It’s something that, in our contemporary culture, Christians would recognize almost immediately, while others would not. Les Misérables by Victor Hugo is part of the pantheon of the world’s great literature, and it is also an intensely Christian story. The popular stage production and movie do have wide audience appeal; both are great entertainment, with an resonating story line and wonderful music. And they don’t downplay the themes of grace and redemption; but many people in the audiences might be surprised at the profoundly Christian elements of these themes.
In The Grace of Les Misérables, author Matt Rawle tackles these themes head on. In six relatively short but packed chapters, he considers the grace displayed in the life of Jean Valjean; how grace and justice collide in the life of Inspector Javert; the problem of “the poor are always with you” in the life of Fantine; how the relationship of Marius and Cosette demonstrate the gift of love; how the friends exemplify the idea of building the barricade; and how the scenes of the garden, far from being asides, are critical to understanding the book.
What Rawle also helps you understand, if unintentionally, is that while the movie and the stage production are faithful to the book, the book contains much, much more. It is a more nuanced work. For example, the movie and play condense Valjean’s redemption into a few key scenes, while the book makes it clear his redemption happens over a considerable period of time. Christians recognize this as the process of sanctification. And the book does not display Inspector Javert as an evil villain; instead, it shows the ongoing internal conflict the man experiences as he grapples with the ideas of justice and grace.
Rawle is lead pastor of Asbury United Methodist Church in Bossier City, La. He received his B.A. degree in music from LSU and his Masters of Divinity degree from Duke Divinity School. He is also the author of What Makes a Hero?, The Faith of a Mockingbird, The Redemption of Scrooge, The Gift of the Nutcracker, The Salvation of Doctor Who, Almost Christmas: A Wesleyan Advent Experience, Hollywood Jesus, and The Marks of Hope.
The Grace of Les Misérables is a wonderful resource for exploring and deepening one’s understanding of the great work by Hugo. And it clearly shows how bedrock Christian teachings and themes underpin the entire story.
Note: The Grace of Les Misérables also has both a group leader guide and a youth study book for discussion in small groups and young adult classes. Both track the chapters in the main book. The leader guide includes a session overview; a list of suggested questions for discussion; appropriate Bible verses; and suggestions for application. The guide is extremely well done, easy to follow, and useful for both live and online group discussions.