I looked around for the best translation of the Hunchback of Notre Dame and this was the one I picked, because it seemed to give the clearest impression of the French original (based on my limited French). A contemporary translation is available free online, but I wanted something newer, because it seemed to alter the original quite a bit, especially the syntax. This is a classic, it's for children, and I assume you know you'd like to read it if you're even looking at reviews.
Do not watch the Disney version to understand this! This is not a simple tale where the moral is not to judge people by looks! Hugo masterfully shows us a tragic but interesting dilemna. Claude Frollo is holy and virtuous enough to take care of an abandoned and physically deformed child. Yet, despite his virtue, he is unable to control his sexual frustrations towards the gypsy woman. It is also interesting that despite the kindness Quasimodo shows towards La Esmeralda, she can hardly look at him. Hugo masterfully increases our sorrow when Quasimodo sees her beauty and feels all the more ugly: "I never realized how ugly I am until now." It is also striking that the gypsies are sympathetic at first, but then their actions go to far and the soldiers of the church have no choice but to take direct action. Another phenomenal aspect of this book is that even though Claude Frollo shows his dark side, Hugo does not permit us to forget his good points. (Especially when Hugo shows the ingratitude of Claude Frollo's delinquent brother after all the kindness he treated him with.) Hugo presents us with striking images, powerful drama, convincing characters, some comic relief, tragic recognition and reversal, and harsh realities. Not one page is wasted. The harsh ending where Quasimodo sees everything he loved destroyed and leaves the cathedral in pure sorrow left me silent for days. If you are open to reading this in Quasimodo's and Claude Frollo's light (not in a modern light) I highly recommend this exquisite masterpiece beyond expectations. I DO NOT recommend the DISNEY version. Someone lent it to me, and I was so enraged at the destruction of Hugo's intentions that I would have loved to burn the tape. Read the book instead, or at least find a movie that tells the story the way Hugo wrote it!
The Hunchback of Notre Dame was a story that I thought would be a little bit adolescent and childish because they made a Disney movie out of it. But it wasn't. If your read the story, you realize that Disney obviously made the movie have more of a happy ending, because a sad ending is not characteristic of a child's film. Also, the Disney movie focused more on the moral of "Don't judge a person by the way they look", where the book obviously did not. The book just doesn't transfer well to screen. As far as the actual book goes, it was a very powerful story. Even though it's not really a mystery, you just want to read more to find out what happens. You begin to feel inside the story, in almost another reality. Anytime somebody talked to me or disturbed me during my reading, I would come out of the fictional dimension feeling almost hypnotic because of being into the story so much. This story is very deep, and certainly more than the Disney film portrays. I guess the main thought that I'm trying to send here is that the book is so much different and focuses on so many different subjects that in order to UNDERSTAND The Hunchback of Notre Dame you must read the book.
Disney brings family films to the screen. Hugo's book has many lessons in it that Disney did not have the time or ability to show in 90 minutes. Critizing them is easy, unlike Hugo which after reading this book is extremely hard to do. Hugo provides a vivid look at 15th century Paris and its caste with soldiers, priests, performers, students and the many levels of Paris below and above the social lines. The tale of looking for goodness in the leats suspected place is vivid as well but Hugo touches on many other subjects, like the caste systems, the finality and justice of the mob and the death penalty and friendship and true love from the darkest corners of life. Hugo is a master story teller and this book obviously had great ramifications in the French Society that Hugo frequented. Its lessons still hit hard and do not end happliy as Mickey would have wanted. But I wouldn't want my younger kids reading this story anyway, espicially the way Hugo pulls you into the heart of a character that can suffer a horrible fate. Fascinating and a great read, I recommend this book with no qualms at all.
My three-year-old daughter and I fell in love with the animated Disney version of this story, but I always sensed that there was more -- perhaps a deeper and darker message? -- and so I went back to the source to "hear" this story in Hugo's own words. While I, too, found scenes such as the "bird's-eye view of Paris" a bit laborious, Hugo typically paints his backdrops exceptionally well. His unique way of referring to you as "the reader" (and typically as a cultured one at that) -- eg, "the reader has no doubt turned over the admirable works of Rembrandt" -- does, in fact, add to the sensation of having this story told TO you (much in the same way that Clopin, himself, "tells" you the story of Quasimodo's life in the Disney movie). Understanding that the Disney account is necessarily a bit more dilluted (ie, a softer messaage), I was also pleasantly surprised by the twists and turns that Hugo's original offers... especially the climactic conclusion!