Sunday, June 28, 2015

Why I Hate Pretty Much Everybody In *The Hunchback of Notre Dame* (Especially the person who owned it first)

I don't remember when I got this book, but it must have been a bargain grabbed at a book sale or something.

I finally read it. And wondered how Disney managed to make a movie out of it, the plot consisting entirely of seduction, attempted rape, torture, mass slaughter, and hanging witches. (Answer, ascertained by a visit to IMDB: Disney took the title and list of character names and created an entirely different plot. I hate Disney.)

Pretty much everybody in this book is loathsome.

Claude Frollo is of course the villain and so perhaps I am supposed to hate him, but he's evidently been quite a kind man up until this point, taking in the deformed Quasimodo when everyone else wants him burned as a demon. Now, smitten by Esmerelda's dancing, he can apparently only think of two options: raping her or murdering her. I'm not saying it's impossible for these two characteristics to exist in the same person, I'm saying Hugo never explores why or how.

I rather liked Gringoire for quite a long while--he had all the best lines. "And then I have the good fortune to spend all my days from morning to night in the company of a man of genius--myself--and it's very pleasant." Weak, yes, but amusing and not bad-hearted. But walking off with the goat and leaving Esmeralda in the clutches of Frollo, that was just too weak.

Phoebus of course is despicable, and meant to be.

One feels like one ought to cheer for Esmeralda and of course I don't approve of her fate, but honestly, the girl is as dumb as a gargoyle. She has lived her life on the streets; she has all the worst of Paris as her closest friends and associates; and yet she still believes after months of no contact that the lecherous Phoebus must be truly in love with her and will gallantly come to her aid. Even for sixteen, that's pretty dense. (Difference between Phoebus and Frollo: Phoebus is handsomer and has more practice.)

That pretty much just leaves Quasimodo, who is of course a noble soul. Not that it does any good. In this book all love is unrequited, except perhaps Gringoire's fondness for the goat. Let's not inquire.

According to Wikipedia, Hugo wrote the book to draw attention to Gothic architecture. Well, the architecture was fine.

The truly maddening thing about this book that I did not realize until I started it, was that it was formerly owned by a high school student, who made notes for class in a large round hand in the margin. Notes like, "This is an example of irony," and "not brave" and "metaphorical." Yes, thank you, I have a *much* better grasp of irony and metaphor now.

I never get those second-hand books where someone wise and profound has written in the margins and it changes my life.

(Note: this post may possibly be the result entirely of the incoming storm system. However, Victor Hugo has been dead a long time and can't be hurt by this. I quite liked *Les Miserables*.)

(Second Note: Apparently the Disney version was partly based on Hugo's own rewrite of the novel as an opera. Guess he wound up hating everybody in it, too.)

2 comments:

Diary of an Autodidact said...

I tend to agree with you. Definitely not Hugo's best effort. And one of Disney's stupidest ideas, in my opinion. Also, although I might be the only one who cares, not one of Alan Menken's better scores either. (Oscar not withstanding.)

M. E. Stephens said...

You make me glad I never read the book. I had no idea. The only way an author can redeem a "cast" like that is to kill them all off by the end to punish them for showing up.

The line you quoted by Gringoire is funny, though. Arrogant people who say laughable things add humor to real life, provided we can keep a straight face if it's required. :-)