Hero of the day: ‘Swashbucklers’ always help damsels in distress

“What person who loves the English language does not like the word ‘swashbuckling’?”

This is what I asked my wife as we waited for the opening act of the Indiana Repertory Theatre production of The Three Musketeers.

Becky nodded, yes, it was indeed a cool word. The guy in the seat in front of us thought so, too. He turned around, and we had a nice conversation with him and his wife about his college days when he took fencing classes. Eventually, the house lights dimmed, and the play began.

In the ensuing two hours we and the fencing couple as well as the rest of the audience were treated to a performance filled with adventure, intrigue, humor, tragedy, villainy, nobility, improbable coincidence, sensational melodrama and, yes, enough swashbuckling swordplay to satisfy the hidden chivalrous hero in us all. The cast members were clearly enjoying themselves as much as we were.

The play runs through Oct. 15. It is worth the trip. You will be glad you went.

As we were walking to the theater, Becky asked me if I had read “The Three Musketeers.” As an English major and former literature teacher, I am always a little ashamed to admit I haven’t read this or that Famous Novel by some well-known Great Author.

No, I answered, I had never read the book. (My defense when asked is usually: “There are so many books; and so little time.”)

Somehow, though, I was vaguely aware of the story. I knew there were three musketeers as well as a fourth hero, D’Artagnan. I had learned this possibly from the classic comics of my youth. (Today this form of stories with pictures has morphed into the more highbrow literary term “graphic novels.”)

I also seem to remember some cartoons which may have referenced the story. Or maybe I am just thinking of the commercial which lingers in my youthful TV memory, the one with the musketeer trio rakishly posed on a castle drawbridge, swords raised while shilling for Three Musketeers candy bars.

The novel was written in 1844 by Alexander Dumas. Dumas was a successful author who made and lost several fortunes over his life. He was a prolific, as well as best-selling author, publishing more than 100,000 pages during his lifetime.

According to the biography included in the program, at one point in his career he employed several assistants who wrote first drafts of outlines he provided. He then inserted his own dialogue where appropriate and penned the final chapters himself. Hmm? I wonder if I could get something like that going with my columns.

I enjoyed the play, and I have since thought how great it would have been for the young Norman to have been there to see it. The young Norman who never picked up a long, straight stick without imagining it, at least briefly, as a sword. The kid who wore a bath towel as a cape and swung his “sword” in the air zip, zip, zip making the mark of Zorro, another in the long, honorable line of swashbuckling heroes.

And speaking of capes, the costumes for the play were awesome. Tricorne hats with feathers; tabards with the Fleur-de-lis emblazoned across the front; long waistcoats; those crazy musketeer boots with the tops that fold down. And of course, the sword and scabbard, without which no swashbuckler outfit was complete. So when do you suppose capes are going to come back in fashion?

Literary types refer to the swashbuckler as an “archetype” of European literature. These characters are heroic and idealistic.

To quote one source, they “rescue damsels in distress, defend the downtrodden, and in general save the day.”

If you are a kid who likes to pretend, this is not a bad “archetype” to have as a role model, I guess. Not bad even as an adult, when you think about it.

Norman Knight, a retired Clark-Pleasant Middle School teacher, writes this weekly column for the Daily Journal. Send comments to letters@dailyjournal.net.