Thursday, December 6, 2012

Les Miz and Me

Bishop Myriel's
unconditional love
changes Jean
Valjean's life
I don't usually share anything publicly about a work in progress. Like most writers,  my computer is loaded with partially completed projects--some abandoned altogether, gathering digital dust. As a rule, it's best to keep my current projects to myself. Considering the imminent film release of the musical, Les Miserables, I'm going to risk an exception. 

First, some background. My all-time favorite novel is Victor Hugo's masterpiece. For me, it's more than a story. It ranks next to the Bible as a literary sign and sacrament of God's love for our frail, often broken humanity. No surprise, then, that my most beloved fictional characters are Bishop Charles Francois Myriel and Jean Valjean (in that order). 

Over a 25-year novel writing career, I have "fathered" dozens of fictional children. Now, this is where I risk sounding a little bit weird. I have this mystical theory, you see. Its hypothesis is this: every character of fiction created in the mind of an author or original storyteller has a real life in an alternate or parallel universe. I base this on a common phenomenon that fiction writers experience upon completion of their stories. In my case, having lived with my characters for a year--or more--and knowing them as intimately as I do, letting go and moving on sets in motion a grieving process. It's similar to the emotions generated by the loss of a loved one.

My parallel universe theory plays out in There's More (working title), my current work-in-progress. The story begins with Hugo's Bishop Myriel being called from his existence in another realm to serve as companion and guide to Afterlife. A young priest has just died in a freak accident--one that turns out to be a murder. This is not the bishop's first experience in this capacity on Earth, but he considers it the most remarkable. 

Like the bishop in my story, this is not the first time Hugo's characters have populated my own writing. In The Wisdom of Les Miserables: Lessons From the Heart of Jean Valjean, I reflected on my personal life experience in light of the spiritual/theological themes embedded in the novel. Also, one of my most-read blog posts on this site is "A Model for 21st c. Catholic Bishops," in which I urge the hierarchy of my church to become servant leaders after the manner of the Christlike Myriel.  

I can't wait to see the latest earthly incarnations of Bishop Myriel (Colm Wilkinson) and Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman). I wish Director Tom Hooper (The King's Speech) success with Les Miz's most recent rendition. And, in that faraway universe, where our fictional characters live, may the real Myriel and Valjean also delight in it.

(c) 2013 by Alfred J. Garrotto
All rights reserved


  1. I love the thought of a special "cloud" for our characters.

    As for the film Les Miserables, I'm imagining your sitting there for showing after showing.

    Merry Christmas to you and your family.

  2. Al, I also loved the genius of Hugo in depicting the human condition, and especially in "Les Miserables". I also agree with your concept of the existence of created characters, as mine live in my mind, and I hope in the minds of some of my readers. I would be happy to help you with this project by editing or whatever, and wish it great success. Cheers, Don

  3. Awesome idea, Al! I will certainly want to read the book you are working on! I feel guilty though. Some of my characters have miserable lives. If they're in an alternate universe, I have a lot to answer for. And what about the poor "half-done" characters in stories that languish under the bed?

    I know exactly what you mean about Les Miserables. The music makes me weak with emotion, and the story stirs such passion. I don't care for most "classic" literature, but when I read Les Miserables, I could not put it down! It truly is a lesson for the ages, with or without God.