Heartbreak in Paris
Today's post from guest blogger Gene Downs
At the recommendation of a certain beloved blogger, I recently jumped eagerly into reading Victor Hugo’s Notre-Dame de Paris, popularly known to English audiences as The Hunchback of Notre Dame. It was to be a light snack after a diet larded with Plutarch and the New Testament.
With all of the adaptations on film — black-and-white, animated, musical — reading the original might seem almost superfluous. We all know the benchmarks of the plot: the unsightly Quasimodo’s love for the beautiful gypsy, Esmeralda; her equal but opposite love for the roguish captain, Phoebus; Quasimodo’s swooping, dramatic rescue of the maid as she is about to be hanged by the Parisian mob; etc.
So imagine my surprise to find, in reading Disney’s supposed source material, that the story is one of brutal tragedy. We are so trained by modern film and fiction to expect the happy ending, the last-second escape, the cavalry riding to the rescue that a story that ends on an excruciating and heartbreaking note comes as a terrible shock.
This is what is so impressive about Hugo’s accomplishment. He does not pander, he does not shrink. His story stays true to itself, its characters, its time and place, and its reader. What a lesson for the rest of us!
Some hack screenwriter might disembowel your art after the copyright expires, but in the meantime do not subjugate the power of your story to someone else’s vision of it. Shock us with sadness, make us writhe with wretchedness, but never compromise your story.