

Four years later, Louis, Dauphin of France, is a nice little boy, but the Twin Brother is a spoiled brat. Twenty years later, the Dauphin has become Louis XIV.  He is a good-hearted fellow.  But the Twin Brother, whom see practicing the signature of Louis, is mean-spirited and cruel.  Along with the Count de Rochefort, he plans to put King Louis XIV in prison and put himself on the throne.  Louis is kidnapped, and that is when he finds out about his twin.  De Rochefort says Louis will not be killed because that way he has something to hold over the Twin Brother, in case he gets any funny ideas.

To keep Louis from being recognized, the Twin Brother has an iron mask put over Louis’s head, and has him confined in the River Castle.  One day, Louis looks out the window of his cell and sees a man in a boat. He inscribes a message on a silver dish and tosses it out through the bars to the man below, promising a reward if he takes it to D’Artagnan.  He does so, and D’Artagnan figures out that Louis must have a twin brother, and that twin has usurped his throne.

D’Artagnan sends for the Three Musketeers, and the four of them rescue the king and bring him back to the palace, each of those Three Musketeers losing his life in the fighting as they do so. D’Artagnan and King Louis XIV put the iron mask on the Twin Brother’s head and have him sent to a prison for the rest of his life.

Then D’Artagnan dies from a wound he received during the fighting.  We see the souls of Athos, Porthos, and Aramis welcoming the soul of D’Artagnan to Heaven.  The four of them laugh at all those fools below that are grieving over D’Artagnan’s corpse.

As noted above, in this movie, as in the 1921 version of The Three Musketeers, they are always smiling and laughing, even when engaged in a sword fight.  This is a childlike depiction of them, which puts the audience in a childlike posture as well.  As such, it was probably deemed necessary to reassure the audience the way one reassures children, making it clear that the death of these men is not something sad, but rather that they are smiling and laughing now in Heaven as they did on Earth.

One of them says, “Come on!  There is greater adventure beyond.”  They turn and walk away, with the words “The Beginning” on the screen.  This is a modern conception of Heaven, one in which we imagine our loved ones doing in Heaven what they enjoyed doing on Earth.  This may be momentarily comforting, but when that is thought through to its ultimate conclusion, we experience a feeling of revulsion.  Are we to imagine them swashbuckling for eternity, sword fighting with the souls of Richelieu’s men, with nothing ever being accomplished thereby?  I should think that would get to be old after a few thousand years.

In the movies, Heaven is something that should be held out only as a hope, not made explicit, as it is here.

The Man in the Iron Mask (1939)

In the 1939 version, King Louis XIII (Albert Dekker) is informed by an adviser named Colbert about the twin brother, who is called Philippe.  They decide to let D’Artagnan (Warren William) raise him in Gascony. However, they express their regret that there is no D’Artagnan for the doctor and the midwife, implying that they must be killed to keep the secret from getting out. You know, just a couple of cold-blooded murders for the greater good of France.

That greater good of France being that the first-born son becomes Louis XIV (Louis Hayward), who is a “profligate, spendthrift, and a tyrant,” one who finds it amusing to watch people being hanged while betting with Fouquet on whether the rope will break. Louis knows nothing of his twin brother, but Fouquet had overheard people talking about the twins when they were born and used that knowledge to rise to a powerful position.  But he now intends to have D’Artagnan and Philippe (Louis Hayward) hanged, and so he gets the king to allow him to send troops to Gascony to arrest them for not paying their taxes.

Meanwhile, at D’Artagnan’s estate, we see him, the Three Musketeers, and Philippe sitting around the table having a jolly good time.  Philippe has been raised to be just the like these other men, and he is a swell fellow.  In the previous movie, Louis XIV was good and the Twin Brother was evil.  In this movie, it is Louis who is evil, and Philippe who is good.

The king’s men, numbering ninety in all, arrive to arrest D’Artagnan and Philippe. Though there are only five to resist them, those five manage to kill about half the king’s men in the ensuing sword fight. And then, right while they are in the middle of doing all this killing, there is an inexplicable cut in the action, and we see Philippe, D’Artagnan, and the Three Musketeers, with nary a scratch on them, smiling and laughing, having surrendered for some reason, and being taken back to Paris.  I rate this scene as the ultimate swashbuckling absurdity in any movie ever made about D’Artagnan and the Three Musketeers.

