Thursday, April 03, 2008

Bookshelf: Notre-Dame de Paris

(AKA: The Hunchback of Notre Dame)

continuing my quest to read as many classics as I can before I die, I recently finished The Hunchback of Notre-Dame (which wasn't Hugo's original title--since the book is mostly about Notre Dame itself, he called it Notre-Dame de Paris. Oh well). While most everyone is familiar with Quasimodo, the bell ringer of Notre Dame and charge of Archdeacon Claude Frollo, the novel itself has very little to do with the characters, as it does the Cathedral and Paris itself. The novel begins with the Festival of Fools, but instead of immediately introducing character, Hugo gives us a description of the Palais of Justice (when I get to Paris, I'm going to know these buildings intimately, thanks to Victor here). Like the much longer Les Miserables, Hugo has a knack for inserting sections of questionable relevance into his narratives.

If your only exposure to the book is through the Disney film you will be very much surprised by the way things actually happened. Some points:

--Djali is a girl
--Esmeralda married a poet/playwright to save his life.
--Esmeralda dies at the end of the novel, as does Quasimodo.
--Phoebus marries his fiancee, rather unwillingly. (And he's a jerk in the novel.)
--Frollo tries to murder Phoebus, but Esmeralda is blamed.
--The Festival of Fools takes place in a palace, and Quasimodo is crowned the "Pope" of fools.
--Quasimodo is deaf from the effects of the bells.
--Initially, he kidnaps Esmeralda, and only at the end of the book does he try to save her.
--The French King appears in the novel
--Quasimodo and Phoebus don't find the Court of Miracles; that's the poet at the beginning.
--Clopin is a thief, not a gypsy.
--Esmeralda is not born a gypsy, she was kidnapped as a child. Her mother figures into the story quite prominently at the end.
--Frollo has a younger brother.

Those are a few points off the top of my head. And obviously there are no singing gargoyles... (or grotesques).

The book itself is relatively good. Hugo does excellent characterizations and possesses a strong power of description. But the book gets bogged down in discussions of architecture and detracts from what could be a very well-paced story. Hugo is constantly noting what time of year it is, and it's a good thing, because without that the reader would have no idea how much time has passed. If you want an introduction to Hugo, this is easier and faster to read than Les Miz, but I think Les Miz is the better story.

No comments: