Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Title: The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Series: None


Author: Victor Hugo

Summary: In the vaulted Gothic towers of Notre-Dame lives Quasimodo, the hunchbacked bellringer. Mocked and shunned for his appearance, he is pitied only by Esmeralda, a beautiful gypsy dancer to whom he becomes completely devoted. Esmeralda, however, has also attracted the attention of the sinister archdeacon Claude Frollo, and when she rejects his lecherous approaches, Frollo hatches a plot to destroy her that only Quasimodo can prevent. Victor Hugo's sensational, evocative novel brings life to the medieval Paris he loved, and mourns its passing in one of the greatest historical romances of the nineteenth century. (from Goodreads)

Main Characters:
~ Quasimodo
~ La Esmeralda
~ Dom Claude Frollo
~ Pierre Gringoire
~ Captain Phoebus de Chatepeaurs

Review: For those of you who think you know the story of the hunchback, think again. One does not simply base all knowledge on the Disney film. The filmmakers took more than one liberty in putting this onscreen, yet I can't say that I abhor the changes. For one thing, I really love Alan Menken's score, so that's a plus. And yes, I had the soundtrack stuck in my head as I read the book.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a deep, dark story about love and vengeance. First off, Quasimodo, the ugly hunchback bellringer, grows up knowing no love; he's got only one eye, mismatching legs, a crooked spine, a shock of red hair, and he's also deaf from the sound of the bells. Frollo is his master, the only person who can bear to look upon him, and he only took Quasimodo in because of his younger brother (he couldn't bear to think what would happen to his brother should something happen to him and Jehan was thrown out in the streeet). Esmerelda is the young gypsy dancer with a goat for a best friend and a lonely baby shoe that is the only connection to her lost mother. Captain Phoebus is an amorous young fellow with a passion for women and good drink. And then, not from the movie, we've also got the poor poet Pierre Gringoire who, by unlucky chance, falls into the unruly gang of Paris' street people. 

You know all those sappy love triangles that pervade our YA genres? Yeah, HoND left them all behind. We got a love sextet over here. Get ready for this -- [Highlight for spoilers] Gringoire first falls in love with Esmeralda. He later "marries" her in a gyspy-type ceremony when she agrees to "wed" him to save him from the gallows. As she is indifferent to him, they agree to keep their relationship very brother-sister-like, and Gringoire eventually falls out of love with her as he discovers new pursuits. Then Frollo sees her dancing in the street and falls in love with her with a rather lustful passion. When Frollo tries to get Quasimodo to kidnap her, Phoebus jumps in and saves her, resulting in Esmeralda falling in love with Phoebus. Phoebus, meanwhile, is engaged to a young lady of some wealth for whom he only feels love when he is actually with her (the same feelings apply to his regard for Esmeralda). After Quasimodo is punished publicly for trying to kidnap Esmeralda, she takes pity on him and gives him water. Quasimodo then falls in love with Esmeralda. Complicated, ain't it?

In comparison with the Disney film, this novel hardly compares. The names and places are the same, with some of the same events, yet its themes are a lot darker. I really enjoyed the character of Phoebus in the movie, but he is absolutely dreadful in the book. [Highlight for spoilers] He's pretty much the character you want to die, but ends up being the only one who lives. He allows Esmeralda to fall in love with him, encouraging her affection in a rather *cough* ungentlemanly scene, but all the while only enjoying himself at her expense. He doesn't even love the girl he's engaged to! All he thinks about is scandalous, lustful images. Not good, not good. 

Pierre Gringoire, I thought, was probably my favorite character from the book. He's a poor poet (poor in both meanings of the word), and he's rather funny. One of my favorite parts came near the end when he enacted a rescue mission with two others who, lamentably, remained silent during that time. He says, "What unpleasant moods you two are in! I must do all the talking alone. That is what we call a monologue in tragedy." Too epic. 

Esmeralda is portrayed a a feisty heroine in the Disney film, yet in the book she's greatly different. In the film, I understood clearly why she took pity on Quasimodo and the horrible treatment he received ("God Help the Outcasts" anyone?), yet in the novel, I puzzled at why she'd take pity on him at all. She was a flighty, fifteen/sixteen year old girl who'd faint dead away at the sight of that much ugly on a man. Even after Quasimodo saved her and proved he was kind, she still couldn't bear to look at him. She's got little backbone, and her heart is swallowed whole in the adoration of her Phoebus. She permits him to place her in a compromising position in regards to her reputation (disgusting scene), and then is later called a witch and blamed for a murder she did not commit. 

Frollo? Um... let's not go there. I found him a loathsome creep. Just the sort of villain you relish hating. 

Oh? And folks? This is Victor Hugo, so expect one or two or several chapters on the history and architecture of Paris. Some of it I found interesting, but other parts.... well... let's just say it was typical Victor Hugo. 

Advisory: Some language as well as violence (characters are beaten, hung, mistreated, killed in many different ways, etc.). 

One of the things that brought this novel down in my estimation was the amount of immoral love that went on during the course of the story. The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a classic, true, but I would not recommend it for readers under 15 or even 16 years of age due to some of the scenes. I was uncomfortable reading about all of that, and I would have enjoyed the story a lot more if Victor Hugo would have left that out. For that, I can only give this book 3 stars.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars 
Click here to buy The Hunchback of Notre Dame on Amazon!

1 comment:

  1. I loved this book so much!! I'm fourteen, and I think I read this a year or so ago. I wanted to also throw it against the wall, because of Claude Frollo and Phoebus. I was so sad at the end, but we're talking Victor Hugo, here. ;) I loved your review, as well! It's nice to see other's opinions. :)


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