Regarding this scene of five men fighting against ninety of the king’s men, it is worth comparing this to what happens in Chapter V of The Three Musketeers.  This is where D’Artagnan is about to fight a duel with each of the Three Musketeers when five men of the cardinal’s Guards show up.  Discounting the presence of D’Artagnan, who was not at that time a Musketeer, Athos expresses dismay over the odds:

“There are five of them,” said Athos, half aloud, “and we are but three; we shall be beaten again, and must die on the spot, for, on my part, I declare I will never appear again before the captain as a conquered man.”

But that is the difference between the novels of Dumas, which tell the stories seriously and realistically, and these early movies, which are silly and juvenile.

Fouquet does his best to hang the lot of them before Louis can find out about Philippe, but Colbert thwarts him.  When Louis sees how much Philippe looks like him, he decides it will be useful to have Philippe perform dangerous or unpleasant tasks expected of the king, while he, Louis, gets to drink wine and make love to his mistress. Philippe goes along with this in exchange for which his companions are spared.

When Louis finds out that Philippe is his twin brother, however, and not just someone who happens to look like him, he decides Philippe must be disposed of.  Louis chooses not to hang him because he would not enjoy seeing his likeness dangle from the end of a rope.  Instead, he has him locked up in the Bastille with an iron mask on his head.  D’Artagnan and the Three Musketeers find out about this and free him from the Bastille.  They go to Louis’s bedroom, put the mask on his head, and send him to the Bastille.

As in the 1929 version, Louis writes a message on a silver dish, but since this is an evil Louis, the message is addressed to Fouquet.  Fouquet and his men free Louis. Philippe, D’Artagnan, and the Three Musketeers engage them on the road, but one by one the Three Musketeers die in battle. Fouquet is killed and Louis’s carriage goes off a cliff and into the river below, where he drowns, still wearing the iron mask.  This is a merciful ending for the evil Louis, unlike that for the evil Twin Brother of the 1929 version, who will wear the iron mask in prison for the rest of his life.

D’Artagnan gets Philippe back to the Cathedral for his marriage to Maria Theresa (Joan Bennett), at which point D’Artagnan dies from his wound.  We then see his soul and the souls of the Three Musketeers, mounted on the souls of their horses as they ride in the sky.  This is a bit of an improvement over the 1929 version because we don’t see them laughing at the fools below that are grieving over their deaths.  But I suppose something like this was still deemed necessary in order for the audience to regard this as a happy ending.

Let us note that unlike the 1929 version, where Louis is king at the end, this version ends with an imposter on the throne.  But since he is Philippe, who is good, then as far as I was concerned, that was all for the best.  His being an imposter didn’t bother me one bit.  But then, I have always been completely indifferent to matters of royalty and the order of succession.  For those who do care about such things, however, this might be unsettling.

When Queen Elizabeth II died recently, I was amazed at the nonstop coverage that went on for the better part of a week. According to what was reported on the news, half the world, over four billion people, tuned in to watch her funeral ceremony.  And that was in addition to the coverage of the royal family of England that we have been treated to over the years, which a lot of people seem to obsess over, for as long as I can remember.

In other words, even today, right here in America, there are a lot of people for whom the royal order of succession is important, even to the point of believing that kings rule by divine right.  Such people undoubtedly feel uncomfortable watching this 1939 movie in which Louis, the rightful heir to the throne, is killed and replaced by Philippe, an imposter, thus thwarting the will of God.

The 1929 version avoided that outcome by having Louis be good and the Twin Brother be evil. Then, at the end of the movie, when Louis had become king again, it was the good brother who was king, and who was also the one who had a sacred right to be king.

The Man in the Iron Mask (1977)

In the 1977 version, as in the preceding 1939 version, Louis XIV (Richard Chamberlain) is evil, and Philippe (Richard Chamberlain) is good.  In the 1939 movie, however, in order for the good brother to be king at the end, Philippe, the younger twin, had to replace Louis, who was older and thus had a right to be king.  And so, when the movie ended, Philippe, the imposter, had permanently usurped Louis’s throne.

