Maggie A's Meanderings




February 13, 2011

4 Classic Novels that Are Way More Depressing than You Think They Are from the Movies -- Part I


There's a reason the phrase "Hollywood Ending" conveys a sense of happiness. That's because that's what Hollywood endings are all about. No one wanted to see Julia Robert's hooker character disappear back onto the streets in "Pretty Woman" so they changed the ending to a Hollywood one. The same thing goes for some of the greatest novels ever written. Never mind the stories in the novels have stood the test of time and are still being read today for a reason. When it comes to making a movie version, who knows better: the dead writer or a living Hollywood producer?

Hollywood's not going to pass up free source material and the novels are in the public domain, so there are multiple movie versions of each of these novels. I'm only going to compare the most well-known adaptation. But the same holds true for the other lesser-known adaptions that I've seen -- Hollywood was never faithful to the source material. In fact, that's why I finally had to read "The Hunchback of Notre Dame." With every version having a different ending, I didn't know who lived and who died until I read the actual novel. This "variation" from the source material can lead to some shock if you've seen the movie first and then go to read the novel. Hell, it can lead to some shock if you've read the novel first and then go see the movie expecting it to follow the novel!

Part I
Part II (coming next week)


1.   The Man in the Iron Mask

The 1998 Movie 

The man in the iron mask, Philippe, is the bad king's identical twin. The movie makes sure you know King Louis (the XIV if you're wondering which King Louis) is a bad king. He feasts and parties while his people starve on rotten food. It's that kind of thing that got Marie Antoinette's head chopped off. He even sends a young man to be killed in battle so he can sleep with the guy's girlfriend. Apparently that story in the Bible about King David and Bathsheba wasn't part of his religious education. Unfortunately, the young man was the son of Athos, a retired musketeer.

The three former musketeers, Athos, Porthos and Aramis (who's a priest) get together and hatch a plan to replace the king with his twin brother. D'Artagnan, who's now the captain of the musketeers, abstains because (we find out later) he was bonking the Queen and the King is his son. They put the twin on the throne, but he immediately gives himself away by his extreme niceness. Philippe is carted back off to jail. This is when d'Artagnan learns that the impostor is also his son, and he joins the other former musketeers in rescuing him. Eventually the plan succeeds, though d'Artagnan dies keeping the king from killing his brother. The good brother is put on the throne. The bad king is put in the iron mask. Three out of four of the musketeers live. And d'Artagnan's pretty happy with his noble death. Athos has a new "son" in the young man they put on the throne. Even the bad king is eventually let out of the iron mask and sent to a beautiful home in the country to live. Everybody's happy and France goes onto glory under their substitute king.

The 1847 - 1850 Novel as written by Alexander Dumas 

It's a long, convoluted plot. The basic plot's the same as the movie: twins, only one of which was born to be king, and the musketeers in their golden years. But the plan failed. I'll cut to the chase and tell you what happened to each of the major characters.

Philippe, the twin -- He started out the novel in prison. He ended up in a different prison now wearing an iron mask. So this plot didn't so much as take the iron mask off of him, as get him put into one. Aramis did manage to substitute him for the king for a day. But he's given away, not by his extreme niceness, but because Aramis couldn't keep his damn mouth shut and told someone who immediately goes off to free the real king. So Philippe gets put in an iron mask and sent to prison again. The last words we hear him speak are "CALL ME ACCURSED!"

Porthos -- Porthos never was the sharpest tool in the shed. He's tricked by Aramis into helping replace the king. Once the real king was freed, even while he and Aramis were fleeing as fugitives, Porthos still didn't know he had done anything wrong -- he thought they were on an important mission for the King, not being hunted by the King. But Aramis has to eventually tell him the truth which comes as quite the shock to discover he's a traitor with a death sentence on his head -- all thanks to his best friend, Aramis. (You know the saying......."With friends like that, who needs enemies?") With over one hundred of the King's men after them,Porthos and Aramis hide out in a cave. Porthos sets off a barrel of gunpowder killing their pursuers. However, he's killed when the cave collapses on him.

