The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas is my second-favorite book. Ever. Since we got Mercy's name from it, I decided it was high time I reread it, in honor of our new daughter and because I haven't read it in years.
I first read this book at age eleven, and even though I didn't understand parts of it (the hashish references, for instance), the tale of betrayal and revenge captured my imagination enough to keep me reading. I had read a radio drama version of part of the story in a literature textbook, and I liked it so well, I convinced Mom to help me find the book in the adult section of our local library. I remember that copy well: a worn, red hardcover, the edges frayed; faded brown pages that crackled as I turned them; an antique print that sometimes wavered a bit, one letter rising above its fellows now and then; a dusty, comforting smell of age and wisdom and knowledge greeting me whenever I opened it. I remember being so proud to be reading a grown-up book -- I even took it with me to the orthodontist's office and read it, not just in the waiting room, but in the exam chair until Dr. Pokley arrived. (He was a wonderful orthodontist, despite his unfortunate last name.)
I've read it twice since then, once in high school and once during summer break from college. It's amazing how little I remembered. Oh, I recalled the basic plot: Edmond Dantes, young and promising sailor, is arrested during the feast before his marriage. The charges are false, trumped up by his enemies, but he is imprisoned in the dreaded Chateau d'If anyway. Years pass, Dantes escapes, uses a buried treasure to transform himself into the Count of Monte Cristo, and sets out to revenge himself on the men responsible for his unjust imprisonment.
I didn't remember all the scenes set in Rome and Paris that constitute the middle of the book. And one scene I thought belonged in this book must be from Dumas' The Three Musketeers instead. In fact, I only clearly recalled the first quarter of the book and a later subplot about two characters named Valentine and Maximilian. So reading this a fourth time was not only a joyous reunion with beloved characters, but an adventure of discovery as well.
This is a story about revenge, but revenge is not something Christians are encouraged to seek. Maybe that's why this book is something of a guilty pleasure for me. It's a bit like the story of Joseph (Genesis 37 and 39-46), only without the forgiving end. That's my favorite Bible story, so I guess the themes of unjust imprisonment, eventual triumph, vengeance, and mercy resonate with me.
I've seen several movie versions of The Count of Monte Cristo, and the best by far is the 1975 version starring Richard Chamberlain as Dantes, with Louis Jourdan, Tony Curtis, and Donald Pleasence as his enemies. That version is how my husband first encountered the story, and the only one I like well enough to own a copy of.
If you love stories of revenge with a bit of a swashbuckling swagger to them, read this book or watch that version! You won't be disappointed.