This 1977 version avoids the 1939 outcome by having Philippe be the older brother. The first minister of Louis XIII told the king that one of the twins died and faked a burial.  The minister purposely allowed the younger son to become Louis XIV, having secretly raised Philippe, the older son, in order to have power over Louis when he became king.  The minister has since died, but D’Artagnan (Louis Jordan) knew about this and had his men arrest Philippe and put him in the Bastille for safekeeping.  But Philippe is accidentally recognized by the Chevalier Duval, who brings Philippe’s existence to the attention of Fouquet (Patrick McGoohan).

Therefore, at the end of the movie, when Philippe replaces Louis as king, it is not only the good brother that becomes king, but also the one who has a right to be king. Philippe has to go by the name “Louis” for the rest of his life, so to that extent he is still an imposter.  But since Louis was an unwitting imposter himself, being the younger brother, then Philippe is the imposter of an imposter, and so it all just cancels out.

But the main thing is that for all those people that would otherwise have misgivings, who would feel distraught at the idea of having someone be king who was not intended to be so by virtue of the order of succession, they will be pacified.

I didn’t mean to rush past the fact that it was D’Artagnan who saw to it that Philippe was initially imprisoned.  In his discussion with Colbert, they agree that it is better at the present time not to tell Philippe that he is the twin brother of Louis, while they keep him locked up.  That way, they agree, even if the guards torture Philippe by putting him on the rack, he won’t be able to tell them a thing.

Fouquet informs Louis of his twin brother.  Louis orders Fouquet that not a single drop of royal blood be spilled, lest they tempt Providence by doing so.  Apparently, they figure that they will not incur the wrath of God if they slap an iron mask on Philippe and move him to another prison, where they intend for him to remain for the rest of his life, because that is what they do.

D’Artagnan rescues Philippe and, at a party hosted by Fouquet, Philippe successfully passes himself off as Louis, while condemning the real Louis to have the iron mask put on his head, which he is condemned to wear in prison for the rest of his days.

Now, it may seem that by making Philippe be the older brother, that solves the problem of having him become king in a way that will not offend those who would be bothered if he were the younger brother, and thus had no right to sit on the throne.

But what this movie gives with one hand, it threatens to take away with the other. After Philippe has replaced Louis, he dances with Louis’s wife, Maria Theresa, the queen. Through what can only be called a woman’s intuition, she discerns the Philippe is not Louis, and subtly lets him know that she knows the truth.  As they engage in a hypothetical discussion about “just suppose” and “what if,” she lets Philippe know that she will play along with this charade so long as the children she has already had will retain their royal status, including the right of her oldest son to become king of France. Philippe agrees.  Therefore, while Philippe, being the older brother, is by right the king of France, the queen’s children are the offspring of Louis, which puts them at some remove in the order of succession.

But wait!  She and Philippe presumably never have any children after the switch, so her oldest son will therefore have the right to be king, though as a historical point, he died before Louis XIV did.  But at least the great grandson of Maria Theresa and Louis became Louis XV, so I guess it’s all right. Whew!

The Three Musketeers are not in this version.  This allows for a change in tone.  We don’t see D’Artagnan or anyone else in this movie smiling and laughing while sword fighting.  D’Artagnan does not die in the end, and given this change in tone, there would have been no need to see his soul ascend to Heaven even if he had.  Furthermore, it is not clear that D’Artagnan would deserve to go to Heaven in any event, given what he did to Philippe.

In the 1929 movie, D’Artagnan and the Three Musketeers are morally upright by whatever standard of right and wrong one applies.  In the 1939 movie, D’Artagnan deceives Philippe while he is being raised, not letting him know that he is the younger brother of Louis.  But since Philippe has had a happy childhood and is enjoying life as a young adult, the deception would seem to be morally forgivable.  In this 1977 version, however, D’Artagnan’s moral character is disturbing, for he was the one that initially had Philippe imprisoned, even though it meant he might be tortured.

A major theory of ethics is utilitarianism, one version of which holds that the right action is the one that produces the greatest good for the greatest number of people.  A standard problem that arises within this theory is that it would seem to justify putting an innocent man in prison if society as a whole would benefit.  As opposed to this, there are those who advocate a deontological theory of ethics, which holds that some actions, like knowingly imprisoning an innocent man, are intrinsically wrong.  So, whereas a utilitarian might see D’Artagnan’s action in this respect as right, since it is for the greater good of France, a deontologist would say that what he did was wrong regardless of the consequences.

