Saved by the Selkie and The Three Musketeers


If any of you have read Saved by the Selkie, then you know one of the leads is Aramis. And Aramis is joined, at various points in the book, by Athos and Porthos.

Now, if you know anything about literature (or pop culture), then you know those are also the names of the three musketeers.

So … what gives? Why pick these three particular names?

Saved by the Selkie and the Historical Setting

Saved by the Selkie has a pseudo-historical backdrop. It’s the age of sail, which is, vaguely, between the late 1500s and the mid-19th century. This overlaps with a few other historical “epochs,” such as the Enlightenment and, yes, the age of the musketeers.

That was one of the reasons I took on the names of Dumas’s characters.

A white ship with masts and sails on choppy waters under a cloud sky.
(Inge Wallumrød / Pexels.com)

Now, the Mythos Island series isn’t strictly historical. Rather obviously, we have a seventeenth- or eighteenth-century ship sailing through the Arctic Ocean to reach a mythical wandering island.

Mythos doesn’t exist, and neither did ships that could truly weather Arctic weather. Even in the twentieth century, boats were getting iced in and stuck if they tried to sail through the ice. The season was incredibly short. That’s one reason it’s so worrisome that the legendary Northwest Passage is now seemingly navigable almost year round.

In short, if you want strictly historical, you’re going to need a different book.

Dumas played with history in a somewhat similar way. His characters were indeed based on real people and real events. Yet he was certainly, to some degree, fictionalizing what “actually” happened.

The Three Musketeers Were Real People

Yeah, Aramis, Porthos, Athos, and d’Artagnan are based on real people, as are most of the supporting cast. (I mean, you probably guessed Anne of Austria and Cardinal Richelieu were actual historical figures.)

As I mentioned, though, Dumas took some liberties with his story. We know a bit about each of the men who inspired the musketeers. We do know that they served as musketeers. And Dumas was using a fictionalized version of d’Artagnan’s own account.

But from there, he embellished and made up various exploits for his characters. We have the real people they’re based on, and then we have Dumas’s romantic heroes, who always save the day.
Since then, the musketeers have been adapted many, many times over. The story is one that continues to inspire us centuries later.

Re-Adapting Characters into a New Setting

One thing I haven’t seen done much with the musketeers is putting them into the New World or Age of Sail settings. Dumas is very concerned with happenings on the Continent—Spain versus France and that sort of thing.

Yet the musketeers were contemporary with Louis XIV, the Sun King, who believed in absolute monarchy. Louis XIV ruled when New France was a big thing in North America. One of the reasons he was able to rule as he did was because France was rich from the colonies. After Louis XIV, many French holdings (like New France, today’s Quebec) were surrendered. The diminishing French Empire and the cost of securing it is one factor that contributed to later civil unrest, alongside a whole host of other issues.

Nonetheless, the point here stands. The musketeers co-existed in this age of empire, yet hardly anyone says, “Hey, what if d’Artagnan and co were sailing around the Caribbean or being coureurs du bois in the frontier woodlands of North America?”

Okay, But the Brits Did All That

Did you know that John Cabot, one of the influential explorers of what is today called Canada, was actually an Italian? Yeah, his name was Giovanni Caboto.

While North America was largely British territory, that doesn’t mean everyone running around was an Englishman. Privateers were hired all the time—and their nationality often didn’t matter too much. So it’s not inconceivable that Aramis and his crew—much as they might be French—would be sailing around in “British” waters. Often, explorers in particular went to different governments to see who would fund them.

So, Aramis’s expedition to some mythical island is not at all an anomaly. I mean, Isabella and Ferdinand funded Columbus’s voyage when he told them he could simply sail around the world to India. And we all know Columbus wasn’t a Spaniard.

Similarly, imperialist powers were looking for both new shipping routes and for new lands to exploit. It’s not at all inconceivable that young men like the musketeers would instead join the navy—or become privateers or pirates—and sail on the hunt for new adventures.

Thinking of a Series

The cover of SAVED BY THE SELKIE features a brunet man in period dress, with a seal in the background.

Aramis was the first name that came to mind when I was working on Saved by the Selkie. Unfortunately, one thing that often happens to me when I name my characters is that the names “stick.” Aramis was intended to be a placeholder—but it stuck, and nothing quite felt right after that.

Whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing that it stuck the way it did is debatable. Nonetheless, it did give me the idea of turning Saved by the Selkie into a series. After all, if I had a book about one musketeer, why not the other two (or three, if we count d’Artagnan)?

