Stuff I Like That’s Good
— Day 6 —
Or, why redemption arcs are the best character arcs. Period.
You know how some things become so popular that you couldn’t care less about them, even if your life depended on it?
Say hello to my relationship with Les Misérables, 7 years or so ago.
Les Misérables has the distinction of being so popular with one generation that it lost some of its luster with the next. This is a phenomena that’s happened with everything from the Tim Burton Batman films to Atari, but Les Misérables never actually diminished in value like they did: Les Misérables is timeless in ways Atari and Batkeaton could never be.
Fortunately, once I gave Les Misérables a try, I thoroughly enjoyed. In fact, I now consider it to be one of the best stories of all time.
**Minor spoilers for Les Misérables follow.**
You know the story of Jean Valjean. An ex-convict turned mayor, turned fugitive, turned adoptive father. Jean Valjean’s character arc is timeless because it’s directly relatable to every person on Earth. My favorite person in the Bible has always been The Prodigal Son, because he made the wrong life decisions, yet found mercy and atonement in the eyes of a higher authority who loved him. And Jean Valjean follows a similar path of redemption, when a kind Bishop spares him from being arrested. But where The Prodigal Son’s redemption was cut and dried and his sins completely done away with, Valjean’s sins follow him around in the form of Inspector Javert.
Javert is an enigma of the law itself. He’s beyond obsessed with bringing Valjean in for breaking his parole, even as Valjean proves over and over and over again that he’s a changed man with something to contribute to society.
And contribute he does. Valjean rights the wrongs done against Fantine, takes her daughter, Cosette, away from the exploitative Thénardiers to raise her, rescues Cosette’s lover Marius from certain death, and later spares Javert’s life when placed in a position to take it.
Les Misérables focuses mostly on Valjean’s plight, but the characters of Fantine, Cosette, and Marius are given equal billing alongside him in the story. All four character arcs cross over and intersect with Valjean, and because of it we’re given a bigger picture of France and the miserable swallow these people live in.
Because of the timelessness of the story, Les Misérables has benefited from adaptation. I’ve seen and heard many, but my favorite adaptation BY FAR is Focus on the Family Radio Theater’s. Clocking in at nearly three hours, this adaptation combines one of my favorite things, audio drama, with an award worthy portrayal of Valjean by British actor Brian Blessed, of Disney and Robin Hood fame.
My second favorite adaptation is the Broadway musical. The musical drops a lot of little things from the story, yet still manages to hold up as a solid piece of entertainment. And this includes the movie, which features a controversial performance of Javert by actor Russell Crowe.
I said at the beginning of the month that Stuff I Like That’s Good would not be covering the negative elements of things I write about, but I for one don’t consider Crowe’s Javert to be a negative. It’s strikingly different from the stage version, of course, but his singing style sought to imbue the character with more subtle qualities and the coarseness the character has in the book. In layman’s terms: Crowe focused on being a good actor. And on that point, he succeeded marvelously.
And there are many other adaptations of Les Mis that I could cover. But of the ones I’m acquainted with, those two are the most solid.
If you’ve never given Les Misérables a shot because you though the hype was overblown, do yourself a favor and give it a try. The story is a timeless treat that will always remain relevant.
Les Misérables. It’s a story I like, and it is good. Check it out sometime.