Then, one Spring morning in Dublin, I read on the front page of the Irish Times that a Dubliner, Colm Wilkenson, had made a big splash in London as Jean Valjean in the musical Les Mis.
And I thought,
“ That’s great. They have made a musical of Les Miserables! But how could anyone enjoy this musical if they did not read the book first? ”
Well, of course, thousands have enjoyed the musical, without the book first, since then.
Later, when I was teaching at Gorsebrook, I used Les Miserables in my English course. And, of course, I used the musical as well. A great combination.
For the most part, it got a great response from the students. Most had never been required to read anything like this before in their lives. And combined with the music from the show, many loved it.
Then one day, very close to the end of the year, I had to kill about 15 minutes with my class at the end of the afternoon.
The term was really over. But, just to keep them occupied, I gave each of them a piece of paper and instructed them to write three sentences, each containing some kind of a comment about having studied Les Miserables as part of their English course.
They went right to work. They all had something meaningful to say. And these were Grade 8’s.
I was really favorably impressed when I read their comments.
This was not an assignment . After I read the comments, I realized that I had not really appreciated how much so many of my students, some of whom were ESL and others not really skilled readers, had been affected by Les Miserables.
Only a few were not enthusiastic.
After I retired, I decided to take my 525 page abridged edition of Les Miserables (We used two. One was 325 pages and the other 525.) and make it a little more appealing so that EVERYONE would be more interested and enthusiastic.
Victor Hugo could be a little wordy and flowery and sometimes he drifted away from the main plot. This left some of the students discouraged and confused. I could tell when it was legging and they were struggling.
Having observed some, as they plodded through the book, I decided to make a few alterations.
I shortened the introduction and I made the language of the early portion of the novel simpler. So anyone could handle it.
This made it easier for the less skilled readers to continue until they got to the part of the story where it grabbed them. After that the language did not matter. They would deal with it because they wanted to find out what was going to happen.
And then, I simply removed certain little portions of the novel that were confusing to many the readers, including me, and not really essential to the soul or main plot of the story.
I have offered it only to two people to read and they loved it. They raced right through it! Neither had ever seen the musical.
I think that all school kids should have the opportunity to read this newly abridged version of Les Miserables. I believe that it would do them good!