This April marked two years since I fell down the rabbit hole of Les Miserables, and by extension many other musicals. TWO YEARS. It feels like a long time ago. I’ve changed a lot since then. Les Mis became, and still is, a really important part of my life!
Thus, to mark the occasion I bring you my guide to Les Mis, for people who know nothing about Les Mis. I am currently listening to the musical and I am READY FOR THIS.
so what is it???
Les Mis refers to the book Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, covering a failed revolution and a reformed convict in 19th-century Paris, and its subsequent adaptations, most notably the Broadway/West End musical.
les misérables, the book
Our journey begins with the novel Les Misérables-with-the-e-acute novel by French author Victor Hugo, published in 1862. The main characters are:
- Jean Valjean, an escaped convict leading a life of extreme coincidences. Stole a loaf of bread.
- Javert, the policeman hunting him for breaking parole. He was born with scum like you. Lawful but…well. Misguided.
- Fantine, a kind & lovely girl who got abandoned by this guy and ended up in prostitution.
- Cosette, her blessed daughter and my wife. Sappy, but hates not being told stuff. Deserved better from the musical.
- Marius Pontmercy, a rich boy who get thrown out by his family and then lives as a poor student in Paris. He’s an absolute nerd and he loves Cosette. One time he hit his head for two hours against a tree.
- Eponine Thenardier, a girl born into a not good family but doing her absolute best to kick your ass and overcome her unrequited crush on Marius.
- Also some students called Les Amis de l’ABC. If you’ve seen the musical, you’ll probably only know their leader, Enjolras. (He’s the guy in red.) However, if you go into the book internet fandom, you’ll probably find it focuses more around these students. If you only know the musical you probably haven’t heard of them, but never fear. I’ll cover them in more detail later.
It’s a pretty long book, but I do think if you love Les Mis then it’s worth it! Lots of people call it The Brick due to…well, its very brick-like nature as a book. (That is to say, it’s very long.) Other things you might need to know are the Infamous Waterloo Section, which is an essentially an essay about Waterloo, and the time that Valjean broke out of a convent in a grave. There are many different translations, ranging from modern (Donougher, ose) to old-timey but free (Hapgood). You can even do a Les Mis tour of Paris in which you visit the original sites. DON’T WORRY, I’M COMING TO THE STUDENTS.
les amis de l’abc
Yeah, I’m giving them a separate section because I LOVE THESE KIDS. The main things you need to know are that they have an extremely minimal/sometimes even non-existent part in the musical and…still quite a comparatively small part in the book. HOWEVER THEY ARE VERY IMPORTANT SYMBOLICALLY. (Or so I hear.)
Anyway. They all like jokes, and their name is a French pun (for l’abaisse which is apparently like the abased/degraded, thanks internet). They have so many French puns. I don’t even understand them most of the time. From the sometimes few information Victor Hugo gives us, the fandom has sort of interpreted personalities, which somehow absorb into one’s brain through Collective Fandom Knowledge, which is pretty epic.
- Enjolras, who as Victor Hugo goes to great pains to tell us about is Very Very Handsome. His girlfriend is France. (I’m telling you. This is a canon joke.)
- Combeferre is very chill, but will outsmart you. His main book attribute is just be SUPER SMART.
- Courfeyrac sometimes acts like a douchebag but has a good heart. (This part is also actually canon. Maybe paraphrased, but.) Probably would be the lead singer of an indie band if he was alive today. Ray of annoying sunshine. These first three make up the ‘triumvirate’, which seems to basically just be a fancy word for group of 3.
- Grantaire, the drunk cynic who goes on long drunk rants about intellectual things that I don’t understand. In unrequited love with Enjolras. (I don’t want to spoil you, and you know, interpretation and all, but there are some pretty gay moments.)
- Jean Prouvaire, or Jehan, is the shy poet who actually has Many Opinions, probably would wear a flower crown.
