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‘Love is like a tree, it grows of its own accord, it puts down deep roots into our whole being.’
Set in medieval Paris, against the backdrop of the brooding Cathedral of Notre-Dame, Hugo’s take on the classic story of Beauty and the Beast tells of the hunchbacked, grotesque bellringer, Quasimodo. Rejected by Parisian society because of his appearance, Quasimodo resides in Notre-Dame, harbouring a love for the only woman that pities him, a gypsy named Esmerelda. However, a sinister archdeacon also covets Esmerelda, and when his advances are spurned, he seeks to destroy her.
About the author
Victor Marie Hugo (1802–1885) was a French poet, novelist, and dramatist of the Romantic movement and is considered one of the greatest French writers. Hugo’s best-known works are the novels Les Misérables, 1862, and The Hunchbak of Notre-Dame, 1831, both of which have had several adaptations for stage and screen.
Children who have had a taste of Hugo's 18th-century epic through the animated film may find this version, with its absence of song, rather sobering. Wynne-Jones (Some of the Kinder Planets) makes no attempt to soften the harsh story of the hideously deformed, big-hearted Quasimodo, who escapes ridicule only in the sanctuary of the cathedral. Although the narrative is fluent and conversational, children may need guidance through some of the more challenging vocabulary and occasional wordy passages. The irony in Hugo's novel is preserved here, as when Wynne-Jones draws a delicious parallel between church and state: Quasimodo is deaf because "the bells of the church had made him that way"; the judge who sentences the deformed man to a flogging "is as deaf as Quasimodo. The court had made him that way." Still, the deeper implications of the story will likely be lost on children. Dramatically framing the text are Slavin's (Extra! Extra! The Who, What, Where, When and Why of Newspapers) subtly hued, skillfully composed paintings. His mastery of detail, especially in period dress and architecture, makes turbulent medieval Paris appear real--sometimes frighteningly so. This polished, thoughtful collaboration may serve as an authentic preview to Hugo's classic, but may be best appreciated with an adult standing by. Ages 5-8.