The d'Artagnans of Dumas

A young man... let us draw his portrait with a single pen stroke (...)

D'ArtagnanA long, dark face; prominent cheek bones, the sign of shrewdness; over-developed jaw muscles, unmistakable sign by which we recognize the Gascon, even without his beret, and our young man wore a beret ornamented with a feather; the eye open and intelligent; the nose hooked but fine; too big for an adolescent, too small for a fully-grown man; without his long sword which, hanging from its baldric in skin, struck its owner's calves when he walked and the bristling coat of his mount when riding, an inexperienced eye would mistake him for a traveling farmer. 
Alexander Dumas
The Three Musketeers.

From the illustrated novel to film : portraits of d'Artagnan

D'ArtagnanAs Dumas himself said, he drew d'Artagnan's portrait with “single pen stroke”. 

The description is rather precise for certain details—cheek bones, jaw, nose—but the assembly of these details leaves room for imagination.

He adds a brief run-down of his personality –shrewd, quick, intelligent, and … Gascon.

There is very little but just enough to allow the reader to combine these character traits with this physical sketch in order to arrive at his own image of the hero.

And so, it would not be surprising to discover that millions of d'Artagnans exist inside the minds of millions of people around the world.

And yet, starting with the very first edition of Dumas' book, illustrators have attempted to give us an image to match the text. With a few exceptions, the illustration we find presents a rather good-looking young man, liable to seduce a wide public. The hero in the image is obviously young, full of life, rather elegant and pleasant to look at. 

The only noticeable differences in his physique can be imputed to changes in the style of illustration. Starting in the 1950's, all the collections for young readers began adapting Dumas' novel and produced their own drawing of d'Artagnan which, while conforming to the aesthetic criteria of the time, remained relatively faithful to Dumas' –rather vague– description of the hero. 

It is with the novel's adaptation to film that the physical representation of d'Artagnan became more complex and diversified. 

For one, each director has appropriated the story, remodelling it to a certain extent. 

... So, too, does the director project his own image of the hero, who appears in each film with a very different physique. 

D'Artagnan - Jean-Paul Belmondo

From Douglas Fairbanks to Michael York, from Belmondo to Gene Kelly –not to mention that curious operetta singer, Aimé Simon-Gérard—cinema has blurred the image by offering us a d'Artagnan that is sometimes very much removed from the description given by Dumas. 






The novel's possible repercussions and new portraits of d'Artagnan

It was tempting to wish to fill in the shadows of d'Artagnan's life. What kind of childhood did he have? What ancestry? What other famous figures of his time did he meet? Were there any illicit love affairs that Dumas chose not to write about? All these possibilities give film-makers ideas for new scenarios and twists. 

And so we have d'Artagnan meeting Cyrano de Bergerac or the Man in the Iron Mask. In this film version of his life, d'Artagnan has a son or daughter, in that version he has fantasies of murderous vengeance or a secret love affair with the queen. 

D'Artagnan's physique evolves along with the twists in scenario. 

Justin Chambers interprets a hero who is young and foaming with rancor, while Philippe Noiret shows us a peaceful old man. Gabriel Byrne's d'Artagnan is a forty-something gentleman: calm, serious and distinguished. Florent Pagny gives us a brooding seducer. Christophe Malavoy's incarnation of d'Artagnan –a handsome, charming young man— contrasts with Jean-Pierre Cassel's rough and impetuous Gascon. 






D'Artagnan the mouse or D'Artagnan the dog?

The first is American, but this representation of our hero as a mouse can only do him honor, as this mouse is none other than Mickey, the most popular, cunning and intelligent of Walt Disney's characters. 

DArtagnan - Souris


At the same time, the televised dog version –Dogtanian– embodies loyalty, confidence, reason and an enterprising spirit. The cartoons have chosen as their animated version of d'Artagnan the animal mascot most likely to attract a young public. 


In the manga version, d'Artagnan remains a young man close to the illustrations found in books. 

D'Artagnan - Manga

In reality, regardless of the image seen in a drawing or on screen, each of us has his own mental image of d'Artagnan. 

As long as he continues to embody the same values of heroism, it matters less and less what he looks like…

Philippe Candeloro understood this when he appeared as d'Artagnan at the Olympic Games in Nagano in 1998. 

Even in Japan , each person carries a little piece of d'Artagnan inside of himself…