Allow me if you will to take a plot, shine a laser at it and see if, like a cat, you can follow it: Once upon time there was a young man who was unjustly imprisoned. Then one day, an old man finds him and mentors him, all the while telling him of a secret treasure hidden on a forgotten island. The young man executes a daring escape, finds the treasure and takes revenge on his unjust imprisoners. Did you follow it? Or are you one of those cats that prefer shoelaces?
Make no mistake; the following was not a random exercise in plot-following. It was intense scientific test performed with an actual plot taken from number 64 on our countdown: The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. This is the condensed version of course. The actual plot from the actual novel is so serpentine and convoluted that it would be difficult to get too far into it without having to leave breadcrumbs. The labyrinthine nature of the plot is due to three important factors. Number one: The book was written for humans not cats. It seems that the bigger brain on a human allows for more characters to be processed at one time. Number two: the novel was first published in serial form. Meaning readers only got a little bit of it at a time and Dumas took a long time telling it. Therefore, by the end, if you hadn’t been following from the beginning, it was difficult to catch up. Factor number three is this: Alexander Dumas did not actually write the plot of The Count of Monte Cristo.
No, a guy by the name of Auguste Maquet wrote it. This is not a joke. Alexander Dumas always got the credit, but his collaborator, a professor at the local university, wrote the basic plots of most of his novels. Not only that but he was a bit of a wunderkind professor, having achieved professorship by the time he was 18. The two first met when Dumas rewrote Maquet’s play called Bathilde. Making it into an instant hit. This thrilled Maquet, and they entered into a partnership whereby Maquet stayed out of the limelight. The legend goes that Maquet was responsible for plot and characters and Dumas was responsible for the dialogue and for stretching the stories into opulent sprawling epics published by literary magazines in 18 separate parts.
It is difficult to tell whether it was Dumas or Maquet’s responsibility to choose the milieu, but one of the coolest aspects of the story involves the formidable island prison known as Chateau D’if. This is where the main character Edmond Dantes and his mentor are held captive. It is an actual island located off the coast of Marseille in France. Originally started as a fortress, it later became a prison. The fortress itself was such an intimidating piece of rock that no army ever even bothered to test its defenses. When later it was turned into a prison, it made a very good one. For not only was it solid stone, but also sat on an island surrounded by an insurmountable windswept sea. Much like Alcatraz without the fog. Furthermore, although the plot of the novel involves a prison break, no prisoner is known to have ever escaped. Well, besides Sirius Black of course.
Next up … 63!