As mentioned in the introduction, I recently saw Les Miserables (again).  This show has been one of my favorites for over a decade now, and it actually held top honors as my Best Musical Ever until I saw Wicked in 2004 (and that will no doubt be the subject of a later post).  While watching it, I realized what intricate characters this show contains, and that while it may seem easy to sort the characters into their respective houses, such depth of character deserves more than just a quick, throwaway label with little consideration.

This post contains spoilers for Les Miserables, if you don’t want to know the details of what happens in the show, don’t read anything else!

The Thenardiers: To start, I’ll pick an easy couple to analyze, the Thenardiers.  Of all the characters, they are the least complicated, and possibly most repulsive (yet highly entertaining).  Their role in the show begins with them as innkeepers, where they swindle their guests and steal their goods.  Fantine, the single mother of the young Cosette, has entrusted them with Cosette’s care while she works to support her, and she sends them as much money as she can.  The Thenardiers use Cosette for slave labor, while constantly complaining about her presence and the meager amount of money Fantine sends them.  When Fantine dies and Jean Valjean comes to claim Cosette, the Thenardiers use every excuse in the book to try to swindle money out of him to take her – first that they love her like their own daughter (after openly favoring their own daughter over her), then that she’s had many costly illnesses, and they top it all off by accusing Jean Valjean of possibly being a pedophile.

Ten years following their loss of Cosette, the Thenardiers are living on the streets of Paris, running a thieving crew, their inn having gone out of business.  Aside from preying on the sympathies of the generous rich folk by pretending they have an unfed child, Monsieur Thenardier  attempts to sell out Jean Valjean to Inspector Javert, and tries to rob Jean Valjean (though his attempt is thwarted by his now teenage daughter, Eponine).  After the battle, Monsieur Thenardier is seen pulling gold teeth from the dead and stealing jewelry off the corpses of the fallen soldiers.  Near the end of the show, the Thenardiers crash a wedding, where they attempt to force the groom to pay them for some important information, and then attempt to steal the silver cutlery and dishes from the banquet table.

The Thenardiers clearly aren’t very intelligent – first squandering the money they got from Jean Valjean, then losing their business and ending up on the streets.  They show no bravery, submitting willingly to the Inspector’s demands and preferring to flee from danger instead of facing it.  They show no loyalty to anyone but each other – and even that is sometimes up for debate – and it’s quite clear that they’re only looking out for themselves.  They follow no moral code, willing to go to any lengths for just one more sou.

Verdict: Slytherin, and the worst kind at that.  Some Slytherins make something of themselves, and use their ambition and cunning to achieve great things.  These two…well, I suppose the fact that they’re not dead yet says something about their will to survive, but not much.

Fantine: Fantine is dealt a pretty rotten hand in this show.  Before the beginning of the show she met the man of her dreams, got pregnant, and then was abandoned by the father of her child.  Desperate to make sure her child received the proper care, she leaves Cosette in the care of the Thenardiers, who have a daughter the same age as Cosette, and goes to work in a factory to pay for their care.  She is unaware of the abuse Cosette receives at the hands of the Thenardiers.

At the factory, things aren’t much brighter.  The foreman is a lecherous jerk who likes to force his female employees to provide him sexual favors in order to keep their jobs.  Fantine refuses his advances, which already angers him, and one day she receives a letter from the Thenardiers demanding more money.  One of her coworkers reads the letter and reveals her secret to the foreman, that she has a daughter and therefore must be sleeping around.  Jean Valjean, now the mayor of the town where Fantine works, witnesses the altercation between Fantine and her coworker and allows the foreman to settle it.  The foreman fires Fantine.

Following her dismissal, Fantine tries to find legitimate work any way she can, first selling her necklace then selling her hair.  Desperate to provide for her daughter, she finally turns to prostitution in order to make money.  She contracts a disease, refuses the wrong aristocrat her services, and ends up at the mercy of the law.  Valjean, recognizing her, takes her to the hospital, but it’s already too late for her.  Valjean agrees to care for her daughter, but he cannot save her.

We see very little of Fantine in this show, only about a third of the first act, so it’s hard to really get to know her.  We don’t know anything about her intelligence, though as she’s unable to find or keep a job better than blue-collar work, and also based on the time period, odds are she hasn’t spent too much time in school.  From her experience with the foreman she doesn’t appear to have much of a backbone, though she most likely was trying to keep her head down to hold onto her job.  She is willing to do anything in order to make money, but that’s to save her daughter, not her own hide.  She’s extremely hardworking, and tries her best to follow the rules, even if those that made the rules put her where she is.

