Back in the day, Alexandre Dumas wrote the book as a mini-series. That format explains a lot— it was basically a TV show for the folks of 1850. And when we here in the twenty-first century sit down to watch TV, we want to laugh, to growl at the bad guys and sigh when the good guys find love; we’re not particularly seeking intellectual challenges. That’s exactly what you get with ‘The Count of Monte Cristo,’ and that’s exactly why I was frustrated with it: I could have watched TV for a half-hour and gotten the same pay-off.
In the pilot episode, things are looking up for Edmond, the protagonist and the guy who becomes the titular Count. He’s getting a promotion and preparing to marry the love of his life. Then a couple of jealous dudes frame him for political crimes, and he gets clapped in prison. Forever. Or at least until the next episode, in which Edmond busts out of jail, digs up some buried treasure, and goes back to seek revenge on the bastards who ruined his life.
Edmond— or the Count of Monte Cristo, as he’s called once he has a chest full of diamonds to throw around— does get his revenge, but the plot is admittedly a bit more dynamic than I’d expected. (Then again, any television writer knows there has to be something to keep the viewers interested.) While the Count is ruining the bad guys financially and breaking up their marriages with his bejeweled right hand, his left is giving out gold to prevent the good guys from going bankrupt and shooting themselves, not to mention playing Cupid to ensure even more felicity. However, he would never have the power and influence to do any of this if it weren’t for that convenient stash of francs he has. And yes, I know that in real life money does equal power, but that’s not a message that resonates with me personally, so the Count’s victories (benevolent or otherwise) left a slightly sour taste in my mouth.
But Dumas wasn’t teaching life lessons in ‘The Count of Monte Cristo;’ he was just telling a story. In fact, I would worry if a person did take any lessons away from the novel, because they’d probably end up being excessively materialistic and also convinced that everyone in the whole world will absolutely die if they can’t marry their sweethearts. This book is purely for entertainment value, and it does deliver that: There are shipwrecks and love stories and murder mysteries and a happy ending and emotionally manipulating scenes aplenty. As a refreshing break from manic Russians the story was effective, but intellectually stimulating it was not.