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This week's Question:
What is your favorite villain from a book?
At the moment, I think it if probably Javert from Les Miserables. Most likely due to recent, repeated exposure.
Did you know I saw Les Miserables three times in theatre? And then felt compelled to see the 25th anniversary concert edition for the fourth time? And totally plan to hunt down the 10th anniversary version even though I've seen it four times too? And recently listened to the Original Cast recording which I have had on my iPod for years? And two months ago I saw it live for the--anyway, you get the picture.
In other words, I loved it *uh-hem* before the movie came out.
Someone (for some reason I feel it might have been Stephen King? Googling has done me no good, since I can't remember the quote well enough. If you know who it was, please tell me) said something along the lines of "The most powerful stories aren't a conflict between good and evil, but between good and good."
I think that is why I find Javert's story so moving. His failure does not come because of greed, or lust or weakness. It is, instead, his dedication to justice that is his greatest fault and his absolute, dogged, unswerving purpose that is his ultimate downfall. In the proper course, these are good things. Justice is one of the highest ideals a person can strive for. Tenacity, bravery, the willingness to keep pursuing the Good no matter how hard and endless the road: those are all qualities we look for in our heroes.
Javert upholds the law. He does the hard, dirty work of guarding the city. If you were a law-abiding citizen, no doubt you would feel safer knowing that Inspector Javert was walking the beat around your house. If someone you loved was killed, it might give you comfort to know that Inspector Javert, implacable as a bulldog, was going to drag the murderer before a judge no matter how long it took. Javert is promoted again and again because he is a excellent policeman and a moral person, but his is a morality that embraces a world of black and white, where The Law is a second god. It is the view of a child: good guys, bad guys, those who obey the rules, and those who break them.
However, in his rigid pursuit of the Law's Justice, he forgets that there are laws higher than those set down by the French Government, laws in which true justice always allows for mercy, for forgiveness, and for redemption. In Jean Valjean, Javert meets a paradox: a convicted criminal who is at the same time . . . good. He encounters great mercy, selfless courage, miraculous forgiveness, love, and ultimately, grace; the very same things that Jean Valjean meets in the Bishop of Digne.
But instead of looking for a new way of life, Javert shatters under the destruction of his old one.
To me, he is every bit as tragic as he is the arguably evil, certainly dogged antagonist. I would not love him half so well, if I could not pity him as I do. He is cruel, he is vicious, he is blind, he is heartless, but, my God, does he think he's doing the right thing. How pitiable that such a man should be wrong. And, as the reader who has stood at Valjean's side for 800 pages or so, we know how very wrong he is.
|And he has such an excellent uniform.|
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