This issue was actually present in the first two movies, especially in the 1939 version, where Louis XIII and Colbert have the doctor and midwife murdered to keep the birth of Philippe a secret, but this 1977 version is the first in which it is the moral quality of D’Artagnan’s actions that are suspect.

Of course, we are suspicious of this notion of doing what is best for the greater good of France anyway, when it might simply be a matter of doing what is best for the greater good of those who happen to be in power and want to hold on to it.  Inasmuch as it was Louis XIV who said, L’État, c’est moi, we may be excused if we are not persuaded by this justification of what is best for France.

Finally, we must return to the importance that some people place on royalty and the order of succession.  Just as some people would argue that imprisoning an innocent man is wrong, as is the case in this movie, so too would others argue that violating the order of succession is intrinsically wrong as well, as was the case in the 1939 version.  Those espousing the utilitarian theory of ethics, on the other hand, would say either action would be justified, so long as civil war and anarchy are averted as a result.

The Man in the Iron Mask (1998)

In the 1998 version, Louis is evil, and Philippe is good, both men being played by Leonardo DiCaprio.

The Three Musketeers have retired, going their separate ways, with only D’Artagnan (Gabriel Byrne) remaining with the Musketeers.  Athos (John Malkovich) has a son, Raoul, who plans to become a Musketeer and marry Christine, the girl he loves.  But Louis wants her for himself, so he pulls a David and has Raoul returned to combat, ordering that he be placed at the vanguard of the assault, in front of the cannon, where he will be killed.  Then Louis has his way with Christine, who later hangs herself in disgust.

Athos wants to avenge Raoul’s death by assassinating Louis, but Aramis (Jeremy Irons), who has become a Jesuit, has a better idea.  It seems that Louis XIII confessed on his deathbed to his son, soon to be Louis XIV, that he had a younger twin brother Philippe. Immediately upon becoming the new king, Louis had Aramis go to where Philippe had been secretly raised, take him to the Bastille and imprisoned there, with an iron mask over his head.  Aramis gets Athos and Porthos (Gérard Depardieu) to go along with his plan to sneak Philippe out of prison and switch him out with Louis. Eventually, the plan works:  Philippe is put on the throne, and Louis is put in the Bastille with the iron mask on his head.

As evil as Louis had been in this movie, it would have been perfectly satisfying to let it go at that. However, one suspects that those who made this movie decided that a 1998 version of the good Philippe precluded the possibility of his letting Louis spend the rest of his life in prison with an iron mask on his head.  But if we had seen Philippe pardoning Louis and allowing him to spend the rest of his days in the countryside, we would have been disappointed with such a wimpy ending, if not incredulous that Louis would have acquiesced and not tried to regain the throne.

So, the movie tries to have it both ways by use of a narrator.  At the beginning of the movie, we heard a narrator saying something about how the story of the man in the iron mask was part fact and part legend. Now, at the end of the movie, the narrator returns with his part-fact-and-part-legend commentary, telling us that “it was whispered among his jailers” that the “prisoner” received a pardon and spent the rest of his days in the countryside.  The pardon thus being only a possibility, and words having less force than a visualization in any event, we are spared the offending scene of Philippe granting that pardon.

The whole business about who is the older brother with the right to be king is dispensed with. Their real father is D’Artagnan, who had an affair with Queen Anne, and so neither twin has a right to be king.  I suppose the idea was that we wouldn’t worry about which brother had the right to be king, since neither brother had that right.  But I suspect that those that care about such things were bothered by the fact that at the end of the movie, a bastard sits on the throne.

D’Artagnan dies in the end, but we don’t see his soul leave his body and rise to Heaven, something I doubt a modern audience could watch without groaning.  We made allowances for the 1929 and 1939 versions, but could not do so for a version made near the end of the twentieth century.  As for the Three Musketeers, there is none of that silliness we have come to expect, the three of them smiling and laughing as they swashbuckle.  That childlike characterization of them having been eliminated, the need to reassure the audience with depictions of souls ascending to Heaven was obviated.  Furthermore, had there been such a scene, we might have wondered why the soul of Aramis was not descending into Hell, given what he did to Philippe.  So, just to be on the safe side, I suppose, the movie avoids having them die anyway, the issue then being moot.

