Regular readers of Balladeer’s Blog will remember my review of three neglected swashbuckler novels by Alexandre Dumas. (For those three – Georges, Captain Pamphile and La Dame de Monsoreau click HERE )
Regular readers will also recall my look at the way Dumas’ The Corsican Brothers is NOT really a swashbuckler story in the spirit of The Three Musketeers, The Count of Monte Cristo or The Man in the Iron Mask, but because it’s a Dumas tale it often gets adapted AS IF it’s an action-oriented sword and pistol saga.
And that brings us to Dumas’ novel The Black Tulip set in the Netherlands’ city of Haarlem in the 1670s.
When I was a little boy thrilled with the Musketeers, Monte Cristo and Iron Mask I excitedly grabbed The Black Tulip to read, assuming it, too would feature derring-do and swordplay. Much to my disappointment the novel instead dealt with attempts to cultivate a black tulip, the mob-slaying of Netherlands politicians Johann and Cornelius de Witt, romance and the redemption of personal honor.
Using the approach of the adaptors of The Corsican Brothers, let’s MAKE The Black Tulip a rousing swashbuckler just because it’s by Dumas.
THE BLACK TULIP (1850) – I would make it so that “the Black Tulip” was a masked and costumed identity adopted by the novel’s hero Dr Cornelius Van Baerle in order to pursue his crusade to redeem his family honor, tainted from the scandal following the grisly slaying of the de Witts (Insert your own Joyce de Witt joke here).
His fool-proof secret identity/ alibi would be his status as a prisoner behind bars in the Loevestein Prison, condemned there by the villainous Mynheer Isaac Boxtel. I would have the love affair between Cornelius and Rosa, the daughter of Gryphus the sadistic jailer, be such that she secretly lets him out of his cell at night to grab a sword and flintlock pistols to strike as the mysterious Black Tulip. Remember, he had served in the Dutch Navy so he would have had some arms training.
Cornelius Van Baerle’s obsession with growing elusive black tulips while imprisoned would be retained, but in my version he would leave a black tulip at the scene of every place he strikes in his costumed identity. Yes, I know there were only three bulbs in the novel but this is just a thought exercise. The black tulips he leaves as a calling card would be imperfect ones with bits of white in them, all the while he and Rosa are still striving for perfectly black ones.
Our Black Tulip would also be skilled at covert nocturnal nautical maneuvers in a narrowboat along Holland’s many, many canals, especially in Haarlem, Amsterdam and Hertogenbosch. Cornelius’ use of carrier pigeons to conduct messages to and from his cell could be retained as well.
Rounding out our unholy trinity of villains would be the real-life William of Orange, who was depicted by Dumas early in this novel as a malefactor on the order of Cardinal Richelieu in The Three Musketeers. However, by the finale he’s presented in a much more favorable light.
At the end, with his honor redeemed, Cornelius would be freed and it would become publicly known that he was the dashing Black Tulip all along. Doctor Van Baerle’s cultivation of black tulips would win him the 100,000 Dutch Guilders, prize money that was offered in the original novel for anyone who could actually cultivate black tulips.
And naturally I’d keep the part about him and Rosa getting married at the end.
UPDATE: On further reflection I would probably need to revise the story so that Cornelius is kept in the Buytenhof Prison in the Hague instead of being transferred from there to Loevestein.
The latter is too far away for our masked Black Tulip to be able to take action and be back in his cell by morning. Keeping him in the Hague – which back then had a lot more canals than now, by the way – would mean he’s within reasonable horse-riding distance of Haarlem, Amsterdam and Dort. To say nothing of all the opportunities for action in the Hague itself.
Don’t get me wrong, the original novel is perfect at achieving what it strives for, I’m just pondering these changes from a “what if” angle.
The action movie The Black Tulip, starring Alain Delon has nothing to do with the Dumas novel and is set during the French Revolution.
FOR MY TOP FIVE HARRY FLASHMAN NOVELS CLICK HERE
FOR MY LOOK AT THE TOP SEVEN ROBERT LUDLUM NOVELS CLICK HERE
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