Athos -- What Athos most cares about is his son, Raoul. Said son has had his heart broken because the girl he loved is now the king's mistress. All he wants to do is to die. (Yeah, he's that young.) Despite people telling him basically, "Get over it already. That's the way love goes," he's convinced she was the only girl for him and he'll never love again. So the son becomes a Knight of Malta, goes off to Africa and gets killed in battle. When Athos gets the news of his son's death, he dies too.

The only thing Athos had to do with the plot to replace the king was to give Aramis and Porthos fresh horses when they stopped at his estate. Later, before the son leaves for Africa, Athos and his son do actually end up at the same castle where Philippe is being held prisoner, but they don't do anything to help him.

D'Artagnan -- D'Artagnan is the only one who's still a musketeer. He is, in fact, captain of the musketeers and caught between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand the King is demanding d'Artagnan capture Aramis and Porthos and bring them back to be executed. On the other hand, Aramis and Porthos are his best friends. Their motto was "One for all. All for one." Even resigning his commission doesn't get d'Artagnan out of the jam. With Porthos dead and Aramis out of the country, d'Artagnan manages to navigate his way out of that morass and back into the King's good graces. Staying in the King's good graces is important because, if you're not, he won't hesitate to stick you in the Bastille (and the French Revolution wasn't until two Louis later). Four years after the plot, d'Artagnan is leading the King's forces in a war against Holland. On the battlefield he receives a letter from the King giving him the honor he wants more than anything: he's made a Marshal of France. He reads the letter and reaches out to grasp the fleur-de-lise marshal's baton, the symbol of the office. Before he can so much as touch the baton, a cannonball hits him in the chest. As he lies dying, the baton rolls under his "powerless hand" and d'Artagnan's last words are, "Athos—Porthos, farewell till we meet again! Aramis, adieu forever!"

Aramis -- The only musketeer to survive, and you kind of wish he didn't. Aramis joined the priesthood, and he's not one of these "helping the indigent while saving souls" priests. He's so corrupt and power hungry that he makes Cardinal Richelieu (the villain from "The Three Musketeers") look nice by comparison. Except Richelieu was competent at his political machinations and Aramis is not. Richelieu would not have been stupid enough to commit treason by replacing the king and then gone and told someone about it the very next day. Aramis doesn't even think that Louis is a bad king, but he does think Louis might be a bad king in the future (sounds like an excuse to justify what he wants to do). Because Aramis wants to be pope and putting a fake king on the throne is his way to get there. As he says to Philippe, "I shall have given you the throne of France; you will confer on me the throne of Saint Peter." After he gives away the plot with his big mouth, Aramis doesn't even try to let Philippe know he's been outed. Aramis just takes off with Porthos (the best friend Aramis lied to and got into this whole mess) and saves his own skin, leaving Philippe behind. After the plot fails, Aramis escapes to Spain. When he comes back to France it's as the Spanish ambassador. Lucky thing for him there's diplomatic immunity. As Aramis oozes his way through this story, the only good thing you can say about this priest is at least he's not a pedophile.

So instead of 3 out of 4 musketeers living, it's 3 out of 4 dead with one man stuck in prison now wearing an iron mask and the king's still on the throne.

The Man in the Iron Mask
Yes, that's French. That was the original language.

2.   The Hunchback of Notre Dame

The 1996 Movie 

Currently the best known adaption of "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" is the Disney cartoon. That's sad, because the 1939 movie starring Charles Laughton as the hunchbacked Quasimodo is much better.

In the Disney movie there are four main characters: Quasimodo, the hunchbacked bell ringer of Notre Dame; Esmeralda, the beautiful and spunky gypsy girl; Phoebus, the noble and handsome guard captain; and Frollo, the evil priest who killed Quasimodo's mother and lusts after Esmeralda. (Apparently evil priests were very common in 19th century French literature.)

