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Literature / The Club Dumas

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The Club Dumas is a 1993 novel by Arturo Pérez-Reverte. It centers around Lucas Corso, an expert on rare books. A client, Varo Borja, asks Corso to authenticate his copy of De Umbrarum Regni Novem Portis (Of the Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadows). The book has three copies surviving, due to the rest being consigned to the flames in 1667 along with its author Aristide Torchia—because the book is supposedly an adaptation of another book called the Delomelanicon, co-written by Lucifer himself.

As Corso attempts to figure out which of the three copies is the genuine one, he discovers that the Nine Gates has a purpose—when used correctly, the book will call forth the Devil himself from the depths of Hell and grant the summoner great supernatural power. Corso is not the only person who has figured this out, and is chased by others who want the power and protected by a mysterious girl. The deeper Corso delves into the mystery of the book, the deeper the pile of bodies left behind becomes.

Corso has a second mission which involves "The Anjou Wine", a chapter of the original manuscript of The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas, père. This manuscript was once owned by the late Enrique Taillefer, a millionaire who specialized in cookbooks, who killed himself. While traveling around Europe on his mission(s), he finds himself being stalked by a man and woman who look uncannily like Milady de Winter and Comte de Rochefort.

What do these two strangers want with him and what is the connection between The Three Musketeers and the Devil?

The novel was adapted into the 1999 Roman Polański film The Ninth Gate starring Johnny Depp.

This book provides examples of:

