Les Miserables

[Note: a colleague of mine at the college, Dr. Aaron Hebbard, suggested a post on this topic]

Last weekend my family had the opportunity to attend the stage production of the musical Les Miserables at the Ahmanson Theater in LA. It was a fantastic performance which we thoroughly enjoyed.

It is an appropriate subject for this blog because the protagonist, Jean Valjean, is a person who lived pursuing glory in the midst of the grind. Though no summary could adequately communicate the power, intensity and beauty of the story, for those who may be unfamiliar with the story, here is my attempt at a brief summary:

The story focuses on the struggles of ex-convict Jean Valjean and his experience of redemption. He was arrested for stealing a loaf of bread for his sister’s starving family and, because of repeated attempts to escape, spent 19 years in prison doing hard labor. After his release, he is rejected by everyone because of his criminal past. He is taken in by a kindly bishop, steals from the bishop and is caught, then is pardoned by the bishop who tells Valjean’s captors that the stolen items were a gift. The bishop actually gives him silver candlesticks to add to the other things he has stolen. The bishop exhorts Valjean to use these items to begin to live a good life. Valjean is converted and begins to live his life for God.

He builds a reputation as a good and successful man who eventually becomes a mayor. From that time on he is pursued by an obsessed detective, Javert, who discovers his true identity and seeks to arrest him. Valjean rescues and goes on the run with the daughter of a dying woman, Fantine, and the young girl, Cosette, becomes like a daughter to him. He promises Fantine that he will care for and watch over Cosette and that she will want for nothing under his care.

Though Valjean has several opportunities to kill Javert, he spares his life only to have Javert continue his pursuit. Javert, conflicted by his own harsh views of law and justice, is overwhelmed by the mercy and grace of Valjean and commits suicide by throwing himself into a river.

Cosette falls in love with a law student, Marius, who Valjean saves in the midst of a civil uprising. Valjean flees from them for their safety. The ending is very moving as Valjean sees Cosette and Marius as he is on his deathbed but he is able to die peacefully seeing Cosette again and knowing that he has kept his promise to Fantine and has lived his life for God.

The life of Jean Valjean is filled with the difficulties of the grind and yet he manages to catch glimpses of glory in the midst of the difficulties he faces. In that sense, he is a literary example for us of what it looks like to live committed to seeing the glory in the grind.

The author of the novel is Victor Hugo. It is a story worth reading though even many who give the book positive reviews suggest reading a condensed version since the original is over 1000 pages. There is also a movie adaptation which has all the characteristics of a Hollywood adaptation (a blunting of the strong spiritual nature of the book, changes to make the story more marketable, etc.) yet even with its weaknesses it is a movie worth watching. Liam Neeson plays the main character, Jean Valjean, and does a good job communicating the qualities of the character. However, a movie rarely does justice to a written story, especially one as riveting as this story is.

So you can take this as recommended reading – the condensed version for the those who enjoy reading fiction, the full version for those who are more hearty.

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About Dr. John H. Harbison

Son of God, Husband, Father, Author of "Keeping Christ in Ministry,"Vice-President for Academic Affairs, College Pastor, Runner, Writer
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