Aside from being guilty of adultery, which is no longer the great sin it once was, D’Artagnan is basically good in this movie.  It is Aramis, however, whose moral character is now in question, inasmuch as he not only had Philippe imprisoned in the Bastille, but also had that iron mask put on his head, intending for Philippe to remain that way for the rest of his life, which I regard as pure evil, only helping to free Philippe from prison when it suited his purposes, owing to a change in circumstances.  You really have to be a staunch defender of utilitarianism to think what he did was right.

The Man in the Iron Mask (novel)

As noted in my introduction, I never finished reading The Three Musketeers.  Nor have I read The Man in the Iron Mask, and I certainly did not read the stuff in between.  By what presumption, you might well ask, do I now propose to discuss this final novel of the D’Artagnan romances?  Well, the same way I managed to get through college.  If assigned to read some work of literature that was too long and ponderous for my taste, I would make do by reading those parts of the book the professor seemed to regard as important, and then get the rest from Cliff Notes.  While not using Cliff Notes for the purpose at hand, the internet has provided me with a summary, and from it I figured out which passages of the novel itself to read, which is also available online.

Before this novel even begins, Aramis, who is now the bishop of Vannes, has learned from a former lover, Madame de Chevereuse, that King Louis XIV has a twin brother.  And he has learned from from Baisemeaux, the governor of the Bastille, that there is a prisoner that looks exactly like King Louis XIV. In Chapter I, on the pretense of hearing that prisoner’s confession, Aramis gets to see this prisoner alone. Through a long and involved conversation, we learn that this prisoner, whose name is Philippe, was raised as a child by a nurse and a preceptor, in a secluded house surrounded by high walls.  Other than those two, he has seen very few people, one of whom we gather was his mother, Queen Anne.  He has never even been allowed to see his own reflection in a mirror, for there were none in the house, and Philippe does not even know what the words “mirror” or “looking-glass” mean.

But then one day, concerning an incident in which a letter from the queen fell into a well, the significance of which I had a hard time following, it seems that this alarmed the queen so much that she had Philippe’s nurse and preceptor killed, and then had Philippe transferred to the Bastille, where he presently resides. In the 1929 and 1939 movie versions, we always figured the queen knew she had twins, but men made the decision to conceal this fact from the people of France, and we concluded that she was relatively blameless.  In the 1977 and 1998 versions, she is told that one of the twins died right after being born. But here, we might well count her as one of the villains, more so than Louis XIV, who knew nothing of this, for she is the one who now condemns her own son to his undeserved fate.

Aramis shows Philippe a mirror to look into, and also shows him a picture of the king, convincing him that he is the king’s identical twin brother.  In case you are wondering, Philippe is not, at this point in the story, wearing an iron mask.

Aramis explains his plan to put Philippe on the throne in place of Louis.  Philippe is reticent, but Aramis eventually gets him out of the prison anyway.  In Chapter IX, Aramis tells Philippe that he is the “natural and legitimate heir to the throne of France.” However, Aramis cannot be trusted.  He also indicates the Louis has been responsible for Philippe’s imprisonment, when in point of fact, Louis knows nothing of Philippe at this point in the story.  It may be that Aramis is saying all this, not because it is true, which it is not, but to get Philippe to go along with his plan, part of which, as we find out in Chapter X, is for Philippe, once he is king, to help Aramis become pope.

They pull off the switch, with Louis being kidnapped by two masked men, who are Aramis and Porthos. They take Louis to the Bastille, telling the governor that they made a mistake when they took Philippe out of prison and are now returning him.  The governor believes the story and locks Louis up in the cell Philippe was in.

In all the movies we have considered, one brother was good and the other was evil.  In the 1929 version, it was Louis who was good, and the Twin Brother who was evil.  In the subsequent three movies, it was Louis who was evil, and Philippe who was good. But in every case, it was the good brother that was king in the end.  As for the novel, though it is not simplistic in its contrast between the brothers regarding their moral qualities, as is the case in all the movies, yet we nevertheless must conclude that, morally speaking, the worse of the two brothers is Louis, the one who is king at the end.

