Chateau D’If is a real castle that used to serve as a prison in France. But metaphorically, it is where most men must spend some time, a psychological prison where a man must encounter the ghosts of older men in order to break free.
The Metaphor of Chateau D’If
This castle is a prison where the young Edmond Dantes (later known as the Count of Monte Cristo) is thrown when falsely accused of high treason in Alexander Dumas’s novel The Count of Monte Cristo.
If you haven’t read the book, that’s even preferable in a way, because my favorite retelling of the story, and the one to which I’ll be alluding here, is the 2002 American film version with Jim Caviezel playing the lead.
I highly recommend that you watch the movie, but I won’t spoil all of it for you, because I am only speaking here of one sequence – the Chateau D’If imprisonment.
I would like to pay attribution here right away for the source of some of the ideas expressed here. I first heard of the Chateau D’If metaphor from Dr. Paul Dobransky, a brilliant American psychologist. This man’s work on the male psyche is highly recommended.
Quick Back Story
Edmond is falsely accused of high treason and thrown into Chateau D’If, the scariest place to be imprisoned because there is no release, parole, or escape – only isolation and desperation.
On his arrival, Edmond tries to assure Dorleac, the warden, that he is innocent; he is mocked, beaten, and left alone in his cell, yelling, “What’s my crime? What’s my crime!”
His term is indefinite and, after years of loneliness and torture, he begins to contemplate suicide.
Chateau D’If and the Stress of the Masculine Life
You may ask, Philip, what does this story have to do with my life as a modern man, and how will it help me in my situation, whether it is extreme stress, burnout, or a nervous breakdown?
Let me answer briefly. Your life’s stress has everything to do with your maturity. Your maturity or lack of it determines whether you’ve been saying ‘yes’ when you should have been saying ‘no’ in your life. And every wrongful ‘yes” results in needless stress.
Your maturity is, in many ways, your ability to be independent from the need for approval from older men, including, perhaps most importantly, your father.
The ghosts of older men are keeping you in prison, and the stress is making sure that the walls are thick enough that you don’t even think of escaping.
Look, all this stuff may sound like some woo-woo to you, or it may resonate with you. But finish reading this. It may make sense to you at a later time; and then it will be very powerful.
Three Lessons of Chateau D’If
Lesson 1. Escape Seems Impossible
The key word here is ‘seems.’ Because, as I mentioned in an earlier post, it is my firm belief, and feel free to make it your own, that every hopeless problem has at least two solutions.
The walls are thick. Some castles in Europe boast walls as thick as 10 feet or more. I’ve often been astounded while visiting medieval castles in Europe how in order to pass from one room into the next, you must walk about 8-10 feet, which is the thickness of the wall separating the rooms.
The cell door opens only once a year – for Dorleac to give Edmond a whipping on his birthday. Nice, right? Otherwise, the little opening allows to shove in the food.
The window can not be reached without the help of another person, and the confinement is solitary. Edmond hasn’t seen the sky in many years.
Doesn’t this description ring a sort of a bell in a modern man’s life?
We get into a situation where we feel helpless against the circumstances; we feel we must continue the existence because while not fully alive, at least we’re not dead.
We keep our gaze on the ground, on the mundane, working to pay the bills, failing to question if we were born to live like this, failing to lift our heads high enough to see the sky.
And we get a ‘beating’ every once in a while from our fathers, because the father is never really happy with you because you have failed to become his carbon copy.
Lesson 2. Mentors Prepare You and Show You the Way Out
Luckily for Edmond, an older man, a priest shows up in his cell. He has been digging for escape for years, but it so happens that he’s been digging in the wrong direction.
Edmond is terrified at first, but soon enough the priest’s company begins to transform him. Most importantly, Edmond begins to believe that escape is possible.
It would take years, but it can be done. The new friends begin their collaboration on digging their way towards the outer wall.
In exchange for helping him dig, the priest teaches Edmond literacy, arts, sciences, and fencing. He is giving him the knowledge about the world. Edmond is “growing up.”
We all need a man like that in our lives. We all do. We need to learn the arts and the sciences. We need to learn how to think and how to control our emotions. We need to learn high character – the only key to masculine freedom and self-actualization.
Men who can teach this stuff exist. But you must seek them out consciously and proactively.
Lesson 3. Escape Requires Decision
On one of their digging days, tremors shake Chateau D’If, and the priest is killed by a heap of rocks. Luckily, he lives long enough to give Edmond his final gift – the ultimate gift. The map of the treasure of Monte Cristo.
But now Edmond has no friend and must find a way to escape. His quick decision to risk the long-term plan in favor of the immediate escape makes all the difference.
He replaces the body of the dead priest with his own by getting into the bag used to bury the dead at sea. Dorleac and his helpers show up to take away the body and to put it to rest.
They carry it to the cliff from which the bag with the body in it will be thrown. In the mean time, one of the guards notices the deception and runs down the long, winding set of stairs to warn Dorleac.
But it is a stormy night, and Dorleac can’t hear the guard’s voice. He commands the men to lift the bag and counts as they rock the body to gain momentum: “One… Two… Three…”
On the count of “three,” it is too late for the yelling guard to warn Dorleac. Edmond snatches the set of keys from Dorleac’s belt, and both he and Dorleac, pulled by Edmond’s hand, fall off the cliff.
I won’t go any further into the story, because I want you to watch the movie. But the lesson here is tremendous. If Edmond did not make that decision, he could have been stuck in Chateau D’If for years longer or, possibly, until his death.
Another part of the lesson is that, as it turns out, two ways to escape from the castle appeared. The first was digging, and the second was switching bodies.
The result? Edmond is free and has a map of a great treasure in his pocket.
Now, I am aware that this is a fictional story. But the best stories are parts of one, big human story that we all identify with. And this is a masculine story, so my guess is, you can relate in one way or another.
This post is long enough, friend. So I’ll stop here. We’ll talk more about these things, I promise.
Till next time,