Friday, March 25, 2011

Les Miz Lessons- 7 QuickTakes

A few years back, I read the book Les Miserables once and then got on to various film adaptations, all the while enjoying the music to the popular Broadway musical. Thanks to the magic of netflix, I have been watching (and whistling- sorry, family!) Les Miz- In Concert the 25th Anniversary. So beautiful and edifying and full of lessons. Here are seven lessons that came to my mind while watching:

--- Charitable actions should be direct--- One of the most beautiful images in the musical comes at the beginning. Jean Valjean, a  former convict, is given shelter by the good bishop. In hopelessness, Valjean repays his kindness by stealing silver. He is caught and brought back to the bishop. Saving him from life in prison, the bishop 'buys Valjean's soul' by giving him candlesticks as well and sends him on his way. The bishop didn't need 4-color brochures or campaigns for human development or homilies about stewardship instead of the Gospel. He saw a need and filled it. Because Valjean had a personal encounter with the bishop's charity, it changed his life and he felt obliged to be a better man. In a large Roman-rite diocese, would it be possible for each of the 'rich,' established parishes to be sister-parishes with two needy parishes close by and directly aid them whenever there was a need? How beautiful  it is to know  and have a relationship with the people one is helping!

--- Comic relief is important---Les Miz can properly be called a tragedy. Some might call it depressing, but I find it inspiring for the simple fact that Jean Valjean is validated in the end. In the concert version I have been watching, you can almost hear the sigh of relief  from the audience when the silly- though evil- innkeeper and his wife come on stage. Their song "Master of the House" is a show-stopper because it gives the audience a break from the seriousness of the subject matter of the play- poverty, war, doomed love. And comic relief is important in our lives as well, so take a walk, throw some snowballs, swing on a swing, play with your kids.

--- War is futile--- Empty chairs and empty tables are all that are left after war. Women and children are left alone. Only the top administrators are satisfied, drawing new maps with new borders that will be warred over again. Les Miz shows this well. Many people assume the play is about the French Revolution of 1789, but it is about another later revolution; the poor will always be with us.

--- Nick Jonas can really sing--- I never really liked Marius- not in the book or any movie version. Cosette will be marrying a good man in Marius, but not a great man like her (foster) father Valjean. Nick Jonas, of the pop group Jonas Brothers' fame, sings the role of Marius with depth and gravity. I was pleasantly surprised.

--- Take the log out of your own eye--- Javert is a policeman obsessed with Valjean because he had jumped parole and started living a life unencumbered by the convict's yellow card. Javert's entire life's purpose is to bring in Prisoner #24601. He ends up in the river after finally realizing that the man he despised for so long actually had changed. The lesson to be learned from Javert's failure is to leave the judging to the Just and Merciful Judge.

--- Beauty is truth, and truth beauty--- Keats said it best- and it is so wonderful to see artists use their craft for something truthful and beautiful. I just love this musical- I love Cats, too- but it just doesn't inspire like Les Miz does. And life is too short for bad art, so feel free to stop watching bad television and reading gossip magazines. Is Two and a Half Men beautiful? If not, don't waste your precious minutes on re-runs.

--- Parenting equals sacrifice---Fantine sacrifices everything- her only heirloom, her hair and even her dignity- for her daughter, Cosette. Providing for her hastened Fantine's death. Valjean takes over the raising of Cosette and also sacrifices, in the end allowing her to go with Marius. Parenting is to "decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body."(Elizabeth Stone) and I think that is how Valjean felt with Cosette growing up. That is how we all feel when we become parents and start making sacrifices. But as Valjean feels at the end of Les Miz, all the sacrifices are worth it and there will be an eternal reward.

find many more quick takes at


  1. I heartily agree! When I saw you did a post on Les Mis, I jumped over to see. I did one as well; mine not as educational as yours :)
    It's here if anyone is interested.
    I so concur about all the lessons the story holds. I have seen an older movie version, the musical three times, and read the book once. It never fails to touch me. Thank you for the well thought out post!

