LP: Pills ‘N’ Thrills and Bellyaches by the Happy Mondays
2015 Warner Records 90 Limited R1 60986, 2015 Record Store Day Release, yellow
Favorite Track: Step On
Last night, I sat by a window and read the beginning of Louise de la Valliere by Alexandre Dumas, waiting for the rain which never came. I am Harry Potter-obsessed with the d’Artagnan Romances. I haven’t been this into a book series since Harry Potter, reading the books back to back and forgetting all the 50 some books on my to-read shelf. Louise de la Valliere is the fourth out of five (in America, technically the last three books are just one giant story) and it is just as filled with daring swordplay, witty rejoinders, Court intrigue, secrets, spies, and those clever musketeers up to their schemes. The characters of d’Artagnan, Athos, Porthos and Aramis are more fascinating than I ever had imagined. In the first book, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis are musketeers and defined by a singular trait which usually is exploited for some comic touches: Athos is bitter and drunk to the point of locking himself into a wine cellar and drinking a tavern out of business, Porthos is a giant who is always hungry and tired, and Aramis seeks to join the church despite secretly being romantically linked to several married women and stabbing people with swords. d’Artagnan himself is a hot head whose mouth is always getting him into trouble as well as his wang. But then the sequel (Twenty Years Later) happens and all the characters are so much better fleshed out and even atone for some of their problematic ways in the first book. Where this all will lead to in the end, I don’t know but I have a feeling that I am going to cry and be really sad that I have no more adventures to read. The last time this happened was when I read Don Quixote and even though I knew the whole time he was going to die, I was heartbroken when it happened.
Oh sorry for the spoiler.
All of this has got me to thinking what kind of Musketeer story I would write if I were given the opportunity to write a tale. The first issue to address is the sexism. Athos is particularly bad in the first novel although this makes the second book so much more interesting as he begins to regret the choices he made twenty years ago as Morduant inspires great and deserving fear into his heart. Curiously, Athos is more sober in the second and third–way to go alcohol, always bringing out the worst of ourselves. I don’t think the series would pass the Bechdel test for movies. There are no female swashbucklers, many of the women are scheming and being in love with the various economically-powerful men in the novel and always talking to each other about them, and some general stereotypical comments are made. Yes, Dumas is sexist especially to today’s definition of feminism, but part of the problem is simply a flaw with narration. Even in a novel where you are allowed to stall the plot while you build characters or settings, you still can’t fit everything you want in the framework of a story without sacrificing suspense and pacing. The overall plots to these books involve the schemes of the Kings of France and England, the French Cardinals and other high court nobility, which is dominated entirely by men. It is hard to write a scene about two women talking together without mentioning a man because they are so wrapped up in the giant multiple schemes that make up the plot of the book. Even what seems like the most trivia scenes are actually there to advance the plot, but the difficulty in writing is how to balance plot, character development, world building, philosophy, suspense and pacing into a storyline that grabs a reader and forces them to keep reading late into the night instead of putting it down and waiting until tomorrow. And same if you reverse it because the men talk a deal about (although, yes, not as much) the women because they are also wound up in the schemes. In a sense, the same can be said about minority characters. Here you have Dumas, a Moor, writing about white people. But again, the story takes place in 17th century about the Musketeers, which are the King’s Guards, and their adventures with secret mission to keep the power in the hands of the King. It would have been nice to see d’Artagnan interact with a Moorish trader or philosopher. The novels are not very realistic at all–everything is masterfully at high tension with crazy plot twists and super-forward pacing–so he could have slipped something unrealistic race-wise in, although would it have been serialized then back in day?
So what would I write? First, I would repeat a pattern that is developed at the beginning of all the novels. In the first book, d’Artagnan accidentally causes himself to set a time for a duel with Athos, Porthos, and Aramis respectively and this serves to be how the characters meet. In the second book, he travels to their homes trying to recruit them for a secret mission and only manages to convince bored Porthos while Athos and Aramis deny him because they are secretly plotting for the other side. In the third book, d’Artagnan travels to find his friend only to not find any of them and is incredible lonely. For my book, I would reverse this. For once, d’Artagnan would stay home and be glad he isn’t off in some war or secret mission when Athos would arrive and ask him to join his scheme, then Porthos, then Aramis. I would have d’Artagnan join with Athos as Athos is obviously his substitute father figure (who I would have return as a character). There is some mistrust between Aramis and d’Artagnan and I would highlight that. Porthos is everyone’s work donkey (he does all the heavy lifting essentially and generally just follows everyone else) so I would have him following Aramis but, for the first time, scheming for himself.
I don’t have a solid plot in my mind but it would involve traveling to Northern Africa, a Musketeer thought to be assassinated only to show up at the end and win an incredible swordfight, and the destruction of at least one famous building.
Oh, wow, I just realized I have been here for four hours and need to eat lunch. Later!
Oh yeah. I am so glad this album was reissued for Record Store Day. It is a favorite of mine and good summer jam. Check it out.