Les Miserables for Skeptics

(Belated) Memory Monday

In case you hadn’t noticed, it’s Tuesday. It’s just that sometimes, like those times when you’re working full-time and studying full-time and being a wife and a step-mom, there just isn’t time to write all the blogposts you would like. I had one for yesterday, though. I really did, and in the meantime, I am waiting to receive permission to post the post I wish to use for today’s Tuesday Reblog, so I will write yesterday’s post today and . . . you get the idea.

On Sunday afternoon I went with Sis-Donna (one of Paul’s sisters) to see Les Misérables–the live musical, not the movie. It was a first for her and probably a fifth or sixth for me. The last time I saw it (before Sunday) was at least fifteen years ago, surely, and that time it didn’t make me cry, so that I decided I needed not to see it for a while in order for it to have its full effect again the next time I did. I have to tell you, though, that it was and always will be my absolutely favourite musical.

I guess fifteen years is sufficient lag time for the show to wreak havoc with my tear ducts again, because this most recent performance set off the waterworks with no trouble at all. Apart from the sweeping musical-long theme of redemption (which is what I truly love about it, and we’ll get back to that), there are, of course, the side-stories, like the love story of Cosette and Marius. Or, really, the love triangle, which includes Eponine. This was the first time I’ve seen this musical since I stopped being Eponine. I spent most of my teens, all of my twenties, and a significant part of my thirties being, evidently, patently undatable, while frequently being in love with one of my male friends who would gush at me about whatever girl he was actually interested in who wasn’t me. I strongly identified with Eponine for most of my life.

I never thought I’d see the day when I almost couldn’t remember what being her felt like. So it was with a shock on Sunday that I realised I had almost forgotten. I cried for her anyway, as she sang her heart-rending songs–tears of distant sorrow, and also tears of gratitude for a husband who loves me. Also, tears of being emotionally manipulated. I think the music of that musical, when encountered live, throws a lasso around your emotions and drags them around for fun. It’s bizarre that it’s so enjoyable.

Dragging . . . emotions, the past, sin . . . around. Also--who knew Les Mis was a graphic novel?

Dragging . . . emotions, the past, sin . . . through the sewers. Fun times! Also–who knew Les Mis was a graphic novel?

So I have a question–particularly for those who 1) have seen this musical and 2) would not label themselves “Christian.” Assuming you like the musical (because I have yet to meet someone who has seen it who doesn’t), why? Is it the lassoed emotions thing? Or is it something else? I will further confess what’s behind my question:

The Eponine segment of the story always resonated with me personally, but if the story and the music were only about that, it would not be a Great Story, and I don’t think I would have gone to see it five or six times on a life-long non-existent budget. What pulls me in again and again is how “Jesus-y” it is. Admittedly, the only time Jesus Himself is mentioned by name in the show is in the thoroughly loathsome Thénardiers’ song, “Master of the House,” and then it’s because they’re throwing His name around in vain. But the more I see this show, the more I am convinced that in a way, even more than Jean Valjean, God is the main character in this story.

I see misconceptions about Him and His character and His work. Some of the characters don’t believe in God, some of them mock Him, some of them see Him as a merciless judge . . . but the story itself portrays the justice and mercy and love of God in the (admittedly difficult) life of one man, Jean Valjean. As someone who loves Jesus, I recognise Jesus in this–I believe He is how we as humans can know the justice and mercy and love of God–how we can know real redemption–and so when I see Him portrayed so brilliantly through song and acting and story, my heart wells up and I think again how much I love Him . . . and that is why I Iove the musical, too.

Sis-Donna has a religious background though I’m not sure how pivotal it is for her at this point, and she liked the musical, so probably I should have just asked her what it was that she liked about it. But . . . I’m still getting to know Sis-Donna, honestly, and we’re related now, so maybe I wasn’t sure how to word the question without making her think her brother had married a fanatic (I mean, she probably already thinks that, but I don’t need to make it worse, do I?), so I didn’t. I think I’m less worried about The Readership. Oddly, I feel like I know you better, and . . . you’re here on this fanatic blog by your own free will, so it makes me less nervous to ask you. I’m just genuinely curious. If you love Les Mis and the thought of Jesus doesn’t make your heart beat faster, what is it that draws you to that musical instead?

