In the dark world of medieval Paris, the deformed bell-ringer of Notre Dame Cathedral heroically fights to save the life of a beautiful Gypsy girl about to be unjustly executed. Told with simple vocabulary and set in large type, this adaptation of the classic tale is perfectly suited for young readers.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
Children who have had a taste of Hugo's 18th-century epic through the animated film may find this version, with its absence of song, rather sobering. Wynne-Jones (Some of the Kinder Planets) makes no attempt to soften the harsh story of the hideously deformed, big-hearted Quasimodo, who escapes ridicule only in the sanctuary of the cathedral. Although the narrative is fluent and conversational, children may need guidance through some of the more challenging vocabulary and occasional wordy passages. The irony in Hugo's novel is preserved here, as when Wynne-Jones draws a delicious parallel between church and state: Quasimodo is deaf because "the bells of the church had made him that way"; the judge who sentences the deformed man to a flogging "is as deaf as Quasimodo. The court had made him that way." Still, the deeper implications of the story will likely be lost on children. Dramatically framing the text are Slavin's (Extra! Extra! The Who, What, Where, When and Why of Newspapers) subtly hued, skillfully composed paintings. His mastery of detail, especially in period dress and architecture, makes turbulent medieval Paris appear real sometimes frighteningly so. This polished, thoughtful collaboration may serve as an authentic preview to Hugo's classic, but may be best appreciated with an adult standing by. Ages 5-8. (Sept.) -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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February 01, 1981
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Excerpt from The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo
The Great Hall of the Palace of Justice
ON JANUARY 6, 1482, the people of Paris were awakened by the tumultuous clanging of all the bells in the city. Yet history has kept no memory of this date, for there was nothing notable about the event which set in motion the bells and the citizens of Paris that morning. It was not an attack by the Picards or the Burgundians, a procession carrying the relics of some saint, an entry of "Our Most Dreaded Lord, Monsieur the King," nor even a good hanging of thieves.
Nor was it the arrival of some foreign ambassador and his train, all decked out in lace and feathers, a common sight in the fifteenth century. It had been scarcely two days since the latest cavalcade of this kind had paraded through the streets: the delegation of Flemish ambassadors sent to conclude the marriage between the Dauphin and Marguerite of Flanders. To his great annoyance, Cardinal de Bourbon, in order to please the king, had been obliged to give a gracious reception to that uncouth band of Flemish burgomasters and entertain them in his mansion.
The cause of all the commotion on the sixth of January was the double holiday of the Epiphany and the Festival of Fools, united since time immemorial. This year the celebration was to include a bonfire at the Place de Greve, a maypole dance at the Chapelle de Braque and the performance of a play in the Palace of Justice, all of which had been announced by public proclamation the day before. All shops were to remain closed for the holiday.
Early in the morning the crowd began streaming toward the three designated places, each person having decided on either the bonfire, the maypole or the play. It is a tribute to the ancient common sense of the people of Paris that the majority of the crowd went to either the bonfire, which was quite seasonable, or the play, which was to be performed in the shelter of the great hall of the palace, leaving the poor maypole to shiver beneath the January sky in the cemetery of the Chapelle de Braque.
The avenues leading to the Palace of Justice were particularly crowded because it was known that the Flemish ambassadors, who had arrived two days before, were planning to attend the play and the election of the Pope of Fools, which was also to be held in the palace.
It was not easy to get into the great hall that day, even though it was reputed at the time to be the largest single room in the world. To the spectators looking out of their windows, the square in front of the palace, packed solid with people, presented the appearance of a sea, with five or six streets flowing into it, constantly disgorging a stream of heads. The waves of this sea broke against the corners of the houses jutting out like promontories into the irregular basin of the square. Shouts, laughter and the shuffling of thousands of feet blended to produce a mighty uproar.
At the doors and windows and on the rooftops swarmed a myriad of sober, honest faces, looking at the palace and the crowd with placid contentment. Many Parisians still find deep satisfaction in watching people who are watching something; even a wall behind which something is happening is an object of great curiosity to them.
Let us now imagine that immense oblong hall inside the palace, illuminated by the pale light of a January day and invaded by a motley and noisy crowd pouring in along the walls and swirling around the seven great pillars. In the middle of the hall, high up and against one wall, an enclosed gallery had been erected for the Flemish ambassadors and the other important personages who had been invited to see the play. A private entrance opened into it through one of the windows.
At one end of the hall was the famous marble table, so long, wide and thick that "such a slab of marble has never been seen before on earth," as an old document puts it.