Seriously, 'Hunchback' is nothing like the Disney movie…

…And I am loving it. As anticipated, it is taking forever to read especially because the first 50 pages or so deal a lot with minor characters, all with very French names, and the architecture of the Great Hall of the Palace of Justice. But I really should have known better, after all, I did read Les Miserables this year. I find that it’s sometimes a lot harder to read a short book than it is to read a long one. I put more effort into reading a long book because I expect to take longer to read it. I bully myself into never putting it down and sneaking a page or two whenever possible. With Hunchback, I thought, “this will be pie compared to Les Mis.” I was wrong. But I’m still very much enjoying plodding along at this sluggish pace!

Photo Nov 08, 2 13 17 PM

But seriously: nothing like the movie! Where are the singing gargoyles? Where is the kind-hearted Quasimodo? Why is Phoebus such a jerk? There’s no music at all?! I wonder who read Victor Hugo’s dark novel and thought “Hmm, that would make a good children’s movie.” But anyway, my favorite passage from the first section of the novel is Quasimodo’s first appearance and his crowning as the Pope of Fools. It’s chilling:

We shall not try to give the reader an idea of that tetrahedral nose, that horseshoe mouth; that little left eye obstructed with a red, bushy, bristling eyebrow, while the right eye disappeared entirely beneath an enormous wart; of those teeth in disarray, broken here and there, like the embattled parapet of a fortress; of that callous lip, upon which one of these teeth encroached, like the tusk of an elephant; of that forked chin; and above all, of the expression spread over the whole; of that mixture of malice, amazement, and sadness. Let the reader dream of this whole, if he can.

And then:

Or rather, his whole person was a grimace. A huge head, bristling with red hair; between his shoulders an enormous hump, a counterpart perceptible in front; a system of thighs and legs so strangely astray that they could touch each other only at the knees, and, viewed from the front, resembled the crescents of two scythes joined by the handles; large feet, monstrous hands; and, with all this deformity, an indescribable and redoubtable air of vigor, agility, and courage,—strange exception to the eternal rule which wills that force as well as beauty shall be the result of harmony. Such was the pope whom the fools had just chosen for themselves.

One would have pronounced him a giant who had been broken and badly put together again.

Poor Quasi! No wonder he’s given such a makeover in the kids’ movie (which, in fact, is awesome). Reading Hunchback, I’m struck again by the style of Hugo’s prose. He inserts himself into the narrative so often for dramatic effect or to belabor a political point of view. He’s more a guide than a narrator, and he leads us by the hand into this colorful, grimy, ancient world as if he knows it by its every nook and cranny.

I’m sure that in a month or two when I finally finish the book I’ll be saying that Disney completely ruined the story. Until then—


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  • J.

    Hello there 🙂 I’m looking forward to reading this one as well, ever since I read “Les Mis” last year (and will be watching the musical next month). However, it will take an extra effort for me, because I want to read the original version – in French. Enjoy your read (I don’t think you can go wrong with VH) 🙂

    • I would love to read the original but unfortunately I don’t read French! Enjoy it!