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10 thoughts on “Les Miserables for Skeptics

  1. need to watch it now… although there is no way ill ever get to watch it live. i loved the book and enjoyed the movie (the one with liam neeson- no singing) and i am yet to see the musical… hopefully within the next 5 years. 🙂

      • Ill get back to u on this answer… I never really thought about why I loved it… Something about how the story was depicted, from the struggles with poverty, with society, with family, with oneself… I need to read it again to recapture the essence… I seriously tried to remember why I liked it… Took me an entire day! Lol

  2. Well, I’m not a skeptic NOW, but when I discovered Les Mis (mid- to late-90’s) I was definitely a skeptic. So I think I can still attempt to answer your question.

    My first thought about the musical is that it is a musical of incredible quality. I was a bit of a drama geek, so while I wouldn’t say I was an expert on musicals, I had more exposure to them than the average high school students around me. I learned that I love Andrew Lloyd Webber but ONLY WHEN HE COLLABORATES WITH TIM RICE – no “Phantom,” thank you. I did a few musicals myself, and I watched some in my spare time. Les Mis was one of the best. The music is incredible, the “singles” in the show are well-written and well-performed, and even the instrumentation was, at the time, unusually cool and modern. “Electric guitars in the orchestra pit!?!? Who KNEW?!?!”

    The story is also somewhat universal, in that we all want to have a chance to redeem ourselves from the mistakes of our past. Javier is a great villain (or a great “sort of a villain”) and Valjean is easy to root for. There’s a love story, which didn’t do much for me but made many of “the ladies” I knew swoon. There was the “comrades in arms” angle of the second half. There’s war, there’s death, there’s redemption. There’s nothing not to love, even for the skeptic.

    On the other hand, watching the movie of the musical as a Christian was an intense, almost new experience. I didn’t realize until a few weeks ago that Les Miserable is THE PERFECT STORY to preach the Gospel. As you said, God is the invisible main character of the story – but it’s not a “deus ex machina,” in-your-face, “This guy came to Jesus so his life worked out ROSES, won’t you pray today?” type of story. It shows God in the way we most commonly see him – by the actions inspired by his presence and the knowledge of him, and guided by how his part in our lives changes us. It’s the perfect Gospel story, because Valjean doesn’t get things easy as a result of his face. In fact, his life becomes much, much harder at certain points, all because he believes that his soul has become the property of God.

    So yeah – great musical, atheists could love it. But I think it takes someone with an active interest in a relationship with God to truly appreciate much of the subtext.

    • This is beautiful. You were probably the absolute best person to answer that question . . . but I still was wishing some other people would chime in.

      As for Les Mis being THE PERFECT STORY to preach the Gospel–I think that’s why I love it so much and it reduces me to tears (almost) every time. And it is, for all the reasons you enumerate. THIS is what “Christian” fiction should all be like. It’s a shame it so rarely is.

      • I’ll admit that I was planning on doing a post on “Why Les Mis is the perfect story to preach the Gospel and why all fiction that wants to preach the Gospel must do what it does”, but now I think I’ve probably said all I need to say on it in a much shorter format. Eh. I still might write it.

        And yeah, Les Mis gets my waterworks going almost every time as well. When I saw the movie in the theaters, I was good until “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables”. Then I got something in my eye.

      • Heh.
        *I* was going to write that very same post today (since it’s Wordy Wednesday and it fits), and cop out of it by copying and pasting your entire comment into my post . . . but . . . maybe never mind. I don’t have time anyway. Even to copy and paste.

  3. I have never seen Les Miserables. Each year, hubby and I talk about going, but we never seem to make it. And then, the movie came out. And I talked about going … and then never made it. I am sensing a theme at work here … *ahem*

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