Books vs. Movies: “The Man in the Iron Mask”

The following post is part of the Books vs. Movies Summer Blogging Challenge/Giveaway hosted right here at The Artistic Christian! Since the contest is my own, this counts as a “Judges’ Entry” and is just for fun…

[WARNING: Spoilers ahead!]

Iron Mask Book Cover

Summer Movie Magic

“Some of this is legend, but at least this much is fact – when rioting citizens of France destroyed the Bastille, they discovered within its records this mysterious entry: Prisoner # 64389000 – The Man in the Iron Mask.” – Randall Wallace, The Man in the Iron Mask (1998 movie release)

That was it. I was hooked from the first sentence.

Every once in a while a story comes around that really captures your imagination. And if you happen to discover a story like this during the summer, while everyone is looking for a great read, then you have the makings of a beautiful vacation!

This is what I found in the 1998 film, The Man in the Iron Mask, which was written, produced, and directed by Randall Wallace. While the movie included average performances from the actors and several truly ridiculous moments, it was the story behind the film (and the tantalizing prospect of it actually being true) that gripped me.

The mere thought of an evil king being quietly removed from the throne and replaced with a kinder, more honorable man by a courageous team of musketeers who were willing to die in the name of honor and justice made me want to cheer. And as the film drew to a close, it looked like good truly did triumph over evil in every way:

“The Man in the Iron Mask was never found. It was whispered among his jailers that he received a royal pardon and was taken to the country where he lived quietly, often visited by the Queen. The King known as Louis XIV brought his people food, prosperity and peace and is remembered as the greatest ruler in the history of his nation.” – Randall Wallace, The Man in the Iron Mask (1998 movie release)

I floated out of the movie theater that day, completely satisfied. I’m a sucker for happy endings, and this story delivered…all was right with the world, and my mind was buzzing. If this story actually did take place, I had to know more!

I raced to the bookstore and bought a paperback copy of The Man in the Iron Mask by Alexandre Dumas, which was based on Dumas’ The Vicomte of Bragelonne: Ten Years Later, a serial publication which was published in fragments between 1847-1850.

I dove into the book, expecting an even more exciting – and more beautiful – story than the two-hour film I’d just seen.

What I found made me want to rip the cover off the book and set its pages aflame!

Literary Letdown

As an English translation of a French work, the book was not the light summer reading I had hoped for. Instead, it turned out to be heavy-duty reading, and its theme was even heavier.

The book’s message? Chivalry is dead. Honor is dead. Everything good about the world is dying out, and evil is flourishing.

“Seriously, Alexandre Dumas?” I wanted to scream. “Are you kidding me right now?”

Instead of the happy tale of good triumphing over evil from the film, I ended up reading about the unfortunate and grisly deaths of each of the beloved Three Musketeers. Oh, and the good twin who was supposed to graciously forgive his brother after becoming one of the best rulers France had ever seen? He was busted and left to die in that horrendous iron mask while the selfish and repugnant Louis XIV spent his days tormenting the citizens of France while rolling in wealth and luxury!

I was mad… seriously angry. If Dumas were still alive, I might have looked him up, just to give him a good punch in the jaw!

I mean, check out the following quotes from the book. Talk about depression!

“He who dies gains; he who sees others die loses.” ― Alexandre Dumas, The Man in the Iron Mask

“The voice of human nature is nothing but one prolonged cry.” ― Alexandre Dumas, The Man in the Iron Mask

The experience taught me an important lesson about movie screenplays that claim to be based on a particular book. The storylines often have no relation to one another except for the basic concept and the names of a few characters. Talk about a letdown!

Coming to Grips with The Man in the Iron Mask

Despite my fury, I didn’t end up throwing the book away. And I’m glad I didn’t.

Looking back now, I’m actually able to appreciate what Dumas was trying to accomplish with his original tale. At the time I viewed the book as nothing but gloom, doom, and a reason to hurl oneself off a cliff. But that wasn’t the point at all.

Now I understand that while Dumas was indeed sorrowful that the world was changing, and chivalry and honor seemed to be dying out, that some things would never change.

Take our beloved Three Musketeers, for example. Yes, in the actual novel, they all die absolutely gruesome deaths. But they die standing for what they believe in… they die for honor and justice. What Dumas is saying is that though the world grows darker and no longer tolerates honor and chivalry, that honor and chivalry still exist in the hearts of good men. No matter how dark things become, there will always be good in the world…as long as there are good men who are willing to pay any price to stand up for what is right.

“That which is actually good never alters.” ― Alexandre Dumas, The Man in the Iron Mask

Now that I’m older, I appreciate this novel by Alexandre Dumas on an entirely new level. Instead of leaving me angry and depressed, its pages leave me feeling inspired and determined to stand against those who would do great harm to others. And the movie I loved so much? The more I see it, the more ridiculous and unrealistic it seems. It didn’t do very well in the box office, and I’m beginning to see why.

It turns out that, in spite of the harmful effects of “summer movie candy,” I did discover a literary diamond after all. The book still sits on my shelf, and the picture of the hero wearing an inhumane mask of wrought iron no longer leaves me feeling upset. Instead, I feel inspired. Because you see, the fact that wicked men were able to force him to wear that mask isn’t the point.

The point is that he was willing to wear the mask. He remained a good person, no matter what the cost.

Now that is a story worth getting excited about.

Iron Mask Pic

I wear the mask. It does not wear me.” – Phillippe, Man in the Iron Mask (1998 movie release)

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