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So, the book "Moby Dick" went something like this: Here's the history of New England, and a little bit about this guy Ishmael. And here's a bit about the customs of the whaling trade, and a little story about Queegqueg. And here's a long discourse on the military comportment of whaling vessels, and a bit about Ahab....for about 600 pages.

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.


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 9th, 2004 12:38 pm (UTC)
Yeah! And...
This is one of the many things that's so cool about Mitos del Pueblo. The characters are gods, while still being recognizably and thoroughly human. It becomes easy to identify with them, and in this way to recognize one's own divinity.

That and you're a damned good writer.
Dec. 9th, 2004 01:43 pm (UTC)
And you forgot all about Frollo's twisted desire for Esmerelda, which was just very strange to see in an animated Disney flick. Don't get me wrong, I would love it if Disney decided to make more mature animated features, that's just not what they were doing here.

My main complaints with the movie were that and Esmerelda & Phoebus ending up together at the end. Seriously, I didn't expect her to end up with Quasimodo, but I thought the movie ending like that smacked of, "it's OK to like yourself if you're not normal, but don't forget that only normal people are going to get to have certain things".

As I haven't read the book, I looked at the movie more for it's own merits and lack thereof, rather than as an adaptation. I'm a huge Disney fan - I even actually love "Pochahantas" - but "Hunchback" ticked me off.
Dec. 9th, 2004 10:29 pm (UTC)
I couldn't speak about Hunchback...
...but Disney's adaptation of The Jungle Book is similarly off-mark, and I cannot discuss it without ranting.

Most people I know, though, think the film is a lot of fun and have never read the book, so I'm forever ranting at people who just give me puzzled looks...
Dec. 10th, 2004 08:19 am (UTC)
Re: I couldn't speak about Hunchback...
I grew up on Kipling and feel that no movie can do justice to such lyrical use of language. I was also really tiny when Jungle Book came out, and for some reason, even though I had been read the book and seen the movie, that disconnect never really struck me.

I'm not as bothered by it, now that I think about it, because the subject matter is totally different. Kipling was merely a lighter, friendlier, less heavy-handed Orwell so the irony of mangling that story (which, there can be no argument, they did) isn't so much.

I guess this irony is more akin to putting the Dalai Lama on a t-shirt that says "Buy nothing" and selling it at The Gap.
Dec. 11th, 2004 10:42 am (UTC)
Disney does this with everything - they mush all the meaning out of excellent works and make them nothing more than pretty pap. There are so very many reasons I don't like Disney, and I feel like a hypocrite for liking some of their movies...but there you go, that's the nature of being human.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )