Saturday, December 1, 2012

Day 1 of 25 Days of Les Misérables: An introduction to my obsession

I came home the other night and my roommates had found my DVD copy of the 25th anniversary concert of Les Misérables. It was after 10PM and I was tired, but as soon as I heard the overture, I grabbed my dinner and skipped into the living room. There was no freaking way I was going to bed.
As the first act played on, I kept telling myself, “I’ll go to sleep after the Jean Valjean and Javert sing-off.”
“Okay, I’ll go to bed after the Thénardier’s crazy song.”
“Now I’m really going to bed, but wait, I have to see Javert sing ‘Stars’.”
             Until finally an intermission screen popped up to break my reverie and I was able to go to bed.
Rest assured, monsieur, I finished it the next day.

I pride myself on not being an obsessive person, but when it comes to Les Miz, all walls come tumbling down. I told my sister that if a guy wants to date me, all he has to do is serenade me with Les Miz.
She said, “I thought you didn’t like to be serenaded.”
I said, “I don’t, that’s why he has sing Les Miz.”

To prove my obsession, let me reveal some stats:
I’ve seen the musical on stage four times, the first time in London where the musical phenomenon began.
I’ve listened to the record of the 10th anniversary concert at least forty times
I’ve watched the 25th anniversary concert six times
I’ve read the book. The entire book. Not the abridged version, but 1,260 page version (it took me a year).
I’ve watched all movie versions that have been created.

Teen-age girls cry when they see Justin Bieber.
Katherine Spearing cries when she sees Les Misérables.

Why the obsession? That is the question. I am particularly obsessed with the musical version. In all honesty, the book was long and boring and the characters weren’t as likeable. The movies took some theatrical liberties that irritated me. It’s the musical that wins the day. It’s the poetry and the music that compliments it that makes the story so powerful. Every character carries some aspect of me, that is to say, some aspect of humanity that touches your emotions and can’t be forgotten. The sadness of Javert’s bondage to legalism. The misery of Jean Valjean seeking to atone for his past but never fully feeling justified. Fantine’s downward spiral as one tragedy after another befalls her and her hopelessness as she realizes she will never recover. Unrequited love, love at first sight, young boys’ dreams, mothers’ fears, pain, hunger, sorrow.
Doesn’t it make you want to dive in and find out what happens?
It’s a feast of themes, interwoven stories, and connect-the-dots.
That, my friends, is why I am obsessed with this story.
But mostly, it’s the underlying theme of redemption that keeps me going back to it. Does Jean Valjean ever really find it? In that last scene, does peace finally come to him?
These are the sorts of things that will be explored in the next 24 days.
I don’t want it to just be a literary research paper. I want it to be personal, something that can be applied to people’s lives—to my life. I want to do justice to the characters. They are real, because they are us. It’s humanity at its most vulnerable point. It’s humanity at its strongest. The scum of the earth and true heroes.

 Until tomorrow. 


  1. When did you read the book? I read it in high school and thought it was long and boring. I'm now re-reading it (and prefaced it with David McCullough's The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris, which taught me a lot about the culture/politics of the time and the reasons Hugo wrote it) now and it's AMAZING. Can't-put-it-down, never-want-it-to-end, new-favorite-of-all-time kind of amazing. If it's been a few years since you read it, try again. :-)

  2. I'm glad you like it! That book by McCullough sounds interesting. I'll have to check it out sometime ;-)