HALLOWEEN 2011: BY CAROL STARKEY
What makes a monster? Is it a deformed visage or is it what’s on the inside in a man’s heart?
Frollo, in Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, is the judge in Paris, one of the highest positions outside of the church. But instead of using that power to help others, he has allowed it to corrupt him.
The film begins with him chasing down a gypsy woman. He believes she’s stolen a loaf of bread and he pursues her through alleys and over fences to Notre Dame. When she bangs on the doors, crying for sanctuary, he rides up to her, rips the bundle from her arms, and knocks her down the stairs, killing her. And when he unwraps the bundle to find a deformed baby, he’s disgusted. He already hates all gypsies, thinking them evil. He refuses to see that any of them could be good and therefore has no qualms about drowning the baby. Before he can, however, the archbishop appears and cries out for him to stop, lest such a deed condemn him in the sight of Notre Dame. For the first time, Frollo fears for his soul. The eyes of all the statues and carvings are looking down on him, judging him. He entrusts the baby to the archbishop to be raised inside the magnificent cathedral and gives it the cruel name of Quasimodo, meaning half-formed.
As the years go by, Frollo has never let Quasimodo forget he’s a monster. He’s taught the boy to feel shame before God, to fear his fellow man, and that there is no place in society for a monster like him.
After twenty years of fear and cruel oppression, Quasimodo finally gathers his courage and sneaks out from the cathedral to attend the Feast of Fools. At this feast a beautiful gypsy girl, Esmerelda, dances for the crowd. Frollo at first finds her disgusting but watching her, something wakes in him that wants more.
It is customary each year for the crowd to crown the King of Fools and this time they choose Quasimodo. Frollo is outraged, since he has forbidden Quasimodo from ever leaving Notre Dame. It is his prison and that is another thing Frollo gets wrong: you see, in the story, Notre Dame is symbolic of faith and our relationship with God. But our devotion to Him should not be a bunch of strict rules binding us to Him so tightly that we cannot breathe, or forced upon us, but rather the freedom to choose Him and follow his ways—to seek sanctuary out of trust rather than persecution.
It’s not long before the crowd grows into a mob, incited through the cruelty of one of Frollo’s guards. They tie Quasimodo down and pelt him with rotten fruit. Frollo observes all this with a sick justification: if Quasimodo has chosen to sin, he will pay. Here again, Frollo has not grasped the true message of forgiveness.
Openly defying Frollo, the gypsy Esmerelda frees Quasimodo, then ends up fleeing into Notre Dame for sanctuary. Frollo chases her down and in the church where he claims to worship God, his lust is inflamed. Esmerelda is disgusted and he leaves, threatening that she will be his if she sets foot out of the cathedral.
Once home, he struggles with his passion, believing himself to be pure, sinless, and above reproach. But as he observes Esmerelda’s dancing form in the hearth, she beckons to him and he blames God for creating her and making “the devil stronger than a man.” Here he gives in to his lust and determines that he will have her or she will die.
Meanwhile, Esmerelda has been wandering among the worshipers in Notre Dame. She is awed by the presence of God she feels there and humbly asks Him to save her people. She is surrounded by those asking only for themselves but she feels the real power of God inside the church.
Quasimodo is drawn to her and she follows him into the bell tower, where she apologizes for what the crowd did to him and shows him that though he’s ugly on the outside, what matters is his heart.
Shortly after, she escapes from Notre Dame—she too views it as a prison but has begun to see that God loves us, offers us sanctuary in our time of need, and won’t judge us for who we are, in a direct contrast with Frollo and his narrow-minded and legalistic views. Enraged to learn that Esmerelda has escaped, Frollo hunts for her throughout Paris. He has cast off any semblance of religion and becomes a madman in his search, even attempting to burn down a house with the family still inside. He cages every gypsy he finds; they are no more than vermin to him—they represent the one he cannot have. When he finally finds her, he tries her as a witch, but instead of ever giving her a chance to recant, he tells her that she will burn eternally unless he chooses him. She spits in his face. It is with joy that he ignites the pyre beneath her feet.
All this time, Quasimodo has been in Notre Dame, afraid to come out. Frollo made sure Quasimodo knew what a grave sin he committed by leaving the cathedral and disobeying his master. But when the hunchback sees Esmerelda at the stake, he knows the real sin would be in letting her die. He rescues her and carries her to the top of the cathedral. She is senseless from the smoke and he lifts her above his head, crying, “Sanactuary! Sanctuary!” He has finally realized the true purpose of the church and God. After making sure she is safe, he goes to war against Frolllo and his army by pouring molten copper from the mouths of gargoyles in yet another symbolic act: not only does God offer sanctuary to the lost, He fights to keep his children safe and those who persecute them will not survive the flames.
Frollo manages to invade Notre Dame and turns on Quasimodo, who is at first no match for him but Frollo gloats that it’ll be just like when he killed his mother so long ago. Emboldened with disgust for the man’s unrepentant hatred and cruelty, Quasimodo fights back with renewed energy and Notre Dame comes to his defense, sending Frollo plunging into the molten fire below.
As the sun rises over the city, the inhabitants rejoice, none more than Quasimodo and Esmerelda, for at last they see that God is not the unforgiving tyrant Frollo portrayed Him as. He is loving, offering sanctuary and true forgiveness. And the real monster, Frollo, has been vanquished. ■
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Carol Starkley lives in the beautiful state of Connecticut. She has a husband, three daughters and numerous pets. She works part-time while working and going to school. She loves to write, read, and take pictures of life around her. Her blog is updated infrequently, but she hopes to change that after she graduates. She’s a Christian, and hopes that ultimately her life will point to him. She also blogs.