Don’t Judge a Book by its Weight: Les Miserables

Title: Les Miserables

Author: Victor Hugo

Favorite Line: “‘Forget not, never forget that you have promised me to use this silver to become an honest man.’

Jean Valjean, who had no recollection of this promise, stood confounded. The bishop had laid so much stress upon these words as he uttered them. He continued solemnly: ‘Jean Valjean, my brother: you belong no longer to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I am buying for you. I withdraw it from dark thoughts and from the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God!’”

(I could have picked a great many incredible quotes; however, this one best sums up the overall theme of the book, I think)

When people ask me what my favorite book is, I tell them it’s like picking a favorite child. However, if pressed — and if you’re asking about fiction specifically — I would answer with Les Miserables.

When I was in 7th grade, somehow or another I got a free copy of the original Broadway cast recording. I knew nothing about the story (and this was pre-Google days), but the CD came with a lyrics sheet, so I could see who all the characters were and what parts they sang. I wanted so badly to be Eponine on Broadway. Again, I had no idea what the play was even about, but her solo parts were in my vocal range, and so I sang all of her parts with gusto. It wasn’t long before I had the entire track memorized.

For Christmas when I was in 9th grade, my dad bought me tickets to see Les Miserables at the Orpheum Theatre the last week of January. To date, it’s one of my favorite Christmas presents. I was over the moon, especially because I’d never been to a real theatre before.

However, I did know by that time that the play was also a book. And I had a standard habit of always reading a book before I saw the movie. Did the same apply to plays? I decided I would try.

When we went back to school after New Year’s, I went to my school library to see if they had a copy. When I pulled it off the shelf, my eyes nearly popped out of my head. I was an insatiable reader, but 1,200 pages? Up until that point, the longest book I’d ever read was the Bible, but I did that in almost a year. The play was in three weeks. I couldn’t possibly read 1,200 pages in three weeks.

Well, I decided, I would try. I would check it out, give it a shot, and if it really wasn’t going to work out, I’d return it to the library and just go enjoy the musical without having read the book. No harm, no foul.

Needless to say (since I’m writing a blog post about it), I devoured that book. In less than a week. Every spare minute I had when I wasn’t doing schoolwork or didn’t have practice, I was reading. It’s a beautiful story of love and second chances, sacrifice and mercy. When I finished it, I had to go back and re-read some scenes again because they were just so beautiful.

And, of course, I enjoyed the play. I’ve since seen Les Mis six times, including once on Broadway. I fan-girled so much because I never thought I would have the privilege of going to NYC, much less seeing a show on Broadway…and my all-time favorite show, which I’d thought had long been off Broadway (I got to see the revival version). The play is spectacular…but still, the book is even better. The play uses the story from the text; they don’t much alter it, which I do think is what makes it so great. However, they had to cut *a lot*, even to make it a 3-hour run time. So, there’s a ton of complexity that gets lost. For example, Eponine and Gavroche are actually brother and sister. There’s a third sibling, too, who is completely eliminated from the play. That doesn’t take away from the brilliance of the show, of course. Just to say that your enjoyment of the show might be enhanced by reading the book.

If 7th grade me with a free cast recording could have only known how much this book would impact me, I think I would have viewed that CD as magic or fate or Providence. My one big final regret is that I will probably never play Eponine in a cast production–even though I first felt an affinity for her solos, reading the book endeared her to me even more. Well, I can still dream, I hope…

If you’ve seen the play, but never read the book–or never done either–I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Have you read it? Seen the play? Love it as much as I do? Let me know in the comments!