Verdict: Hufflepuff

Cosette: Cosette is one of those characters that tends to rub me the wrong way.  Yes, we feel bad for her because of her tragic childhood…forced into slave labor at the hands of the Thenardiers, and then losing her mother, but truthfully, she has a pretty good life.  Jean Valjean takes her in and makes it his life’s goal to ensure she’s safe and happy, if not a bit cloistered.  We know little about her, and more about how the people around her respond to her.

The “good” characters love her instantly, the “bad” characters abuse her.  Aside from showing herself to be a scared child early in the show, and a philanthropic teenager (mostly, I assume, on Jean Valjean’s initiative) near the end of the first act, we know nothing about her.  She is beautiful and longs to know about her past.  She makes men want to change their lives for her – at least, two of the leading men in the show, anyway.  This character trait is similar to early Disney princesses, who had no other purpose than to find a suitable Prince Charming, and find her Prince Charming Cosette does.  From here on out, I think I’ll refer to this particular type of character existing in a story as the Isabella Syndrome.

As a child she shows fear at having to go into the woods, though from what we can tell there’s nothing dangerous out there.  I suppose that could be attributed to an overactive imagination, but as kids are sorted at only a few years older than Cosette is at that point, odds are she wouldn’t be put in Gryffindor.  We see nothing of her brains, and while she does have a thirst for knowledge of her own past, it doesn’t seem to spill over into any other sort of desire to learn.  She shows no real ambition or cunning, other than wanting to see Marius again and marry him.

Verdict: Hufflepuff, as the other three have been ruled out.

Eponine: Ahh, Eponine, every teenage girl’s idol for unrequited love.  She starts off as the spoiled daughter of the Thenardiers, but her pampered lifestyle is taken from her when they are ousted from their inn and tossed to the streets of Paris.  She’s described as “hard to scare” and “without fear” in her teenage years, and also helps out with her father’s thieving operation.  Yet, her most defining aspect is her loyalty to Marius, the plucky student-turned-soldier who hangs around her patch of the Paris slums.

Her affection for the french schoolboy is clear as soon as we see the two of them together, but he seems blissfully unaware of her feelings for him, treating her instead like a younger sister.  Shortly after we see them interact, Marius meets Cosette, and it’s love at first sight, choirs of angels sing, the whole shebang.  Marius, still ignorant of Eponine’s love for him, asks her to find out where Cosette lives.

And. She. Does.

She tracks down Cosette (her knowledge of Paris is probably something to be commended as well) and watches the two of them admit their love for each other.  As Marius and Cosette run off in the back to a more private area, Thenardier’s gang of thieves comes by to rob Valjean, and Eponine thwarts their attempts to protect Marius’s opinion of her.  Once the battles in the streets begin and Valjean plans to take Cosette out of France, Marius has Eponine deliver a letter to Cosette, which she again does for him.  Eponine then returns to the barricade mid-battle to be with her beloved, only to be shot and die in his arms.

Eponine’s got a lot going on.  She’s street smart, though doesn’t seem to have much of a thirst for knowledge.  She’s survived on the streets and stood up to her own father, so she’s certainly not without nerve, but it’s her loyalty to Marius that truly motivates her.  She is quite literally willing to do anything for him, whether it be turn her father over to the police, discover the hiding place of his new-found love or put herself in harm’s way just to see him.

Verdict: Hufflepuff, due to her fierce devotion to Marius, but with some serious Gryffindor leanings.

Enjolras: At the beginning of this post, I said the Thenardiers were easy to sort.  Well, that’s nothing compared to Enjolras.

Enjolras is the leader of the student uprising against the “oppressive” government (I use the scare quotes because in truth we don’t really know how oppressive the government is, just that Enjolras feels that they don’t care about the little guy enough.  Due to the lack of support he receives in the battles, it leads me to believe that things aren’t bad enough to constitute a full uprising.).  He is supremely dedicated to his cause of supporting General Lamarque, a popular defender of the people, and inspires a group of students to join his cause.  He makes plans to barricade the streets, builds a weapons arsenal, and as soon as Lamarque dies, he sets his plan into motion.