Thus, Lir was given brothers, and Porthos and Athos both made appearances in Selkie.


One of the other reasons the names Aramis, Porthos, and Athos are easily absorbed is that they’re actually pseudonyms.

I mentioned earlier that Dumas drew on real people to inspire his three musketeers. Athos and d’Artagnan share their names with their real-life counterparts, although these are their surnames. In the Dumas novels, we don’t learn their first names.

Aramis and Porthos are also fictionalized versions of real people. Porthos is named after Isaac de Porthou. Aramis draws on Henri d’Aramitz, which is close enough. Yet Dumas gives Aramis an entirely different name as well: Rene d’Herblay.

While all four were indeed musketeers, Dumas’s version is so highly fictionalized, most of them have nothing in common with their real-life counterparts beyond the name.

Thus, “Porthos” and “Athos” become kinds of pseudonyms. Anyone could be Porthos or Athos, really. That’s especially true for Aramis, who has an entire other identity within the Dumas novels as well.

I like to think this adds maybe another layer to my “connection” here. Aramis, Porthos, and Athos in the Mythos Island series could just as easily be working under aliases. Maybe they’ve picked the names up from history or maybe even from someone writing novels in their own time.

This isn’t necessarily far-fetched either. In Saved by the Selkie, Aramis hints at least a couple of times that they’re working as privateers—state-sanctioned pirates, effectively. You probably wouldn’t go around handing out your real name to others if you were involved in piracy. You might work under a couple of different aliases, to help protect your benefactor and the country you’re working for.

Thus, we don’t know if Aramis is actually this fellow’s name, a pseudonym he’s chosen to work under, or something else.

Incorporating Other Elements of the Story

Once I’d decided I was going to leave Aramis as Aramis and bring in the other musketeers for a series, I began to pull on other bits and bobs. One thing I drew in was Athos’s status as a noble and his father’s station. The boys needed a patron, and here we readily found one.

I played a bit with the relations between the various character, however. In real life, Athos and de Porthou were cousins. Here, I’ve made Athos and Aramis cousins instead.

We will likely see other characters crop up as well, although I’m not working on a “retelling” or a sort of “three musketeers at sea” type of series.

Which Version Do You Draw On?

I mentioned earlier that, since the novels first appeared in 1844, the three musketeers have been remixed many times. Just last year, we had a two-part French production. Jeremy Irons famously played Aramis in the 1990s version. The Iron Mask was one of the hit movies of the 1920s, and so on and so forth.

I’m not terribly familiar with a lot of the musketeers adaptations. When I was a kid, I watched a Canadian-French cartoon called Albert the Fifth Musketeer. I knew vaguely about the musketeers, simply because they’re so pervasive in pop culture.

I did watch and thoroughly enjoy the 2013 BBC interpretation of the musketeers. The show certainly had its missteps, and I was so disappointed when Peter Capaldi left the production (to go play Dr. Who, though, so that was a big step up for him).

Throughout the various adaptations, characters are interpreted and re-interpreted. In the original, for example, Aramis is depicted as being “stout,” which isn’t exactly something most modern audiences would find attractive. Yet Aramis is often portrayed as something of a ladies’ man (as much as all of the musketeers get themselves into scrapes involving women). Over time, his portrayal has evolved and changed, not just physically but in terms of quality of personality as well. Athos is usually the “strong, silent” type these days, but in the original, he makes plenty of gallant speeches. And Porthos, originally a bit “jolly,” often becomes the “rough and tumble” member of the trio, a contrast to Aramis and Athos.

I’ve drawn on the BBC version, largely because it’s the version I’m most familiar with at the moment.

Reinventing Characters

Yet even I’m “guilty” of reworking characters. After all, Saved by the Selkie has Aramis finding his “fated mate.” How do you reconcile a notorious playboy falling in love with a mythical creature and being bound to them forever?

It’s a bit of a trick, especially given the setting of the story. As a result, we don’t see Aramis doing much skirt-chasing. He mentions it, other characters mention it, and some express surprise that Aramis has seemingly “left off” his wooing ways to shack up with Lir—of all people.

The long and short here is that we can’t read too, too much into tangential “inspiration” like this. As much as I’ve drawn on the mythos of the three musketeers, I’ve only pasted in bits and pieces as they suited me and the story. Thus, I might be able to say I’ve drawn on the story or I was inspired by—but that’s about as far as it goes.

Saved by the Selkie and Mythos Island are thus their own entities, weaving together a complex pastiche of inspiration—just like every other story out there in the world.

About the author

By Cherry

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