- Bahorel, who would probably either get in a fight or do other dumb stuff for the memes.
- Feuilly, an optimistic orphan who works super hard. (Not actually a student, but still part of the group.)
- Bossuet, whose name is based on another obscure French joke and can’t grow any hair. Always smiling but has terrible luck. Also known as Lesgle, L’aigle de Meaux… I mean, I don’t eve know how we got here.
- Joly, a hypochondriac medical student who is a cinnamon roll.
- Musichetta, a ‘superb and literary girl’ whom Joly is wild over. She can wreck you.
- Oh yeah, Marius is also part of this gang but he’s definitely not the leader as the musical suggests. He’s a TERRIBLE revolutionary.
Excuse me whilst I feel a bit emotional here. This hasn’t included Eponine, Gavroche, and Cosette, who I sometimes group with them just for ease even if they’re not technically of the ABC, but OH WELL. MY KIDS. ;-; And just for good measure, here is an amusing post of “Les Amis as stuff the students living next door to me have done”.
les mis, the musical
This is probably the more well-known and accessible form of Les Mis. It’s a very popular sung-through musical now, but when it was released the critics were like OMG NO IT’S TOO SAPPY AND TRAGIC. I Dreamed a Dream and Do You Hear the People Sing? are among the best-known songs. The Confrontation, a duet between Valjean and Javert, is also very much a jam in my personal opinion. However, the musical does cut a lot of the book, in particular Les Amis, the details of Valjean’s life and Cosette being an absolute badass.
Some things you should know about various different forms and productions:
- The original French concept version is SUPER different and even features a…disco version of Red and Black? Which is pretty hilarious to be honest.
- Original cast is rad. I would recommend.
- Other cool things to watch/listen to are 10th anniversary and 25th anniversary, although a word of warning: Nick Jonas plays Marius is 25th anniversary and he is nOT GOOD.
- The 2012 movie made the musical a lot easier to follow than just listening to a cast album, which is great! Personally I think that after listening to cast recordings, the musical singing definitely isn’t as good *coughs*Javert*coughs* but you can get a solid idea of the story. (I saw this before I saw anything else.) I actually think Eddie Redmayne is a solid Marius. Sadly they cut some parts from the musical, but. Grantaire has a veeery small part in this but his actor George Blagden appears to be, like, a complete Les Mis nerd? which I still find amazing? (Like, is that an Enjolras/Grantaire fansong on Youtube? IS IT??)
- It did produce this TRULY EXCELLENT VIDEO, which I am just going to embed for good measure:
- I’ve also listened to some of a Spanish version, Los Miserables and I liked it a lot! I still think this version or Red and Black is super excellent. (I’ve fallen into the hole of watching Les Mis in different languages, and now I’m watching Daniel Diges in Les Mis Brasil? I mean, who even knows anymore.
- I haven’t watched many Les Mis Broadway things since of course I’m nearer to the West End production, but this performance at the Tonys is wonderful! I particularly think Eponine, Marius, Enjolras, and Valjean are great. ❤ (That was like…half the people haha. THEY’RE ALL GREAT.)
- There’s probably a lot more stuff I could say, to be honest, and I will undoubtedly regret not putting something in later, but OH WELL. Here’s an In The Heights/Les Mis mashup.
Last year the BBC announced they were making a (non-musical) Les Mis miniseries, written by Andrew Davies, and in February this year he stated that he had just finished writing the first draft. It’s due to air next year, and for one I am very interested to see what it comes up with! I even wrote about the stuff I’d love to see them put in if you want to check it out. 😉 Other Les Mis-related content of mine includes a Jehan cosplay tutorial, Les Mis v Hamilton fandom battle, and the Les Mis book tag.
There are, of course, many other adaptations, including several movies, radio plays, and TV series, and it’s very easy to fall into the hole of internet searching. As you can perhaps see by my myriad of links and 1.5k post on this topic. (Me, a Les Mis fan? I mean, maybe a bit.)