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The 3D Musketeers

10/18/2011 10:45 am ET | Updated Dec 15, 2011

The 3D steampunk version of The Three Musketeers is opening October 21, with Orlando Bloom and Matthew Macfadyen. It looks wild and wonderful and may prompt you to read the book. But which translation of Dumas's novel should you choose?

You may be tempted by the pretty-looking new version by prize-winning Richard Pevear, who's been hailed for his work with Russian authors. Resist!

I've read many translations of TTM and Pevear's is slow when it should speed along. Partly that's because he does something translators shouldn't do: he tries to stay close to French syntax. That makes for some dull or peculiar phrasing in English.

Two quick examples. After sex with D'Artagnan, evil Milady discovers that the young swordsman has tricked her. They struggle wildly, and her fleur-de-lis brand is exposed, which means her criminal past is no longer secret. Pevear has Milady "hurling herself at him with horrible paroxysms." I just couldn't picture that. The older Penguin translation by Sudley does a better job: "Milady made frenzied attempts to strike him." Simple and strong, it works.

When D'Artagnan threatens to carve another fleur-de-lis on her bare shoulder, Milady goes totally ballistic. In Pevear's translation, she screams "Vile wretch!" which is pretty weak. Sudley rocks with "Fiend of Hell! Fiend of Hell!" Over-the-top? Of course: Milady's a beast driven almost to madness, and that's the emotional feel of the encounter in French.

If you want to relive the excitement of the movie, or get ready in advance for a wild ride, go with the older Penguin translation. It's not steampunk, and there aren't any flying ships or ninja slo-mo assassins, but it moves.