At the end of H.G. Wells’ novel The Time Machine, the protagonist returns to the current world, recounts his story, and leaves, taking three books with him into the future or the past. The question “which three books did the Time Traveler take?” has often been discussed. For myself, I would find selecting only three rather difficult and would probably push the edges of propriety by including all fourteen volumes of Durant’s History of Civilization as one book. (It is one book—a really big book.) That kind of thinking is rather typical of me, I’m afraid.
If I had only three to take, one of them would most certainly be Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo*. Of all the novels I’ve ever read, this one captured my imagination like no other. I must admit I read it for the first time in its entirety much later in life than you might guess. Since then, I’ve come back to it on many occasions. Having a bad day? I pick up the Count. As a remedy it has no equal. Read a few pages and you’ll know what a really bad day is, and yours will be correspondingly elevated and tranquil in comparison.
The novel was originally published as a serial in eighteen installments with the first two released in 1844. The remaining sixteen followed throughout 1845. That they caused a sensation at the time would be an understatement. As each segment became available, the plot and its characters were discussed everywhere, from the salons and boudoirs of Paris to the street corners and cafes of Lyon. The story captured the attention of France, very much like the weekly episodes of a popular television series.
When I was growing up, it was considered a children’s novel. How that was managed is beyond me, given that there are two infanticides, three suicides, copious amounts of hashish, some drug-induced sexual escapades, various poisonings, murders, and kidnappings. I suspect it was a way for parents of earlier generations to securely park their children out of the way for long periods while they did other things. Obviously, they must have been completely oblivious and thought, “Good book for kids—I never read it myself—too long.” Given the novel’s extraordinary length and intriguing subject matter, little Anne or Michael could be left slumped in a chair for a month and be none the wiser. To me, it’s the only explanation.
As to the third book to take, I do have a couple of my own and a third in production. Does a series count as a book? Surely, it does. What about a Kindle?
*I would suggest the following edition: Amazon.com: The Count of Monte Cristo (Penguin Classics) eBook : Dumas, Alexandre, Buss, Robin, Buss, Robin: Books. The work was newly translated and put together in the correct order. Rarely are old books such as these, originally written in French, given a facelift and a smoothing of the English so it flows and reads better. (No money in it.) This edition also contains concise footnotes that explain the many political events occurring at the time of the action and is unabridged.