What is it about Les Mis? As a university English major, I read Victor Hugo's Les Misérables. When attending a Belgium University, I read the French edition. Movie versions date to 1934 and television offered productions to viewers in 1978 and 2000.
I saw a number of these efforts. Typically, they lacked the power and energy of the book.
After learning a play was in the works, I reread the book and at the first opportunity, saw the staged musical. I had the good sense to bring lots of tissue. I needed more.
Initially many traditionalists railed at the audacity of putting the great classic to music. There may yet be grumbling in some quarters. However, I never doubted that the music would equal the power of the book. No one would dare attempt orchestrations that would be less than the epic required. The magnificent score went beyond my expectations.
The books I read are typically award-winning nonfiction tomes, classics and occasional fiction. I have just received a long-awaited third volume of The Last Lion. This biography defines the life of Winston Churchill. The original author, William Manchester, died before completing the set. His notes were finally compiled and the book completed by Paul Reid this year, eight years after Manchester's death. After finishing Daniel Yergin's, The Quest, I will begin reading my long awaited Churchill book.
The point? I take my reading seriously and of all my readings through the years none has approached the power and impact of Les Misérables. I would suggest that my very character has, in large part, been shaped by the tribulations of Jean Valjean, the protagonist.
The classic focuses on injustice from Valjean's 20-year sentence for stealing bread, to Inspector Javert's relentless pursuit to bring Valjean back to prison, to the cruelties leading to the death of the poverty stricken mother, Fantine, and Valjean's kept promises. He remains, throughout the work, a tragic but ultimately redeemed figure.
The musical version now comes to the silver screen on Christmas Day. Although, the casting raises questions, I suspect the performers will do an admirable job drawing audiences into the magic of Les Mis.
Although, I rarely shed tears during movie trailers, the slightest hint of the score starts the tears flowing. The very sight of a sick and dying Fantine or a ravaged Jean Valjean finds me grabbing for tissues. Perhaps, it is my knowledge of the story content and the captured visions of Hugo's epic that create such personal impact.
There are those who define me as a "bleeding heart liberal" and worse. I suggest they open the pages of Les Mis. At the end of the tome they will become "bleeding heart liberals" or blame Victor Hugo for my flawed character elements.
It is just a book, but within the pages are the cruelest and most heroic qualities of the human spirit. The music is equal to expressing the far ranges of human emotion. When it hits the theaters, I'll be the first in line. Join me, but don't forget the Kleenex!
Dr. Marc J. Yacht is the retired director of the Pasco Health Department.