I was trying to remember the first time I genuinely had critical thoughts about a book I was reading, other than “I liked it,” “I didn’t like it,” or “why didn’t they do X, it would have been much more interesting or got things sorted out so much faster”.

It was during that period when the reader blissfully absorbs everything put in front of them in a sweet gush of fictional images and adventure. (Okay, for me it was adventure. I blame getting hooked on Tolkien and Sherlock Holmes at an early age.) As your reading progresses and you become more specific about what you like and what you don’t like, your thoughts about the story you’re currently reading also become more exact in terms of what you don’t like and what you do like, and why you do/don’t like it. That’s how it goes.

I believe that I was reading a version of The Three Musketeers, severely cut down and abridged for children. You know the sort of thing. It was the scene where d’Artagnan has managed to offend all three of the musketeers while stumbling his happy way up to Monsieur de Treville’s office, and they are then summoned in to explain a minor confrontation with the Cardinal’s Guards earlier. At least, Aramis and Porthos are summoned in. Athos makes his way in despite having been injured earlier, and being unwell. And the book described him as:

“noble and beautiful, but frightfully pale…”

It’s been over thirty years (I think), and I can still remember that wording, because it struck me at the time that it was wrong. The word “frightfully” should not have been used in that context. I couldn’t say at the time exactly why it was wrong, but I did feel that it was wrong. It was off key. It grated.

(And then I got to the duel scene, but that’s another story.)

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