He and his band of students are woefully outnumbered, yet he works tirelessly to push back the militia.  When Javert’s cover as a spy within their ranks is blown, he is completely disgusted with the turncoat’s tactics.  When Valjean valiantly fights alongside them, Enjolras rewards him graciously by giving him Javert to do as he pleased.  When he sees that the tide is turning, Enjolras insists that the women and fathers of children leave the battle to save their lives, though his request falls on deaf ears.  He dies bravely, defending what he believes in.

Verdict: Gryffindor.  He’d give Harry a run for his money.

Marius and the Students of the Barricade: It would be easy to say that, as these students were fighting for Enjolras’s cause, they’re Gryffindors as well, but I don’t think they should be dismissed so easily.  They remind me of typical college students, naive yet desperate to learn, desperate to experience what the world has to offer.  They’re easily swept up into the romantic idea of fighting for the little guy, believing that in a perfect world, everyone would be taken care of equally.

They’re malleable.  Their minds are open, thirsting for information, and Enjolras gladly fills their heads with thoughts of revolution.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that Enjolras intentionally led them to their demise, not at all – I’m sure that Enjolras fully believed every single thing he passed on to the students.  They believed it as well.

Marius deserves some extra consideration, as he’s a big of a bigger character.  However, he’s really no different from the rest of the students, other than he’s luckier in that he survived the battle and had Valjean watching over him.  But he is so absorbed in his cause that he fails to see what’s right in front of him – Eponine’s feelings for him.  Had he realized that, he may have been able to save her life, by making different choices in an effort to not hurt her.  And later in the show, his thirst for knowledge of what happened and why drives him to keep asking questions and get to the truth.

Verdict:Ravenclaw

JavertInspector Javert: Aside from the generic “prisoners in a prison camp singing about our prison woes,” Inspector Javert is the first character we meet in this show.  A prison guard, he begins the show by releasing prisoner #24601 on parole, but not before making it quite clear that he views him as the scum of the earth, unworthy of even a name, because he ended up in jail in the first place.  He hands Valjean his yellow parole ticket, and sends him away.

We next see Inspector Javert just before Fantine’s death, where Mayor Valjean (under a different alias, of course) saves Fantine from jail and sends her instead to the hospital.  In the following scene, a runaway cart pins a man beneath, an no one but Valjean will try to save him.  Once the man is saved, Javert comments to the mayor that he’s only known one man with that sort of physical strength, an old prisoner who broke his parole some years back.  But Javert is practically gleeful because he believes that he’s just recaptured Valjean, and the man he has in custody is going on trial that very afternoon.  Javert’s victory is spoiled when the mayor himself comes into the courtroom and admits to being Valjean, complete with prison brand and number, but then flees to Fantine’s side.  Javert goes to the hospital to confront Valjean, but Valjean, who has just sworn to protect Fantine’s daughter, knocks Javert out, collects Cosette, and flees to Paris.

Ten years later, Inspector Javert is in Paris as well, doing his best to keep the “scum” – ie, the beggars, whores, and thieves (because they’re all the same in his eyes) – off the streets.  He hears from Monsieur Thenardier that Valjean may be in the city as well, but he has more pressing matters at hand – he must infiltrate this upstart of a student revolution and quash all their dreams of being successful.  Once Lamarque is dead, Javert volunteers with the students to be an informant.  He returns to them with false information, but is ratted out by a younger member of the student rebellion that recognizes him for what he is.  Tied up and held captive, he witnesses Jean Valjean arrive at the barricade and fight alongside the students.  Valjean asks for Javert’s life as repayment for he assistance in the first battle, and Enjolras grants it.  Javert is certain that he’ll die at Valjean’s hand, but instead Valjean frees him.  His whole world turned upside down by the revelation that Jean Valjean is not a cold, heartless criminal, Javert throws himself off a bridge.

I think many people would want to say that Javert is a Slytherin, simply because he’s the main villian of the show.  However, I think that’s completely wrong.  He follows a strict moral code, and has a deeply rooted sense of what’s right and what’s wrong.  He’s brave enough at least to put himself in danger to defend that, willing to die to uphold the government he believes in.  But when his foundation is rattled to the core, when his belief system of what’s good and what’s bad is shown to be wrong, he’s unable to handle it.  His own moral rigidity is his own undoing, and no Slytherin would ever limit themselves like that.

