Saturday, February 18, 2006

The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo

 (Book Review)
Yet another book in which most of us are probably more familiar with the Hollywood version than the actual story. I should say “Hollywood versions” because its been remade several times. Prior to reading the book, I had seen the Disney version and the 1939 version.

The 1939 version as well as I can remember it (I saw it in middle school), sticks very close to the original story. The Disney version was (no surprise) very inaccurate.

Ordinarily I hate it when people criticize Disney movies for accuracy. That whole controversy over “Pocahontas” (remember that?) was just ridiculous. But it is worth noting that the character of Phoebus, who in the Disney version is the dashing hero, is really a cold-hearted jerk in the novel, who tries to seduce Esmeralda, and then does not even try and save her when she is falsely arrested for his attempted murder. I’m surprised they changed the character so dramatically. I mean, that goes beyond changing the novel; it’s like the complete opposite of the novel.

As opposed to the movies, the plot of the novel is actually less about the Hunchback and more about Esmeralda and her lovers. In fact I understand the title of the novel in the original French doesn’t include the word “hunchback.”

Coming on the heels of “I am Charlotte Simmons”, I thought that this novel had some interesting parallels to the modern teen love story. The girl falls passionately in love for the jerk who doesn’t care about her. Only in this case there is no happy ending.

It’s a sad story, and there are a lot of pointless tragic deaths. There’s also a lot of humor in it as well though, mostly towards the beginning, but throughout the book. Most of it comes from Hugo’s dry sarcastic writing style, somewhat similar to Dickens’ humor in “A Tale of Two Cities” (and possibly other books, but that’s the only Dickens I’ve read so far.)

Being a Victor Hugo book, you should expect several lengthy digressions on a lot of tangents, such as the architecture of 14th Century Paris. Anyone who’s already read “Les Miserables” will be prepared for these sorts of Hugo-esque digressions I’m sure.

Also like “Les Miserables” there are a lot of themes about social justice and the plight of the unfortunates. Near the end there is a bit of a popular rebellion, which seems reminiscent of “Les Miserables” as well. I’m not a French historian, but it almost seems to me that Hugo was imposing some of 19th century politics on his 14th century Paris. But I’d be interested in the opinion of someone who knows more.

Link of the Day
Time out for some good old fashioned blogotism: I notice this post I wrote two years ago, "Me and the Snake I found outside", has gotten some attention on the Fukuoka JETs discussion board.

Jared English sent me this link to a video on Asian/Caucasian relationships. If you think it's funny, thank me. if you find it offensive, blame Jared.

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