You've Got Character: The Hunchback

Don't laugh; this is not such a minor matter.

Victor Hugo's 1831 classic is in some ways unlikely material for a Disney movie. First of all, it's depressing as hell. Fate deals everyone a bad hand, from Esmeralda, the beautiful gypsy who loves unwisely, to the deformed Quasimodo, whose deafness proves a serious handicap and whose essential goodness and heroism can't, in the end, compete with Archdeacon Claude Frollo's evil. Second, aside from Quasimodo and Esmeralda, there's no one to like in this story. Third, there's the small matter of a priest in lust.

And then there are the chapters and chapters, pages and pages of description of 1482 Paris and the cathedral of Notre Dame itself, which Hugo felt was a major character in his novel. I'll be honest: The first 300 pages of this book were work, and I wager I'm one of the few parents who, having decided to brush up on the source material this month, actually completed the assignment. (And if I hadn't thought that re-reading it would be a column, I'm not sure I would have, either.)

But I did and I'm glad. Because the reason The Hunchback of Notre Dame endures - and the reason it's been made into several movies - is the character of Quasimodo.

The scenes in which he cares for Esmeralda, whom he has saved from the noose and offered sanctuary in the church, are profoundly touching. It would take a very jaded reader not to be moved when he tells Esmeralda, who tries not to flinch at his appearance, that he will watch her from where she can't see him so as not to offend her sensibilities.

But Hugo was no romance writer, and although The Hunchback of Notre Dame was an instant success when it was published in France, he'd have a tough time on today's best-seller list. Justice is not done? The good guys don't triumph? The heroine dies? You've got to be kidding!

I'm not.

One of the dilemmas of parenthood is how long to shield children from the awful truth: Life is not fair, there are bad guys out there, the Tooth Fairy is not exactly what you imagine. With each revelation, they are a little less children, a bit more adults. This is painful, probably more so for parents than for their offspring.

If I wasn't a parent, I would probably condemn Disney for changing a great book's ending. But I am a parent, and it pains me to explain to a 6-year-old that Victor Hugo was right: Good people do not always live happily ever after. She - and all the other kids who will make The Hunchback of Notre Dame a major summer movie - will learn that soon enough. Probably long before they have the patience to read the book.

Source :

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