I was curious to read this book because my only previous exposure to it had been through the Disney movie (and I still don’t understand what made them decide to make an animated musical film out of a Victor Hugo novel). I knew it would be different, but I wasn’t sure by how much–but I also expected it to be astounding since this was written by the same author who penned one of my favorite novels, Les Miserables.
Like Les Miserables, Notre Dame was sixteen different kinds of awesome. I was interested to note, though, that the original French title seemed to fit the story better than the English title because the latter implies that the central character of the story is Quasimodo the hunchback (who, in this version, is so named because he was found on Quasimodo Sunday, not because Frollo was making a cruel pun). Although he is an important part of the story, the book is just as much about Captain Phoebus, Esmeralda, Pierre Gringoire (who sadly did not make it into the movie), Claude Frollo, and Claude’s brother Jehan (another interesting character who didn’t make it into the movie) as it is about Quasimodo. As different as their lives are, they all seem to intersect at the grand cathedral of Notre Dame.
It was also interesting to see, although this didn’t surprise me, was how some of the characters were different from their movie versions. For example, in the book Esmeralda was younger and less self-confident than they portrayed her in the movie, and Phoebus was a little bit more of a jerk. But the most radical character change was that of Frollo. The movie had him as being just plain eeeviillll, adopting Quasimodo only out of a sense of guilt and certainly never loving him. However, in the book he actually started out as a decent person, albeit with a few screws loose. He had taken on the responsibility of raising Jehan when their parents died and held a great love for his little brother, and his motivation for adopting Quasimodo was that no one else wanted him. He considered Quasimodo his son and loved him every bit as much as he loved Jehan. Unfortunately he eventually went off the deep end and started living in the Twilight Zone–that’s the only way I can think of to describe his madness.
Notre Dame is not as much of a character study as Les Miserables, but the characters are still fascinating to observe, from Esmeralda’s determination to find her birth mother to Pierre Gringoire’s cynical yet optimistic outlook on life. It can seem to take forever to finish it, but I definitely recommend trying, anyway–the story is unlike anything you’ve read before, and it will stay with you for a very long time.