Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Les Miz Part 1: Introduction

Because Les Miserables is Quite A Book, it deserves an in-depth post (read: very very long). Therefore, I have decided to split this post up into two parts (possibly three). I will, in the course of the next few days, write about the actual book (aka Les Miserables), the Broadway show (aka Les Miz), and the 2012 film (aka The Les Miz Movie, or, simply The Movie). They will most likely not be in that order - they will intertwine with one another in the following posts.

 As you may remember from my previous post, Les Miserables is in my “Excellent” category of books. I consider it one of the greatest examples of characterization ever. I could talk about the characters of Jean Valjean, Javert, Fantine, the Thenardiers, Gavroche, even the Bishop, Monseigneur Bienvenue – oh, the list goes on and on. Every single character is so fully developed, so deep, so thorough. The excellent writing, characterization, and plotting gives me such excitement I could burst of it. (Seriously. This is how I feel about good books.)

I first read Les Miserables when I was about fourteen years old, and I loved it almost as much as I love it now, except I thought that the really long bit (19 chapters!) about Napoleon and Waterloo could have been done away with, as only the last chapter of that Book had to do with the plot.

[Side Note: Les Miserables is split up into five Volumes (Fantine, Cosette, Marius, The Idyll of the Rue Plumet, and Jean Valjean), and each of these is further split up into Books, which are further split up into Chapters.]

I reread Les Miserables last winter, and loved it even more than before. I hoped I had matured enough to fully appreciate Hugo’s digressions on Waterloo, Slang, and the Sewers of Paris, but unfortunately, they were just as boring for me at seventeen as they were at fourteen. Oh well.

The translation that I read was the one authorized by Victor Hugo, the author. The translator was a fellow by the name of Lascelles Wraxall, and was a friend of Hugo's. Here is the massive tome:

My mother tells me it used to have a box it went in (it is a "Heritage Club Edition"), but where that box is, I have no idea. 
On the front is a nice little sketch of Inspector Javert continually pursuing Jean Valjean. This is basically what the story revolves around, if you want to strip it down to the utter bare bones. 

These sketches on the front were done by the same artist who sketched the drawings inside the book. They were done in the 1930's by Lynd Ward, and he created a small detailed sketch for the beginning of every single chapter, and a complete page drawing for each of the five Volumes. There are also a bunch of smaller sketches to fill up white space at the end of chapters. 
Look at the picture above this one again. See how big this book is? Think about how many sketches Lynd Ward had to draw. I find that extraordinarily impressive.

Cosette, Book III, Ch. 6

When I write about movie adaptations to books of this scope and depth, you will find that I tend to be lenient towards the film versions, even though they may not be very similar to the original book. This is because I sympathize with the folks involved in the film-making process. What looks good on paper, in a novel, may not look good on the screen. Film is practically all dialogue, so it's sometimes hard to transfer the thoughts and backstory of a character to the screen, especially within less than three hours. 

I think I'll end right there with this post. Discussion on Javert next time.


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