Saturday, January 07, 2006

Disney is Dumb, and Other Thoughts on 'Hunchback'

I just finished reading Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame. I started it in the summer and got about halfway through it before school started and eliminated time for leisure reading.

I still can't figure out why the geniuses over at Disney thought this would make a great animated film. Let's see, we've got: Murder, attempted murder, attempted rape, fornication, public humiliation of a disabled man...Yeah, that'd be great for 6 year olds! Of course, they did soften the plot a bit, but I still think it was quite inappropriate as a family film. I'm all for introducing kids to good literature early, but this just doesn't make sense.

As for the book itself, it is a beautifully written piece about what happens when we let our disordered desires defeat our better judgement. The consequences of this pride and selfishness (which manifests itself in a host of grave sins) serve not only to hurt us, but those we love, most especially the innocent and simple, if for no other reason than that they are ignorant of the "ways of the world." There was actually one scene in the book that reminded me a lot of that scene in Episode III: Revenge of the Sith where Anakin is talking to Yoda about the dreams of Padme dying and Yoda warns him about doing evil in order to protect her.

Two thoughts on Hugo now that I've read Hunchback and Les Miserables. First, he is an amazingly captivating writer, and I think his style was captured very well in the "Signet Classics" translations I read. I set both books down for a period of a few months and with both I was able to jump back into them immediately where I left off. The prose, especially in Les Mis, keeps you reading even as he goes off on his sometimes obscure political tangents and you're wondering why you ever picked up a book that is 1,500 pages long.

Second, both books contain central characters who are idolized as young, virginal girls. Hugo really revels in their purity and modesty and condemns its defamation as a true evil. In one scene in particular in Hunchback, when Esmerelda is being led into a crowded square to make penance for a crime she did not commit, Hugo comments repeatedly on her fruitless efforts to shield her bare legs from the eyes of the men present. She was humiliated at that moment, the author notes, not because she was a thought of as a witch and criminal, but because she could tell from the looks of the men in the crowd that she was thought of as a sexual object. I don't know much about Hugo's faith, but from his writing it seems evident he valued virginity a great deal.