Sometime in 1994 or 1995 I learned that Disney was planning a movie based on Victor Hugo's Notre Dame de Paris. It was inevitable--and appropriate--that my daughter, Danielle, then about eight years old, would see the movie. But I was horrified by the prospect that she would be introduced to this magnificent story in an abridged, adulterated form. I immediately checked the book out of the library so I could read it to her. I had read the book years before, but my tendency with great literature is to rush to the next paragraph, the next chapter, read it as fast as I can, all the time promising myself that I will read it through a second time, more slowly. Of course when it is finished there is always another book waiting that I've never read and I'm off to devour it. So it was with happy anticipation that I sat down with Danielle to read aloud from Victor Hugo's great novel.
It became a wonderfully memorable experience because of my own delight in the story, shared with my daughter who was equally if not more engrossed. I was once again enchanted by the poet Gringoire, the classic archetype of the artist, who is not deterred from his ambition to become the greatest poet in history by the mere earthly fact that he cannot read or write. Danielle greatly admired Esmeralda and of course the little goat, who is literate, bringing to mind Truman Capote's phrase, “that's not writing; that's just typing.” The humor of the story is perfectly balanced by drama and tragedy. An important philosophical point that we discussed at length was Frollo's "love" of Esmeralda–by his definition, he loves her so much that he prefers to see her dead rather than married to someone other than himself. Every young girl should be made aware of this common human trait. In middle school Danielle endured some jealous friends and I was able to refer back to Frollo to help her understand the phenomenon. Reading the novel aloud prevented me from rushing through it, so I appreciated it even more.
In due time, the Disney movie came out, and Danielle went to see it. She was able to enjoy the splendors of the animation without being misinformed regarding the plot of Hugo's novel. "Mom," she said to me in an exasperated tone of voice, "At the end, Esmeralda marries Phoebus, and the 'deaf' Quasimodo sings at their wedding!" Ridiculous, indeed.