Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.Dylan Thomas
Alexandre Dumas was no stranger to war or the suffering it causes. He lived to see the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the French Restoration, the 100 days, the Greek War of Independence, the American Civil War, the Serbian Uprising, and a host of other conflicts around the world. Conflicts which would go on for most of his lifetime.
While the Russo-Ukraine conflict is arguably nothing new on a historical scale, it doesn’t make the events of the past few days any less distressing or lamentable. We live in a day where our connection is unprecedented and where the world is far smaller than it has ever been at any other time in history.
Which is why I’m posing the question:
What would Alexandre Dumas do?
Live, and Live Large
“Smoke then, and think of him!” said Aragorn. “For he was a gentle heart and a great king and kept his oaths; and he rose out of the shadows to a last fair morning. Though your service to him was brief, it should be a memory glad and honorable to the end of your days.”
Aragorn to MerryThe Return of the King, J.R.R. Tolkien
The last thing anyone who has fought for freedom wants to do is for other to feel they have no right to live their lives. Death is as sure of a thing as taxes. We do not honor those who have died by either deliberately making ourselves miserable or by ceasing to enjoy the mere act of living.
The best way to honor those who are fighting for freedom is to be free yourself. And to be thankful for your freedom.
Dumas showed this in his own life. While he could do little to set his father’s legacy to rights, he lived as large of a life as he could. He loved food, wine, travel, art, romance, and he had no fear of indulging in these loves. Around the world, others were not so free happy. Dumas, as a biracial man, would have known this better than anyone. His own father’s legacy—disregarded until the 21st century—is testament to this.
But, Dumas didn’t stop living because he was biracial or that other men with his coloring were enslaved and suffered discrimination elsewhere in the world. He lived on, wrote on, and enjoyed life as much as he could.
Let History Inspire Your Story
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered–
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;Henry V, Act IV, Scene 3, Lines 20-22
The feats of General Alex Dumas were unknown on a historical scale until the 21st century. This didn’t stop his own son from using both his noble character and his even nobler exploits in his novels.
The world knew Alex Dumas long before his legacy was restored and well after the Nazis destroyed his statue. But we knew it as The Count of Monte Cristo, The Three Musketeers, and The Man in the Iron Mask.
As the days unfold, how can you take both good and evil and use it in your own writing? How can your characters emulate those who are currently showing their bravery?
We talk about honoring those who died and we make a lot of pretty speeches. We put up pretty monuments and hold moments of silence. But are these more desirable than living on in literature? No one remembers the true events of Agincourt, but nearly everyone remembers the soliloquy in Shakespeare’s Henry V.
So, instead of getting caught up in the talking heads, the pontificating politicians, and the posturing world leaders, let what happens fuel your fiction.
Personally, I shall think of the men on Snake Island who refused to yield, knowing fully well they were about to die.
That is a moment worthy of great literature.
Do Not Give In to Despair
Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.Dylan Thomas
The 20th century met war with disillusionment, dystopia, and despair. Any breading list of “great literature” has on it writers who would tell grand stories, but they only chose the worst of the story to tell. The hopeless, the pointless, the endless misery.
Can you imagine how that would play out in The Three Musketeers? Or The Count of Monte Cristo? Neither one of these tales is devoid of unhappiness, but they certainly don’t wallow in what goes wrong either. Or in the foibles of humanity, which at this point in history shouldn’t be all that shocking.
Positing things can come from war if we let them. There are more stories to tell than death and destruction. Too often, we focus on evil and criticize the good. Or make the even more wretched claim that the good doesn’t matter.
So, when you write, glorify those who showed bravery and resilience. Show heroes who spoke up, knowing it would imprison them and have them win. Show two people forced into war against one another who decide to unite against the people making them fight and let them overcome. Show that the people who thought resilience more important than their own lives didn’t die in vain.
What Would Alexandre Dumas Do?
He would want us to live. And tell grand stories. And be happy. Mourn the loss. He mourned his father. But he also remembered him.
When the world grows dark, we need the great heroes, the romantic tales, the classic battles, and the great songs of valor more than ever. We need the hope they give us and the light they keep kindled.
So, while we keep those in Ukraine and. Russia in our minds, our prayers, and our intentions, let us keep the light on within. Do not feed your thoughts with dark things, but encourage them with the bravery being shown.
Do not let the hopelessness suffocate you. Let it galvanize you to treasure the freedom you have and to protect it at all costs.
And to write what is uplifting and encouraging.