Lessons from Les Miz

By JASON REYNOLDS

Tennessee Christian News

A new book examines suffering, injustice, love and hate, grace and other spiritual themes from one of the world’s greatest stories, “Les Misérables.”

Journalist Bob Welch authored “52 Little Lessons from Les Misérables.” The title by Nelson Books will hit store shelves Tuesday, Oct. 7.

Welch interweaves the brief lessons from three sources: Victor Hugo’s original 1862 masterpiece, which he likens to a “brick” at 1,463 pages; the musical, which is the world’s longest running; and the 2012 Golden Globe best picture version starring Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean.

He acknowledges in his book that “Les Miz” is a complex story to tackle, but he quotes Victor Hugo biographer Graham Robb in saying, “It is impossible to be the same person after reading it.” He did not start his “Les Miz” journey as a devotee of the story but came to love it late in life.

Welch said, in a recent phone interview, that his book was conceived in 2012 after a challenge by his wife. He had just completed writing a 52 lessons book on “A Wonderful Life” for Thomas Nelson Publishers, and he and his wife were driving home from watching the new 2012 “Les Miz” movie. Thomas Nelson wanted more books along the 52 lessons line.

“My wife said I should do ‘Les Miz,'” Welch said. “I said I had only found a couple of lessons from the movie. My wife replied, ‘You’re a journalist. Isn’t it your job to investigate?’ I was convicted.”

Investigate the journalist did. A half hour of reading Cliff Notes determined his wife was right, so he immersed himself with the original book, various film versions and numerous musicals.

“‘Les Miz’ is about change,” Welch said. “I went back and forth through the book underlining stuff. As a journalist you dig and you dig and you dig.”

And what did the investigative journalist find?

“The story is so meaningful to us. I believe literature and film should not be so much about the time it’s set in, but how do we apply it to our own lives.”

Although “Les Miz” is deeply spiritual and delves into matters of God’s grace, Hugo never called himself a Christian, Welch writes in Lesson 23, “Faith Must Touch Others.” Indeed, writer Addison Hart said that Hugo’s poetry indicated he saw God in a pantheistic light, meaning God transcends and permeates all creation (or in other words, there is no personal being called God).

(Photo)

Bob Welch
(Photo by Rob Romig/The Register-Guard)
Part of “Les Miz’s” plot centers around Jean Valjean and Cosette taking refuge in a convent. Hugo was unforgiving of nuns who would closet themselves away from the world, but he praised Valjean’s acts of faith such as prayer and the living out of one’s faith. In contrast, Hugo loved the public limelight and had a mistress. Welch, who is a self-professed Christian, turns this observation of faithful living around to call out 21st century American Christians:

“Full of people who ignore the call in Matthew 5:13-16 to be salt and light, but piously devote themselves to Sunday church, Bible study, and small groups. It’s as if some have forgotten that these are the means to an end — ways to equip us to spread God’s love — and not the ends in themselves. As if some have forgotten that though we are not of the world, we are to be in the world.”

After speaking to Welch, who spent so much time inside the rich world of “Les Miz,” I was curious who his favorite character was. It was Myriel, the bishop who had mercy on Valjean, who had recently escaped from prison. That act of grace was the catalyst for Valjean’s transformation into a man who would sacrifice so much to help so many.

“People become pastors or priests sometimes for the wrong reason,” Welch said. “They are pharisees who want people to feel they are important. Others, like Myriel, seem genuine carriers of the Word. As a reporter these are the people I love to write about.”

Welch has served as an adjunct professor of journalism at the University of Oregon in Eugene off and on for 20 years. He recently retired from a 24-year stint at The Register-Guard, although he continues to write the occasional column there. He has written 17 books and holds writing workshops and speaks. A book on “A Christmas Carol” will be released next fall.

More information on Welch’s “Les Miz” book will be available at http://www.LittleLessonsBook.com as of Oct. 7 when the site goes live. The book retails for $16.99.

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