Robert T. Rhode

Robert T. Rhode
Robert T. Rhode

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Illustrations I Loved in My Earliest Years 6 (Last Installment in This Series)

When I was in junior high school, my mother bought books at an auction of teacher Flora Farden’s estate. Among them was Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers, translated by William Robson. D. Appleton and Company published the book in 1899. Combining two volumes, the hardcover boasts 250 illustrations by Maurice Leloir that were engraved on wood by J. Huyot. Flora’s brother, Millard Farden, had autographed the book in June of 1901. I had never read such a long work of literature before. It contained 715 pages! I was not confident I would have the stamina! … but the spectacular art captured—and held—my interest! I thrilled at the derring-do of d’Artagnan and his formidable friends Athos, Porthos, and Aramis.

Thrilling to d’Artagnan’s Exploits
In Maurice Leloir’s Illustrations
Engraved on Wood by J. Huyot
In Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers
Translated by William Robson
D. Appleton & Company, 1899

In my teenage years, I dreamed large dreams of becoming an illustrator or a writer or a composer. Looking back, I guess I managed to bring the first two dreams to fruition, although not precisely in the ways I envisioned. When I studied the engravings in Dumas’ wonderful adventure, my eyes were filled with grand scenes packed with action: much like the life I predicted for myself.

I read all 715 pages. … and I wished there were more! (I did not realize that Dumas published two other works that can be viewed as sequels.) Long after I completed the tome, I paged back through it to see again the marvelous illustrations. They captured the sheer fun of d’Artagnan’s life. I use the word “fun” unguardedly because even the most intense crises with the direst consequences never seem so dreadful as to inspire horror while reading The Three Musketeers; instead, the reader instinctively knows (or Dumas cleverly signals) that all will be well: that the main characters will survive to triumph!

Leloir’s art perfectly suits the tone of Dumas’ historical novel. The fun that I mentioned is there to be seen in the postures of the figures. The handsome costumes amid the shimmering glory of French aristocracy are plenty to keep a teenager’s imagination running wild.

I have carried The Three Musketeers wherever I have gone. It has stood on a secure shelf somewhere nearby in every townhouse and home I have occupied. I have it beside me now, while I write this sentence. The bright red of the cover and the shield with crossed rapiers is just as bright today as it was when my mother purchased the book, and the gilt edges of the pages shine just as enticingly. The dreams the book contains are just as real for me today—and just as precious as ever!       

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