Monday, June 3, 2013


For your information: this text is mostly about the musical character. I don't know the book inside out enough to really discuss the book character in depth.

As long as I've been a Les Mis fan (what, four years now?) I've been slightly obsessed with the character of Enjolras.

A task: identify all the Enjolrati pictured. A hint: the first one's never played the role.

Enjolras in the musical, at the first glance, is hardly a character – he's a symbol. If you want to perform a Les Mis medley in a concert, you just need to have a guy walk onstage with a big red flag and everybody knows what they're going to hear, even before a single note is played. In the West End version of the musical especially, it's almost as if the character exists to be a memorable visual. The image of Enjolras with the flag is so striking that Queen's Theatre in London even has a three-story-high billboard with it on the outside, right next to the Cosette logo.

Still, the character could just as well be called Joe; his name is never mentioned in the show's libretto. (I've heard people call him, among others, "the one in the red coat", "the soldier boy", "the ponytail guy" and "what, there was a character like that?") He has some big notes and the fanciest vest in the whole cast, but no proper solo and little stage time.

Still, I have the slight obsession. Whenever I see Les Mis live, I pay special attention to Enjolras. Having so few definitive characteristics in the musical script, he's maybe the character that differs the most from production to production. Kind and friendly, cold and distant, jumpy and stressed out, confident and charming... I don't like all the interpretations, but I love the fact that there are so many different takes. (I've written about this previously.)

Enjolras is of course the leader of Les Amis de l'ABC, a group of rebellious students. They all have distinct personalities in the book, so many people enjoy observing whether the actors bring that across in their performance. I, however, don't much like Les Amis. It took me two years to learn the difference in between Combeferre and Courfeyrac (and to this day, I keep confusing the two). I can see why people love the characters, but I don't love them myself.

More surprisingly, when I think about him, I don't like the character of Enjolras either. I've never been too interested in real-life wars or insurrections, and the barricade parts of Les Mis aren't on top of my list of favourite scenes. Many people say they can relate with Enjolras because of his passion or involvement in politics – I can't. I certainly don't approve of everything he does, especially in the book. Actually, I probably couldn't stand him around if he was real and I knew him. But on theatre stage, he's endlessly fascinating...

I'm of course not alone in this. Enjolras, judging by the amount of fan discussion centered around him, just might be the most popular character out of the whole show.

During these four years, I've witnessed more fandom fights about Enjolras than I can remember. There's something about the character that makes fans very passionate, and very defensive. There are people who have deleted their blogs after an especially nasty Enjolras fight. And, even though I've never felt upset enough to take such drastic measures, I have to admit I've lost my cool, expressed unfinished opinions and behaved immaturely in multiple Enjolras fights. Don't feed the troll, they say – but if said troll doesn't agree with me about everything Enjolras-related... (This piece of fanart, created after an especially heated argument last summer, puts it more perfectly than I ever could.)

There's of course a lot of positive fan activity around the character too, not just bickering. Enjolras is one of the most popular subjects in Les Mis fanart. He's a lot of fun to draw. No matter which production, his costume always pops, with its reds and tricolours. And who wouldn't enjoy drawing the glorious hair mentioned in the novel!

Still, when it comes to fanworks centered around Enjolras, I think the my favourite part is how easy he's to make fun of. I know that if you look at the book closely, there's a wonderful three-dimensional character in there – and many fanartists show just that. But oh, the humorous possibilities in turning him into an barricade-building obsessed maniac!

In a way, creating fanworks resembles acting a little bit: you decide how to portray a character. The Enjolras in my comics, for example, is constantly a little annoyed by everything. He either has the driest sense of humor out there or is completely humorless, I'm not quite sure. But on the other side, he values friendship greatly and has a clear sense of duty and justice. The Enjolras I draw, however, isn't the one I imagine in my mind when I read the book, nor the one I'd like the best to see onstage. I just happen to find him funny and think others might, too – my favourite thing about Les Misérables fanworks in general is poking fun at the misery-drenched story, after all...

As for the musical, I'm still looking for the ultimate stage Enjolras. I've seen some good and even downright amazing ones, but I've yet to see the one I think is 100% perfect, one that doesn't play the character but is the character, like I feel about Earl Carpenter as Javert. These are huge expectations, though, and I wonder if the perfect Enjolras can exist at all. Maybe he'll only ever live in between my own two ears. The likelihood that any actor or director would think exactly like I do on everything Enjolras-related is pretty slight.

Still, I'll keep wishing to see that happen one day. On the meanwhile, I'll keep enjoying the different portrayals. Maybe I'll even take part in a fandom discussion or two. Just for good measure.

The illustrations in this blog entry are by me. See more Enjolras art in my Les Misérables fanart gallery!

1 comment:

  1. Hi there! I've challenged you to a "5 things" challenge, check it up on my blog. I hope you take the challenge :)