First, there is a comment by Aramis in Chapter I that if Philippe becomes king, it will be for “the good of humanity.”  However, Aramis may simply be saying that to justify his actions.  At the end of Chapter XXIV, however, D’Artagnan admits that Philippe might have made a better king.

Second, while Philippe intended to keep Louis in prison for the rest of his life, he believed that this was what Louis had intended for him, based on what Aramis had told him, and thus was only repaying Louis in kind.  But it was Louis that not only imprisoned Philippe once more, but condemned him to the awful fate of wearing that iron mask.

Third, Louis’s ingratitude toward Fouquet is shocking.  Just before he was put in the Bastille, Louis was planning on arresting Fouquet for embezzlement.  Aramis tells Fouquet of the switch, thinking he will be pleased to be free from arrest now that Philippe is king.  But Fouquet cannot in good conscience go along with this scheme. Instead, he goes to the Bastille and has Louis released. Once Louis regains his power as king and has Philippe arrested and returned to prison, now wearing an iron mask, he then has Fouquet arrested and put in prison too.  In other words, so strong was Fouquet’s belief that it was of the utmost importance that Louis be king, since he was the older brother and had that right, that he acted against his own self-interest by getting Louis back on the throne, where he would once again be made to suffer from the king’s displeasure.

It is suggested in Chapter XXIII that the reason the king shows no gratitude toward Fouquet is that Fouquet saw him in the Bastille looking a wreck from the brutal kidnapping, and acting weak and scared:

Louis, recalled to himself by the change of situation, looked at himself, and ashamed of the disordered state of his apparel, ashamed of his conduct, and ashamed of the air of pity and protection that was shown towards him, drew back. Fouquet did not understand this movement; he did not perceive that the king’s feeling of pride would never forgive him for having been a witness of such an exhibition of weakness.

Louis even begins blaming Fouquet for his abduction, saying, “You should have foreseen it.” What Fouquet should have foreseen was just how ungrateful Louis would be.

In the 1929 and 1939 versions of this story, Louis throws a silver dish out of his prison cell with writing on it, asking for help.  As a result, D’Artagnan in the former and Fouquet in the latter get Louis out of prison. In Chapter XXXI of the novel, it is Philippe, now wearing the iron mask, who is the one that tosses the silver dish out the window. But as there is no one to help him, since it was the king who ordered him confined there, he merely asks people to pray for him. Athos and his son Raoul pick up the dish. But then D’Artagnan shows up, takes the dish away from them, and scratches out the message.  Since D’Artagnan was the one who took Philippe to the prison and had the iron mask put on his head, under the king’s orders, Philippe’s silver dish accomplishes nothing.

If we imagine this being in a movie, this futile, pathetic gesture would be painful to watch.  For that reason, this incident with the silver dish is either transformed into an efficacious event in the first two movies, allowing the prisoner with the iron mask to escape, or it is eliminated entirely, as in the last two movies.

This business with the silver dish occurs about halfway through the book.  Save for one brief moment later on, Philippe is never referred to or thought of again.  Not only is Philippe condemned to spend the rest of his life in prison wearing the iron mask, but he is pretty much forgotten about as well.  Given the title of this novel and the horrifying image it creates, it is surprising how once Philippe is put back in prison, now wearing an iron mask, he is hardly given another thought, his terrible fate seemingly a matter of indifference to everyone else in the story.

In the Epilogue, D’Artagnan is mortally wounded.  He says, “Athos—Porthos, farewell till we meet again! Aramis, adieu forever!” This is followed by the last line of the book:  “Of the four valiant men whose history we have related, there now remained but one. Heaven had taken to itself three noble souls.”

