Classic Tails Vol. 4 – The Hunchback of Notre Dame. This novel is required reading in most high schools but we don’t think you’ve read the dog version before – have you?
For though Quasimodo was a kind and gentle Pug, it was his unfortunate crime to have been born hideously deformed with a large hump on his back that caused him to lurch forward with his head bobbing slightly above the ground as he trotted along. But one day his tender heart would prove to be a thing of rare beauty. The object of his secret love was Esmerelda, a lovely, petite English Cocker Spaniel.
As the story unfolds, Esmerelda becomes the victim of a coward’s jealous rage, and is unjustly convicted of a crime she didn’t commit. Her sentence is death by hanging. And only one brave dog can save her – Quasimodo!
This tender tale begins in Paris, the city of a thousand lights, inside a church called Notre Dame. Within its massive bell tower there lived a deformed bell ringer. His name was Quasimodo, a two year old Pug, burdened with a severely hunched back. Nobody liked Quasimodo. Everyone made fun of him and resented him because of his “hideous, ugly monstrous appearance”. He was, to put it mildly, one ugly dog.
Quasimodo was lucky enough to not be condemned to a life of living out of trash cans and having kids throw stones at him. He was sheltered in Notre Dame by the compassionate archdeacon, Dom Claude Frollo, a French Bulldog who helped him after finding Quasimodo cold and starving, lying on Notre Dame’s doorsteps one freezing December night. Later on both dogs fell in love with a beautiful, compassionate, gypsy dog named Esmeralda – but in different ways. Frollo lusted after her, but Quasimodo simply loved her romantically. But as fate would have it, Esmerelda was in love with the handsome guard dog, Captain Phoebus de Chautepers. But Chautepers, being a crass and sometimes tactless Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, did not love her back. He was already engaged to another female dog, but he was secretly a vain, untrustworthy dog with no moral scruples so he seduced Esmerelda into a quick romantic fling with him. Frollo then embarked on a mad jealousy spree, and tried to kill Phoebus, although the attempt failed and Esmeralda was unjustly framed for the deed.
This is where the meat of the story actually begins, when our poor hunchback tries to keep Esmerelda safe in the cathedral’s bell tower. But fate rears its ugly head and a group of Parisian peasants who don’t understand Quasimodo’s motives, tries to lay siege to Notre Dame in an attempt to free Esmerelda. The story eventually leads to a tragic end.
Quasimodo, scorned by most and jeered at whenever spotted by the townspeople, hated everyone except Esmerelda and Claude Frollo. Quasimodo excluded both of these dogs from his malice and from his hatred for others, and the only living creature he loved even more than his cathedral was Claude Frollo. Frollo had taken him in, had adopted him, had nourished him, had reared him. When Quasimodo was a little puppy, it was between Claude Frollo’s four legs that he always sought refuge when the mean palace dogs barked at him and chased him from room to room.
Claude Frollo gave him the position of the Notre Dame bell ringer and Quasimodo’s gratitude towards Frollo was profound, passionate, and boundless. Even though the visage of Quasimodo’s adopted father was often clouded or severe, and his barking was habitually curt, harsh, and slightly imperious, Quasimodo’s gratitude never wavered for a single moment. The archdeacon had in Quasimodo the most submissive slave, the most docile lackey, the most vigilant of dogs. When Quasimodo became deaf from the constant loud ringing of the cathedral’s bell, together they developed a language of signs; mysterious and understood by Quasimodo and Frollo alone. In this manner the archdeacon was the sole living thing with whom Quasimodo was able to preserve communication. He cared for only two things in this world: Notre Dame and Claude Frollo.
There is nothing which can be compared with the influence of the archdeacon over Quasimodo, nor with the attachment of the bell ringer for the archdeacon. Just a sign from Claude and the idea of giving him pleasure would have sufficed to make Quasimodo hurl himself headlong from the bell tower of Notre Dame. It was a remarkable thing–all that physical strength which had reached in Quasimodo such extraordinary development, and which was placed by him blindly at the disposition of another. There was in it, no doubt, filial devotion, and domestic attachment; but there was also the fascination of one spirit by another spirit. It was a poor, awkward, and clumsy abused dog, that stood with lowered head and supplicating eyes before the powerful and superior intellect of Frollo. Lastly, and above all, it was gratitude. Gratitude so pushed to an extreme limit, that we don’t know what to compare it to. This virtue is not one of those of which the finest examples are to be found among dogs or men. We can say that Quasimodo loved the archdeacon as never a dog, never a horse, never an elephant loved his master.
As a literate dog myself, I am happy to report that I thoroughly enjoyed this novel by Victor Hugo. Although I’m not sure I would have been able to be a close friend of Quasimodo (I am a little vain about my handsome Golden Retriever looks, after all), but it would have been fun to have lived through this time in history. That is, if it had actually been real.