Les Mis: A Crash Course

les mis a crash course.jpg

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

les miserables 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

les mis musical.png

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.

tv series???

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 tutorialLes 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.)

do you like musicals? what do you think about les mis? is there a particular fandom which is important to you?

Les Mis v Hamilton

les mis v hamilton final

Two musicals, alike in revolution-ing… Which one is the better? Today I’m joined by the wonderful Evi @ Adventuring Through Pages to present to you the arguments for superiority of two fandoms featuring real historical revolutions: Les Misérables and Hamilton!

team les mis

Hi there! It’s Evi from Adventuring Through Pages! Eve is amazing, and I’m so eager to do this with her. I am covering Les Misérables, as you can see, though it was kinda hard to choose because asldkhflsdk THEY ARE BOTH AMAZING. (Note: this is all, obviously, in good fun. We’re just both massive geeks. 😀 )

1. While Les Mis is set canonically later than Hamilton…we’ve been around a lot longer

Les Misérables was published in 1862, and the musical opened in Paris  in 1980 – its very first performance – and has been around and loved since then. EVERYBODY has heard of Les Mis. It has performed in 44 countries, schools all over the place, and 347 cities. It’s even been made into the 2012 movie! So I think that we technically get authority credit for being so well-loved as compared to these young whippersnappers with their rapping and odd dance moves.

2.The characters are THE BEST

Okay, so maybe it doesn’t say it outright in the book…but Marius is a huge dork, Cosette is the literal cinnamon roll™, Valjean is the best father figure, and the Amis- even though they’re totally epic revolutionaries- all have so many intense personalities. Javert himself is one of the most complex characters on the planet- like, he’s a good guy…but he also wants to get rid of the main character, so that proves a bit difficult. The Thenardiers are an odd bunch as well, because literally everybody hates them but they are also massive comedic relief in the musical & movie. There’s more adorableness and less sass-and-relationship-drama-and-battle-issues-and-people-who-are-literally-the-phrase-“fight-me” as seen in Hamilton.

(Also tiny Cosette is adorable let’s face it she is)

3.The style of music is more classic and appeals to a larger crowd

While there is a lot to be said about Hamilton’s uniqueness in music style, Les Mis has a more classic, traditional style that appeals to a larger crowd than just those who enjoy rap/hip-hop. There are love songs, there are angry stirring fight-y songs, there are saddening but hopeful finale music, and there are dramatic self-reflection songs that may or may not result in you falling into a river. There’s music for everyone in it!

Also, one of my personal favorite things about Les Mis is how much there are common musical melodies that get repeated over and over in different ways. Leitmotifs are a common theme in musicals, I just think it’s really evident in Les Mis and that’s something I love.

4.The fandom is kind of ginormous and also really friendly

Because the Les Mis fandom has literally been around for nearly 200 years…it’s kind of huge. People of all ages and backgrounds love it (in fact, the musical has been translated into 22 different languages)! And because there’s not much to argue about, the fandom as a whole is really nice. There’s amazing fanart and funny textpost compilations and fan-made videos of people singing medleys. There is just so much to explore that Hamilton doesn’t yet have (though personally I hope it gets there).

les mis fandom post
source: imgur

(so maybe it attempts to consume your entire life hahaha it’s alright you’ll be okay)

5. You learn A LOT from the book

I…knew very little about French history and their failed revolutions and basically ANYTHING until I read Les Misérables. So it’s a history lesson AND a book of ginormous emotions and pretty words all in one! I mean, we have a book (Les Mis is separated into volumes, then books, then chapters) on France’s historical sewer systems. I know what every character looks like and how much Bishop Myriel spends on his charities and personal expenses (15,000 livres, if you’re curious). I know that Marius Pontmercy apparently has “well-opened and passionate nostrils” (Chapter One of the sixth book of the third volume). I know that Jean “Jehan” Prouvaire plays the flute. Essentially, if you take away the fact that it is the basis for the musical and all that, Les Misérables is the book every fan wants- an in-depth discussion of EVERYTHING that happened and WHO each character is and WHAT they like to do in their free time and EXACTLY HOW well-opened their nostrils are. It’s a ginormous companion book that isn’t, y’know, actually a companion book. Let it never be said that you don’t come away from Les Mis learning a lot.

team hamilton
This is Eve here! MAN AM I READY FOR THIS FIGHT. *cracks knuckles* Although like Evi said, I absolutely stress that I don’t actually want to physically fight you or anything. I love both fandoms like crazy. (As you all probably know by now!)

1. The music and lyrics are AMAZING

Hamilton is just an exceedingly well-composed musical. And exceedingly well-written. Not only does each character have their own musical motifs; they also have a distinctive style of lyrics. It makes my musical side extremely pleased. *sighs happily* Hamilton just has such a unique style of music and lyrics and sooo many fabulous songs asdfjkl. They’re CRAZY DAMN CATCHY.

JEFFERSON: I’m in the cabinet. I am complicit in
Watching him grabbin’ at power and kissin’ it
If Washington isn’t gon’ listen
To disciplined dissidents, this is the difference:
This kid is out!

Have you seen these lyrics?!??? I CAN’T EVEN IT’S SO GREAT.

2. It appeals to a wide audience

Musical theatre people? History people? Students? Teachers? HAMILTON APPEALS TO ALL THESE PEOPLE. And it’s also brought in a more mainstream audience — I mean, you could hear its songs on the radio. And hopefully you will. It’s so great to see people who wouldn’t normally be interested suddenly LOVE something. (I, at least, have developed a weird interest in US history. *coughs*) I think this fact — the transformation of what is for some an incredibly boring subject into something everyone can enjoy — shows something very special.

3. Lin Manuel-Miranda is super cool

Victor Hugo was…a bit of an egotistical asshole. He thought he was an amazing prodigy. He probably wrote his own memoir under his wife’s name. Obviously I don’t know LMM (the writer/Alex Hamilton) personally, but he just seems like a Genuinely Nice Guy™. He makes nerdy musical references! He responds and joins in which the fandom! He makes stupid vines ! He has also written another great musical called In the Heights! He and the cast give us Ham4Ham shows with cheap tickets and free fabulous music when they really, really don’t have to. It feels a lot better to like something made by wonderful people doing wonderful things.

ladies of hamilton ham4ham
LOOK AT THE AWESOME CAST BEING AWESOME (source)

4. The revolution survives, as do (some of) your faves

i’m not crying there’s just rain on my face Les Mis details the July uprising of 1832, which…well. It failed. Everyone died. Yep. Hamilton is about the War of Independence in the USA, which obviously didn’t fail because it’s still independent. This particular band of revolutionaries actually manages to get its act together and you’re not (immediately) left crying. I mean, everyone has to die in the end because this was 200 years ago and even asshole revolutionaries are not immortal. But within the musical, a decent amount of people survive! Hurrah for less emotional scarring!

5. Actual history = SO MUCH CANON

Les Mis was published in 1865? ALEXANDER HAMILTON WAS BORN IN 1755, SUCKERS. HA. Les Mis is based on a novel? So is Hamilton. (It was inspired by Ron Chernow’s biography.) You can read historical documents; letters from Hamilton to Laurens, Jefferson to Madison, Angelica to Hamilton; the actual Federalist papers; years and years of historical analysis. You might even study him at school! (Alas, not I, but I live in hope.) Hamilton’s legacy is visible in the USA today. He’s on the 10$ bills. I refuse to believe there is more Les Mis fandom to explore, thanks.

thanks so much for writing this with me, evi! now it’s your turn: whose argument was more persuasive? which fandom do YOU choose?