For some peculiar reason, I had a recollection this morning of the day, some years ago now, when Marvel Girl (repeatedly) singing a Wiggles song about Captain Feathersword prompted Miss Malaprop to stomp into the kitchen and announce: “Pirates aren’t human — that’s why they can’t swim.”
I remember suggesting at the time that this proclamation was, perhaps, not entirely accurate, only to be fixed with a mutinous greeny-blue eyed gaze and told even more emphatically, “Well, pirates do swashbuckle, you know — that means they don’t wash.”*
That was the point, I suspect, when I changed the topic of conversation, swiftly applying Blue Jai’s First Rule of Parenting (Distraction), and no doubt reminding myself of the corollary to said Rule (which is, of course, Pick Your Battles).
But the memory of that encounter made me realise that my girls, like many other children the world over, have always been fascinated by that wonderful figure of daring and romance: The Swashbuckler. And — let’s face it — there are plenty of adults out there who still enjoy a tale or two of heroic derring do too.
What’s not to like about a hero who has plenty of good, old-fashioned adventures, tackling all manner of dangers with bravado and — more often than not — with a sword? And I’m not just referring to The Princess Bride here folks, or Johnny Depp’s hilarious take on Captain Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Seriously — does anyone really think that Game of Thrones would be half as successful as it is were it not for its dashing ensemble cast of heroes and idealists, all brandishing weapons of warfare from centuries past?
Nothing beats the flamboyance of a decent sword fight, full of flashing steel and sophisticated steps, not to mention swirling capes (and don’t think for a minute that the capes are not important: every proper superhero has one). And, in this day and age, I suspect our fascination with the Swashbuckler isn’t simply an escape or a diversion, it’s something more important.
Take the recent BBC production of The Musketeers, for example. Admittedly, the Musketeers are by definition the original Swashbucklers, and have been ever since Alexandre Dumas brought Athos, Porthos, Aramis, D’Artagnan and Captain Treville to life on the pages of his novels in the 1840s. But I don’t think it is any accident that The Musketeers has proved to be so popular, or that the show’s loyal fans around the globe are eagerly awaiting the premiere of Season Three.
My suspicion is that in this self-obsessed day and age of the quick fix we want to remember the ideals of a bygone era, and not necessarily for rose-coloured or romantic reasons. We want to be reminded of the concepts of chivalry, of honour, of duty. We want to believe that the famous rallying cry of “All for one!” can drown out the far more commonly heard call of “every man for himself”.
And the Musketeers — consistently — deliver. In every episode, we see them strive to set aside their own aspirations and take responsibility for doing things because they right and just — not because they will bring them personal gain. Time and again they are required to rise above their individual flaws, their respective personal circumstances, and the ever-present temptation to take the easy way out against a parade of brilliantly cast villains — not least of whom is Milady de Winter (Maimie McCoy), Athos’ evil estranged wife.
To date, the Musketeers have confronted the scheming Cardinal Richlieu in Season One (played with class and sass and a whole lot of cape swirling by the inimitable Peter Capaldi), followed by the increasingly unhinged Spanish agent Rochefort (Marc Warren) in Season Two, and are set to tackle King Louis XIII’s illegitimate half-brother (Rupert Everett) in Season Three.
It doesn’t hurt — obviously — that the Musketeers are a bunch of good-looking leather-clad blokes who ride around on horseback saving the day in brilliantly choreographed fight scenes, and that the women they love are often as as brave as they are beautiful. But the Musketeers do help to remind us that chivalry does not have to be a forgotten ideal of days gone by, and that doing what is honourable or dutiful can be something worth aspiring to.
So let’s celebrate the Swashbucklers and their stories, too. Let’s live like daring adventurers, and revisit the romance of a bygone age. And if, along the way, we are reminded of the (somehow higher?) standard of those times — of the ideals of chivalry, honour, duty, loyalty and sacrifice — is that such a bad thing?
My thought is that the Musketeers generally, and Aramis especially, would suggest that applying yourself to such ideals tends to produce positive results — particularly if you do so with a robust sense of humour and a serious amount of swag.
* For the record, I should probably acknowledge that Miss Malaprop’s assertion that “swashbuckling” means “not bathing” is probably historically accurate, even if it is, as a definition, far from complete.