Re-Reading Les Misérables

Thoughts and commentary on Victor Hugo’s masterpiece.

Les Misérables at 30

Today marks the 30th anniversary of the Les Misérables musical opening in London. I first saw the show a few years later, after it had moved to Broadway and started touring, maybe 1991 or 1992. I remember a family friend trying to describe the plot beforehand, and going into excruciating detail worthy of a Wikipedia summary.

Over the next few years I managed to catch the tour as it returned to Orange County, Los Angeles, and San Diego. I tracked down as many cast albums as I could back in the days when you had to go to physical record stores looking for imports. After hearing the original French version I became fascinated with how the show sounded in different languages, even those I couldn’t understand myself, and ran a fan site during college. (I learned a lot about computer character encodings, most of which has been rendered obsolete by Unicode.)

In high school I also read the novel. I remember it taking a couple of months to get through, and it gave me a new appreciation of the story and everything that didn’t make it to the stage. Somehow I never got around to watching any of the film adaptations until years later, after the 2012 movie of the musical rekindled my interest and inspired me to re-read the novel. This time it took me most of a year (with breaks for other books in between), and I wrote a running commentary. That in turn inspired me to check into the other adaptations that have been made over the years.

It’s strange to look back on an anniversary, though. When I first saw the show, it had only been around for about six or seven years in that form. Now it’s been thirty. Les Mis is as old now as The Sound of Music was when I first saw it. Time marches on, but Victor Hugo’s epic about life and injustice remains timeless.