  2. I have not read or seen Les Mes, but I know I need to. Our pastor uses it all the time as illustrations in his sermons. He says it is a picture of the Gospel so clearly.

  3. I'm embarrassed to tell you that I don't know Les Mis, and I consider myself a reader! It's on our home school literature reading list for 9th grade, I think. I've got 4 years to learn the material. I am cautiously optimistic.

  4. ah, how I love Le Mis.

    Great post. You know, I always identify with Javert. Not that I am ever as severe, but I can sometimes get caught up in the rules and judge others. His life was such a tragedy because he could never get over that. If only someone were praying for him. Or if he found someone to love so he could see that people are flawed and deserve to be forgiven, if they repent. He is a great archetype for us to reflect on. Also, Jean Valjean and his story of redemption and conversion....ah very few stories rival his (Saint Paul comes to mind :) but really - powerful story that is timeless. Thanks for the thoughtful post!

  5. I've got to watch it again with different eyes. I always have been attracted to Les Miserables and now I'll probably be a groupie. Thanks for your post. I love learning things from you.

  6. Wonderful post & blog..will make sure I'm linked to you!

  7. This is a gorgeous summation of a gorgeous theatrical experience. I saw Les Mis in London in 1992, and I've loved it ever since. Cosette & Marius both kind of annoyed me, actually, they're a little too goody two-shoes. I always loved Eponine, the tragic heroine. I do remember thinking Marius had more depth in the book...but it's been a long, long time since I plowed through those essays that take up 80% of Les Mis. The best one is the one about the contents of the sewer. :)

  8. Sarah, I really enjoyed your latest(?)blog on Le Miserables. It's one of my favorite stories. Mom and I watched a version on Netflix a few weeks ago. I've read the book twice and seen several versions of it via motion picture. I'm not sure if I'd like the musical or not. Anyway, I wanted to make a comment directly from your blog but I can't figure out the procedure. So I am emailing my compliments and I thank you for writing it. I read your blog regularly.

    Love to you and the family,


  9. Dad- hey- you broke my confidentiality ;) and I don't know if you are so new at this blog-thing; weren't you in charge of your work website? We are waiting for you to come visit!!!

  10. I was struck by one of your observations

    --- Charitable actions should be direct---

    This is something that is taking a bit of a beating lately, particularly from secular, in particular Utilitarian Philosophers.

    The argument put forward equates wading in a creek to save a drowning child and ruining one's clothes with giving money to a (faceless) aid organisation to save a child in a poverty struck country.

    There are a number of reasons why the argument doesn't really work (mainly because it is far to abstracted from really), but it also does understand people in the way that Our Divine Master does and Victor Hugo did.

    While giving to aid organisations is good thing and something that should be encouraged, one of the many problem with just giving to an aid organisation is that it cuts the donor from the problem AND the good work. It means people can become disconnected from human suffering: my tap is fixed, I will call a plumber; my conscience is vexed by a child suffering, I will give to an aid organisation. Problem solved, my conscience is no longer vexed. There is rarely any consideration of how the money may be used or misused.

    Moreover, the existence of poverty elsewhere in the world is often an excuse for people to behave badly and uncharitably locally, assuaging their consciences by their giving to aid organisations.

    There is much else that can be said about this.

    -- Bear

  11. PR: Ah ha! We now know your secret identity! Great post. I should really read Les Miseralbes sometime.

  12. Sorry about the confidentiality thing. Won't happen again. Obviously I figured out the way to comment directly to your blog (I also sent an email). Now that I'm retired I am (intentionally ?) forgetting a lot of the web work I did at the Archives. But I wasn't the web master at work, just a contributor. See ya.

  13. anonymous- don't worry about it- if anyone wants to know who I am- it is pretty easy- I'm just 'anonymous' for casual clickers...but you didn't answer my question- when are you coming to visit??? :)


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