Dumas, Alexandre

Tagged: Author

(1802-1870) French dramatist and author, best remembered for romantic historical fictions about France whose most famous examples appear in the Musketeerssequence [for this, and for detailed discussion of Dumas' extensive fantasy and supernatural oeuvre, see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy]. His use of anonymous collaborators, most prominent among them Paul Lacroix and Auguste Macquet, is fully acknowledged; but collaborations were usually restricted to research and plot outlines. Tales like "Un voyage à la Lune" (8 October 1857 Le Monte Cristo; trans Harry A Spurr as "Trip to the Moon" in The Dumas Fairy Tale Book coll 1924) are basically fantasy. Also of direct fantasy and horror interest is Le Meneur de loups (1857 3vols; trans Alfred Allinson as The Wolf-Leader 1904; trans cut and edited by L Sprague de Camp 1950), whose protagonist enters into a deadly bargain with a great spirit-wolf, paying dearly for every act of revenge he is magically allowed to enact [for Answered Prayers see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below].

But Dumas is relevant in the frame of this encyclopedia mainly for one tale, his most famous. Almost certainly taking and transforming some elements from two novels by Paul Féval – the revenge tale as initiated in Les Mystères de London ["The Mysteries of London"] (20 December 1843-12 September 1844 Le Courrier Français; 1844), and the costumed crime fighter in Le loup blanc (1843; trans anon as The White Wolf circa 1850) – he created a proto-Superhero of sf interest in Edmont Dantès, the protagonist of Le Comte de Monte-Christo (28 August 1844-15 January 1846 Journal des Débats; 1844-1845 18vols; trans Emma Hardy as The Count of Monte Cristo 1846 3vols) with the anonymous collaboration of Auguste Macquet in its early drafts [for bibliographical details, and the change from Christo to Cristo, see Checklist below; note that all English editions after 1848 are translated from the revised text of 1846]. Though innocent of any crime (see Crime and Punishment), Dantès is incarcerated for fourteen years, during which period he begins his long metamorphosis, escaping from Prison into a mysterious obscurity from which he emerges, a decade later, almost supernaturally agile, strong, learned, sensitive, untiring, immune to liquor, able to see in the dark, inexhaustibly rich, creator of an elixir capable of restoring life to the dead, with a Fortress of Solitude to which he can retreat on occasion, and costumed in order to conceal his secret Identity; in his pursuit of evil-doers, often in disguise – ostensibly to take revenge on those who had conspired to imprison him, but with the effect of purging society of evil – he becomes almost a force of nature (see also Superman), a Mysterious Stranger invading the society of those who wronged him. This book was a powerful influence on Jules Verne, whose career Dumas promoted, in particular for tales like Mathias Sandorf (1885); on Gaston Leroux's Le Roi Mystère ["The Mystery King"] (1910), on M P Shiel's The Lord of the Sea (1901; savagely cut 1924); and, especially and acknowledgedly, on Alfred Bester's Tiger! Tiger! (October 1956-January 1957 Galaxy as "The Stars My Destination"; 1956; rev vt The Stars My Destination 1957; rev 1996). More recently, both plot and characters were openly homaged in John Jakes's spoofish Monte Cristo #99 (1970), and in great detail by Gwyneth Jones in Spirit (2008). Direct Sequels by Other Hands include Jules Lermina's The Son of Monte-Cristo (1881).

Most of the Count's characteristics are replicated, with cartoon-like intensity, in the portrait of the eponymous hero of Dumas' last and unfinished novel, Le Chevalier de Sainte-Hermine (1869 Le Moniteur universel; 2005; trans Lauren Yoder as The Last Cavalier: Being the Adventures of Count Sainte-Hermine in the Age of Napoleon2008), who can also sing like an angel and suddenly speaks perfect English (though he has never been to England). Characters such as Edmond Dantès and Sainte-Hermine are a small step from the pulp Heroes and Antiheroes of the next century.

Though his vast oeuvre may reveal further examples, Dumas's closest approach to Proto SF as such seems to have been an "adaptation" of William Maginn's "Daniel O'Rourke's Wonderful Voyage to the Moon" in Fairy Legends of the South of Ireland (anth 1825) edited by Thomas Crofton Croker; in Dumas's version, published as "Un Voyage à la Lune" in Causeries (coll 1857), the original protagonist O'Rourke, now renamed Mocquet, is plucked from a mysterious Island by a giant eagle which deposits him on the Moon; after several days, he is taken back to Earth by an enormous goose. In its use of the Immortality topos, his Wandering Jew tale, Isaac Laquedem (1852-1853 serial publication not traced; 1853; trans anon as Izaak Lakadam 1853), also approaches sf, but not closely. [JC/DRL]

Alexander Dumas père

born Villers-Cotterêts, Aisne, France: 24 July 1802

died Dieppe, France: 5 December 1870

works (highly selected)

collections and stories

about the author


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