200429 Hunchback

“Sanctuary!” Charles Laughton as Quasimodo (right, as if you didn’t know) and Maureen O’Hara as Esmeralda in the 1939 movie version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

There’s a lot more to this than Charles Laughton shouting “Sanctuary!” in the famous movie.

Victor Hugo’s great travelogue of 15th-century Paris, and tragedy of mistaken identity. The Archdeacon of Notre Dame is actually an alchemist. His adopted son, Quasimodo, is thought to be a devil but is (of course) the most noble character in the book. The captain of the guard is thought to be noble but is a womanising liar. The Bohemian gypsy Esmeralda is something else entirely. The King of France is more interested in his money than his subjects. And Notre Dame itself is not just an edifice but also a book – the story of its inhabitants etched into its stones.

It’s a simple story, given epic scope by the way the writer ties it into its setting and historical context – and quite an easy read.

Be warned that if the Disney cartoon is all you know of this story, you may have a few surprises.