Why this distinction between his farewell to Athos and Porthos on the one hand, and to Aramis on the other?  Of the three, Aramis is the only one still alive, but D’Artagnan could just as easily have said “till we meet again” to him as well, implying that Aramis’s soul will arrive in Heaven too when he eventually dies. By saying “forever” in his goodbye to Aramis, D’Artagnan, it would seem, does not expect to see Aramis in Heaven when Aramis eventually dies because, being guilty of trying to put a pretender on the throne in place of Louis, he had committed a mortal sin in his effort to subvert Louis’s divine right to rule, for which Aramis must spend eternity in Hell. What D’Artagnan did, on the other hand, taking Philippe back to prison and putting an iron mask on his head, which Philippe will be condemned to wear for the rest of his life, D’Artagnan did to make sure that Louis’s place on the throne would be secure, all for the greater good of France, the preservation of the royal order of succession, and in conformity with what had been ordained by God. Because D’Artagnan has been the hero of this novel and all those that came before it, and because his noble soul is taken into Heaven, it is clear that Dumas would have us approve of what D’Artagnan did, and therefore that God would approve as well.

As I commented in the review of the 1929 version, it is perfectly acceptable when people on Earth express a hope for a future life, that they or their loved ones will go to Heaven.  It becomes problematic only when Heaven is made explicit.  And so, the fact that D’Artagnan believes he will see Athos and Porthos again in Heaven, while expressing regret that Aramis will be sent to Hell, does not strain our credulity.

In Chapter LVII, however, Dumas does more than have people merely talk about Heaven.  When Athos’s son Raoul dies, Athos sees his son’s soul ascending to Heaven:

At length he gained the crest of the hill, and saw, thrown out in black, upon the horizon whitened by the moon, the aerial form of Raoul. Athos reached forth his hand to get closer to his beloved son upon the plateau, and the latter also stretched out his; but suddenly, as if the young man had been drawn away in his own despite, still retreating, he left the earth, and Athos saw the clear blue sky shine between the feet of his child and the ground of the hill. Raoul rose insensibly into the void, smiling, still calling with gesture:—he departed towards heaven. Athos uttered a cry of tenderness and terror. He looked below again. He saw a camp destroyed, and all those white bodies of the royal army, like so many motionless atoms. And, then, raising his head, he saw the figure of his son still beckoning him to climb the mystic void.

Perhaps it is on the basis of this passage that those who produced the 1929 and 1939 movie versions of this story thought it appropriate to have us see the souls of D’Artagnan and the Three Musketeers rise into Heaven as well.


It is clear that Dumas had a fondness for royalty and took seriously the order of succession, so much so that he believed it warranted having an innocent man imprisoned for most of his life, the latter half of it with an iron mask on his head.  But whereas God would be forgiving of what was done to Philippe, he could not forgive Aramis, who tried to violate the order of succession by putting Philippe on the throne, for which reason Aramis must burn forever in the fires of Hell.

As I noted above, even here in America, where our Founding Fathers rejected the idea of royalty and a hereditary order of succession, where we now regard all men and women as equal, there still lingers among many in this country a fondness for monarchy.  For them, the importance of the hereditary order of succession is a value that competes with the importance of a monarch’s moral qualities.  In the novel, the order of succession wins out over moral worth, but not so in the movies, where this struggle expresses itself in the different ways, but with moral worth always winning out in the end.

Furthermore, although atheism had begun to flourish during the French Enlightenment of the eighteenth century, and was gaining traction throughout Europe in the nineteenth century, I suspect Dumas believed that there was a God and a future life for the immortal soul.  Instead of merely letting this be the hope on the part of the faithful, he guaranteed it, as it were, by having Athos actually see his son’s soul rise to Heaven.

As for religion in general, when a likable character dies in a movie, it is seldom felt necessary to make it clear that the person’s soul has gone to Heaven, and when that does happen, it is usually enough that someone utter words to that effect.  And this has become increasingly so over the last hundred years, so that we are less likely to hear about Heaven in a movie today than we might have in the early part of the twentieth century, unless it is a production from Pinnacle Peak Pictures, of course.

The references to the soul surviving death in this novel, made explicit in the case of Raoul, arose out of a sincere belief in God and immortality on the part of Dumas.  The need to ensure that the souls of these characters went to Heaven became even greater when the decision was made to portray D’Artagnan and the Three Musketeers as childlike in the first half of the twentieth century.  And needless to say, that absolutely precluded any scene where we see the soul of Aramis being dragged down to Hell.  In the latter part of the twentieth century, the subject of souls going to Heaven in the last two versions of this story was avoided entirely, evincing a more secular attitude today than there was in the past.


One thought on “The Man in the Iron Mask (The Book and the Adaptations)

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