Verdict: Gryffindor

Jean Valjean: Our central character is perhaps the most complex in the show, yet I don’t find him particularly difficult to sort.  He’s alone in that I think he has qualities of all four of the houses, yet I do believe one stands out among them.

Jean Valjean spent 19 years in jail.  Five years for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister’s child, and an additional fourteen because he tried to escape.  The show starts off with his parole from jail, where he’s given a sack of clothes and a yellow ticket saying he’s a convict.  He tries to get work legitimately, showing his employer his yellow ticket, but he’s let go after a single day with only half of what the fine, upstanding citizens were paid.  He tries to get a room at an inn for the night, only to be turned away due to his convict status.  A bishop takes him in, feeds him and gives him a place to sleep, and in general treats him like a human being.  After the rest of the house is asleep, Valjean steals the silver goblets used with the meal and flees.  He doesn’t get very far before he’s captured and returned to the Bishop.  However, the Bishop covers for him, saying that yes, he gave the goblets to Valjean, and the matching silver candlesticks as well.  Valjean, freed, tries to return the silver to the Bishop, but the Bishop refuses, saying that the silver is payment for Valjean to now become an honest man.

So, Valjean does what any honest man would do – he tears up his parole ticket, and under a fake name, presents himself as just a regular guy looking for work, and slowly starts his life over.  Ten years later, he’s mayor of the factory town where Fantine works, and where Javert believes he has tracked down the escaped convict Valjean, but he (obviously) has the wrong man.  Valjean wrestles with his chance at freedom, knowing that Javert has been hunting him, but eventually his conscience wins out and he goes to the trial, admitting that he is #24601.  He goes to Fantine’s bedside and, guilt-ridden with the thought that he caused her death by not intervening in her foreman’s actions, agrees to care for her daughter.  Javert confronts him in the hospital, and he again does what any honest man would do – knocks him out and flees.  He pays off the Thenardiers for Cosette and takes her to Paris.

Another ten years pass, and Valjean has once again done well for himself, living in a comfortable estate in Paris with his beautiful young daughter.  While before his main goal was his own survival, now her life and protection are tantamount.  One day while on the street, Monsieur Thenardier recognizes him and attacks him, and Javert appears to sort out the disturbance.  Recognizing Javert, Valjean flees in order to protect his cover.  Later that night, Monsieur Thenardier brings his gang of thieves to rob Valjean but he is thwarted by Eponine, who is hanging around with Marius as he just needed to see his new love again, Cosette.  Eponine’s scream alerts Valjean to the danger, and he believes that Javert has discovered his hiding place, and plans to take Cosette away from France.  At the same time, the battles in the streets begin, and Marius decides to fight with them instead of follow Cosette.

Eponine delivers a letter to Cosette, and it is intercepted by Valjean.  He reads this letter, which speaks of Marius’s love for Cosette and her love for him, and decides to go fight with these students and see what this Marius character is all about.  He meets him and likes him, and the main goal of his life now changes – he knows he’s old, but this young man can care for Cosette when he’s no longer around.  He sees Javert, a prisoner, and knows he will be killed at the hands of these students unless he intervenes, so he negotiates a way to free him while appearing to kill him.  Once the battle is over and he and Marius are the only ones left alive, he drags Marius’s nearly lifeless body through the sewers to avoid the rest of the fighting, and brings him to a hospital.  He approves of Marius and Cosette’s marriage, and then explains to Marius that he must leave the city because he doesn’t want the truth of his identity to come out and ruin Cosette.

Valjean is perhaps the most human of all the characters in this show.  He has a fierce instinct to survive, and he’s clearly intelligent enough if he can rise above the working class twice from almost nothing.  He believes in fairness and doing things the right way, if at all possible.  He is brave, and doesn’t back down from a fight if it needs to happen.  He’s got a moral compass that directs him through life, but he doesn’t let it control him like Javert does.  His desire to always improve his life and the lives of those he loves, and his cunning ability to use whatever means necessary to protect what he believes is important, truly define his character.

Verdict: Slytherin, though I think he would do well in Ravenclaw or Gryffindor as well if he wanted to.  However, I think his will to survive, and his willingness to do anything to achieve that goal, define him even more than his intelligence and chivalry.  The latter two are tools he uses to achieve his goal of having the life he wants, and passing that life on to his daughter.

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