  • Affably Morally Ambiguous: "Irene Adler" (or whatever her real, maybe demonic name is).
    • Same for "Rochefort," who strikes up a conversation with Corso near the end of the book, clearly seeing him as a Worthy Opponent. He's even more affable than Corso.
  • Angel Unaware: While the movie only implied it, The Girl is specifically stated to be a fallen angel in the book.
  • Animal Motifs: Corso is repeatedly said to smile like either a wolf or a rabbit, depending on the situation.
  • Antihero: Corso is thoroughly amoral, and unlike in the movie of the book, doesn't get a final redemption or even a Pet the Dog moment.
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: Borja and to a lesser degree, the ex-Ghostapo Ungern.
  • Bald of Evil: Varo Borja.
  • The Baroness: Baroness Ungern, while actually holding the title, is not one.
  • Black-and-Grey Morality.
  • Butch Lesbian: Makarova, who in the words of the author "looked like a fitter from a ball-bearing factory in Leningrad."
  • Call-Back: One of the manuscripts mentioned is a fencing treatise by Don Astarloa - the protagonist from Perez-Reverte's older book The Fencing Master, who spent most of the story working on said treatise.
  • The Devil Is a Loser: The Girl seems to think so. And she would know.
  • Does Not Like Shoes: The Girl/"Irene Adler" apparently enjoys being barefoot, and kicks off her shoes at every opportunity. Given that she is implied to be a fallen angel, she also qualifies as Magical Barefooter.
  • The Dog Was the Mastermind: "Richelieu," person who engineered the entire Three Musketeers plot, turns out to be Boris Balkan, the narrator.
  • Expy: In-Universe. Genre Savvy Corso considers Liana Taillefer for Milady, and Laszlo Nicolavic one for the Comte de Rochefort, while their unseen boss is Richelieu. He begins to use these as codenames until he finds out the truth.
    • Justified Trope by the nature of the Club Dumas and also that "Rochefort" is an actor who specializes in playing literary villains and even played Rochefort before.
  • Fat Bastard: He tries to hide it by wearing tight waistcoasts, but Borja is not a skinny person. And he's definitely a bastard.
  • Femme Fatale: Liana and the Girl.
  • Funny Background Event: During Chapter 5, as Balkan talks to Corso amid his meeting of literary and arts friends, he notes one man getting progressively cheekier with a woman.
  • Genre Savvy: Discussed, played with and ultimately subverted. The Genre Savvy Corso recognizes the connection between the two plotlines, only to find out that there was no such connection, and that by reading too much into the situation he was distracted from what was actually going on.
    • Corso himself jokes about his Genre Savvy nature, noting that among the things he does not trust is The Girl, due to her using the name of the one character to get the better of Sherlock Holmes.
  • Ghostapo: Baroness Ungern was the assistant of Hitler's personal astrologer when she was younger. Corso produces a photo of her with Himmler to blackmail her at one point.
  • Guile Hero: Or anti-hero in this case. Corso is not much of a fighter, his skills lying in his knowledge of languages, books, and human interaction. His Genre Savvy nature helps too. He's a little too Genre Savvy, but his figuring it out nearly earns him an invitation into the titular Club Dumas.
  • Hell Seeker: Varo Borja really wants to meet the Devil.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: Discussed, in regard to Dumas' treatment of Cardinal Richelieu in his books.
    • Occurs in-story with Giordano Bruno, who while a bit of a kook, was not a devil worshipper by any means. Much the same goes for Madame de Montespan. She was certainly vain and arrogant, but not a devil worshipper, either.
  • How We Got Here
  • Impoverished Patrician: Viktor Fargas.
  • It Was a Dark and Stormy Night: Invoked and played with.
  • Icy Blue Eyes: Liana's.
  • Karmic Death: Varo Borja. Maybe; it's left ambiguous.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: Corso becomes increasingly aware that he is in a novel, and comments on the line between his individual self and his role in the narrative. Although, this may just be Balkan, the narrator, commenting on the nature of the story that he himself spun around Corso.
  • Lemony Narrator: The narrator is Boris Balkan, an editor who mostly narrates from Corso's perspective in the third person after the fact. He enters the story and switches to the first person whenever he becomes relevant. It turns out that he's the mastermind behind the Three Musketeers plot.
  • Mark of the Supernatural: The Girl's eyes are bright green, and often described as translucent or crystalline. They contain strange lights and reflections, and Corso is mesmerized by them. It's heavily implied that she is the Devil.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: There is no real proof for The Girl being the Devil.
  • Meaningful Name: Boris Balkan.
    • Intentional or not, Borja is the Spanish version of "Borgia." Yes, those Borgias.
    • Also, Varo is the Spanish version of Varus. Like the Roman general who misread the situation and caused his own death and the destruction of three legions at the Battle of Teutoburg.
    • Taillefer was a Norman juggler who fought at the Battle of Hastings.
  • Metafiction:
    He was about to add, "this is real life, not a crime novel," but didn't. At this point in the story, the line between fantasy and reality appeared rather tenuous. The flesh-and-blood Corso, having an ID, a known place of residence, and a physical presence, of which his aching bones [...] were proof, was increasingly tempted to see himself as a real character in an imaginary world. But that wasn't good. From there it was only a small step to believing he was an imaginary character who thinks he's real in an imaginary world. Only a small step to going nuts. And he wondered whether someone, some twisted novelist or drunken writer of cheap screenplays, at that very moment saw him as an imaginary character in an imaginary world who thought he wasn't real. That really would be too much.
  • Money, Dear Boy: In-Universe. Baroness Ungern confesses to Corso that she's not as interested in the occult as she once was and writes occult books to maintain her lavish lifestyle.
    • Enrique Taillefer wrote cookbooks for the same reason.
  • Nazi Nobleman: Sort of. While apparently friendly with Nazis, Baroness Ungern was not a noblewoman back then.
  • Nouveau Riche: Enrique and Liana Taillefer who "have more money than taste," according to Corso.
  • Plagiarism in Fiction: Enrique Taillefer plagiarized an obscure novel, Angeline de Gravaillac, for his book, The Dead Man's Hand, or Anne of Austria's Page. Balkan's discovery of this fact drove him to suicide.
  • The Reveal: The Dumas and Nine Doors plots are not connected like Corso thinks, and "Richelieu" is none other than Boris Balkan.
  • Rooting for the Empire: In-universe, Liana is a big fan of Milady de Winter and hates the Musketeers.
  • Shout-Out: Listing all of them would take up a page on its own.
    • Most obviously, there's a blatant shout-out to Sherlock Holmes when the Girl identifies herself once as Irene Adler.
    • And the entire interaction between Corso and The Girl is a reference to Jacques Cazotte's The Devil in Love.
  • Shown Their Work: On every subject from book-collecting to forgery to Alexandre Dumas' personal life to demonology.
  • Smug Snake: Varo Borja, so much.
  • Summoning Artifact: The Nine Gates, when used correctly, can summon the Devil.
  • Textual Celebrity Resemblance: According to Baroness Ungern, Lucifer looks like John Barrymore in Grand Hotel.
  • Tome of Eldritch Lore: De Umbrarum Regni Novem Portis, as well as the Delomelanicon.
  • Unwitting Pawn: Varo Borja suspected from the beginning that the authentic engravings were spread across three books and sent out Corso to confirm this theory and to serve as a fall guy for the murders of Fargas and Ungern.
  • Who Writes This Crap?!: Corso begins to notice the similarities between his own life and The Three Musketeers, and has this reaction.
    Corso swore gently under his breath. He'd have given a rare incunabulum, in good condition, to punch the face of whoever was writing this ridiculous script.