In the Disney version the gargoyles are alive. Phoebus is the handsome hero. The evil priest falls to his death by his own actions. We learn that love conquers all and it doesn't matter what you look like. Oh, wait, no we don't -- that would be too Disney for even Disney. Esmeralda ends up with the handsome Phoebus rather than the ugly hunchback. But at least Quasimodo's got friends now besides gargoyles.

The 1831 Novel as written by Victor Hugo

The novel centers around Quasimodo and La Esmeralda, a 15 year old girl who's too beautiful for her own good. If this had been a few millennia earlier, it would have been a competition between La Esmeralda and Helen of Troy to see who could cause the biggest war. Every man falls for La Esmeralda including one that's not in the Disney movie, Gringoire.

Instead of being a noble hero, Phoebus is a jerk who's just trying to get into La Esmeralda's skirts. But the idea of anyone getting into La Esmeralda's skirts besides him enrages Frollo who's still an evil priest in the novel. Frollo stabs Phoebus and frames La Esmeralda for the murder. She is captured and tortured until she confesses to killing Phoebus and to being a witch. But it turns out that Phoebus was alive this whole time and knew about La Esmeralda being tried for his murder. He just kept silent. Plus he was engaged.

La Esmeralda, in addition to being incredibly beautiful, is incredibly good. Though she only knows Quasimodo as the man who tried to abduct her (he was ordered to by Frollo), when Quasimodo calls out for water after being publicly punished, La Esmeralda is the only person in the crowd to bring him any. When Gringoire is about to be hanged by a group of gypsies unless a woman from the group agrees to marry him, La Esmeralda steps forward and marries him (platonically). When given a choice between having sex with Frollo or being executed, she chooses execution. I admit most people would consider that a short-sighted decision. However you question her practicality, you can't question her taste. Or her morality -- it's what a "good girl" would do. And it took one hell of a lot of guts. I don't care if you're male or female, some man offers you that choice, most of us are going to spread 'em in a New York minute.  

It turns out that La Esmeralda wasn't born a gypsy; Quasimodo was. The gypsies switched Quasimodo for La Esmeralda. La Esmeralda is very briefly (as in minutes) reunited with her real mother who, in the biggest tear jerking scene of the entire novel, dies trying to protect La Esmeralda when the guards take her to the scaffold. Because that is where La Esmeralda ends up after she refuses Frollo a second time. She's hanged. So much for the rewards of virtue.

As for Quasimodo, he saves La Esmeralda, the first time, from being hanged for Phoebus' non-murder by doing a move Tarzan would be proud of: he swings in on a rope and snatches her away from the scaffold to Notre Dame where he claims sanctuary for her. He saves her again when Frollo tries to rape her. He also tries to protect La Esmeralda when people come to Notre Dame who he thinks are going to take her away. But La Esmeralda is sneaked out by a trick involving her husband, Gringoire, who somehow ends up saving La Esmeralda's goat instead of La Esmeralda. (I'm not being metaphorical there. I mean her actual four legged pet goat. Don't ask me why. Beautiful girl versus goat and he picks the goat? I don't even want to know why.) Quasimodo's too far away to save La Esmeralda from the second hanging though he has a bird's eye view of it from Notre Dame. But he takes instant revenge -- or I'd call it justice -- by throwing Frollo off Notre Dame to his very well deserved death. Then he goes to where La Esmeralda's body was dumped, holds her in his arms and lays there until he dies. How long do you figure that took? A week of holding a rotting corpse, surrounded by other rotting corpses, while he dies of thirst? Now that's devotion. Or insanity. Or insane devotion. His skeleton is found wrapped around hers. It crumbles to dust when they try to remove La Esmeralda's skeleton.

La Esmeralda and Quasimodo were switched as babies. You do the math. That means Quasimodo was only about 15 years old too. If "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" had a theme song it should be "Only the Good Die Young."

The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Only the good die young in France.

Go to Part II
(coming next week)

Want to read more about movies? Check out "The Old Yeller Abyss," "Star Wars, Einstein and When Lucas Got It Right" or if you're looking for more dark humor read "The (Not So) Great Zombie Apocalypse."



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