Tom: When I was little, I used to spend a lot of time at my granddad's place and one of the things I loved there was a box of comics that he'd had since he was a young boy. They were comic book versions of classic stories from all around the world.
There was one in particular that fascinated me, mainly because of the main character. His name was Quasimodo, and he lived in Notre Dame cathedral in Paris in the 1480s.
As I looked at the drawings, I felt so sorry for him. He had a really bad life and I wanted to make things better for him. Even though, as a little kid, I didn't understand the words, the drawings brought Quasimodo alive on every page.
I know some of you will have seen the Disney version of the story film The Hunchback of Notre Dame, but I wish you hadn’t. Quasimodo is nothing like that cartoon character.
Quasimodo was abandoned by his mother as a new-born baby on the steps in front of Notre Dame cathedral. Probably his mother could not cope with a baby as deformed and ugly as the one she had given birth to: he had a giant hump back, a massive lump coming out of his chest, and a great wart covering one of his eyes. He was also deaf.
Frollo, one of the priests at the Cathedral finds the baby and adopts him, training him up to be the cathedral’s bell ringer. Quasimodo lives alone in one of the towers of Notre Dame; Frollo teaches him never to go outside because if people saw him, they would think he was a monster and harm him.
Grown-up Quasimodo looks like a creature from hell, but he is no monster. He is gentle and kind. But one day, he makes a terrible mistake. He sneaks out of the safety of his tower to see what the world outside looks like.
The day he goes out is “The Feast of Fools” a holiday for the people of Paris.
When the crowd sees Quasimodo, they crown him ‘King of Fools’ for being the ugliest person in Paris. They torture him, beat him with sticks and throw rotten fruit at him.
But a gypsy girl called Esmeralda takes pity on the hunchback, and gives him a drink of water. This simple act of kindness leads to a terrible story of love and murder as characters use innocent, trusting Quasimodo for their own ends.
The Disney movie softens Quasimodo’s deformities and his tragic story. The original novel was written by Victor Hugo in 1831, but it is quite long and difficult to read. There are, however, simplified versions that have been adapted for modern readers that don’t sugarcoat this sad story.
Quasimodo captured my attention when I was little and I still think about him. Who wouldn't root for such a guy?