The Hunchback of Notre Dame goes like this: Here's a bit about the history of the Church in Paris, and a little bit about Gringoire. And here's a whole lot about the geography of Paris, and a little bit about Esmeralda. And here's a whole book about the interaction between architecture and literature, and a little piece about Frollo.
The real eye-opener came when I realized that the whole Disney version was based on the title of the book and very little else. Gringoire is the main character, yet his part was absent entirely. Phoebus goes from arrogant and cruel to the hero. Frollo goes from being a man of generous yet tortured soul to a merciless monster, whereas Quasimodo goes from insane semi-human to enlightened super-human. I have no idea how Disney came up with their version, but they took a very thoughtful commentary that tied together the printing press as the demise of architecture, alchemy and its ties to black magic and their collective effects on the soul, the nature of society and how it evolves and turned the whole thing into a saccharine homily on self-esteem.
I found it particularly ironic that one of the central themes is that the printing press has paupered humanity's means of expression by taking away architecture. Where architecture used its own alphabet and vocabulary to discuss man's relationship to the divine, literature (especially the kind of popular literature readily available directly after the invention of the printing press) was not just cheaply and readily available, but easy to transport long distances. But it took a mere match to destroy literature, whereas it took eons of time or a societal upheaval to destroy architecture. And the fact that Disney took this paean to the search for the Divine and turned it into a product is almost too much to bear.
Hugo talked at length about the trajectory of architecture, and I was thinking about the similar trajectory of literature. There was a time when all art aimed to explore and glorify man's relationship to the Divine. We painted Saints and wrote Mysteries and Passions, we pored over the religious texts and contemplated the symbolism of everything from bread to clouds. Just prior to the Industrial Revolution, science was making discoveries in leaps and bounds, and many of them with the same aim - that of trying to discern the mind of God by studying His creation. If we could only unlock the secrets the world held, we would be that much closer to knowing God.
Literature reflected this in the works of Woolf, Joyce, Proust, etc. While they may not mention God as such in their works, each writer turned the eye inward, searching for the Divine spark, the animus, in each person. Their writing sought to illuminate the individual and make plain the Christ in every person. But after the brutalities of two world wars and the resulting questioning of many established modes of thought, the trend of literature continued to be turned inward, but ceased to seek the Divine, settling instead for merely exposing people's humanity and hoping that it was enough.
But for me, it's just not. I have come to realize that I'm trying to get back to that illumination of the Divine in my work. It's what most speaks to me and through me. The realization that every person is part of the Godhead and therefore their actions are Divine is what I'm trying to get across.
Pity I'm not a Christian.