Hellfire from Hunchback of Notre Dame

In 1996, Disney released one of their darker animated films – the Hunchback of Notre Dame. The film’s music by Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz was captivating to me and the tone was overall, a lot darker than a lot of people anticipated. Case in point? The song we’re highlighting here entitled, “Hellfire.” Not the happy go-lucky tune you hear from Mickey Mouse in his clubhouse, but a haunting, at times sexual, tune sung by Judge Claude Frollo (who’s actual title in the church is kind of blurred in this rendition of the story). Frollo was voiced by the late Tony Jay. The lyrics to this piece can be reviewed here. This includes translation of the Latin prayer/song which is overlaid above Frollo’s singing.

After an opening prayer, Frollo begins calling out to Mary for guidance singing, “Beata Maria / You know I am a righteous man/ Of my virtue I am justly proud / Beata Maria / You know I’m so much purer than / The common, vulgar, weak, licentious crowd.” A prayer beginning with, “I’m better than them…” the lyrics drip with contempt for his fellow man. I am immediately reminded of Luke 18:9-14 where the Pharisee gives his own haughty prayer which is condemned by Jesus who says the haughty will be humbled and the humbled raised up. Frollo’s prayer already begins in the wrong, showing his contempt for others and his inability to recall one of the most commonly recalled lessons from Jesus.

Frollo continues, “Then tell me, Maria / Why I see her dancing there / Why her smold’ring eyes still scorch my soul / I feel her, I see her / The sun caught in raven hair / Is blazing in me out of all control.” He is filled with lust and fully admits as much asking, “Why am I feeling such lust for this woman?” This blaze within him that he can’t control is fleshly lust and as Christ Himself said, it’s a sin (Matthew 5:28). These internal lustful desires are sinful and are a result of jealous desire for that which does not belong to you (Exodus 20:17). Frollo’s desire for Esmerelda is sinful, period.

As he continues, Frollo actually recognizes that in the next line where he sings, “Like fire / Hellfire / This fire in my skin / This burning / Desire / Is turning me to sin.” In that case, though, he’s wrong. Frollo already has sinned, he isn’t just now turning to it. His desire, his uncontrollable sexual desire for Esmerelda is sin. Frollo continues by claiming he’s weak and that it’s not his fault while the chorus is singing in Latin, “Mea Cupla.” The irony was intentional. Frollo continues, “It’s not my fault / I’m not to blame / It is the gypsy girl / The witch who sent this flame / It’s not my fault / If in God’s plan / He made the devil so much / Stronger than a man.” Shifting blame and blaming Satan for our own sins is a human trait we’ve seen since the beginning (Genesis 3:12-13). It’s weak, but it’s also wrong. In my discussion on Jay-Z’s track “Lucifer,” I talk about people who like to blame Satan for their own mistakes. In that piece, I wrote

We are tempted by our own desires, our own sin – not necessarily by the Devil (James 1:14-15). Satan is real, he is an enemy of man (1 Peter 5:2), he is a force in the universe – but we like to give him credit where it’s not due. Satan is created, therefore limited in power and presence. He will be defeated by Christ and through Christ we are granted the strength to resist him (Hebrews 2:14-15, James 4:7). Sin begins with us more often than not…It is easy to blame the devil for the things you do, but as Beck points out in his track “Nobody’s Fault but My Own,” that’s a selfish way to live.

As John Piper in his second sermon on killing sin from Romans points out, “…Satan doesn’t show up til chapter 16…” of Romans. The bulk of the sin we’re battling is caused by us, not by Satan. This is the same with Frollo. This is his fault. This is his sin. It’s not Esmerelda’s fault that she’s pretty and he finds her attractive. It’s his fault for allowing himself to view her beauty as an object which he can control and that he desires in a manner which he cannot have.

Frollo continues, “Protect me Maria / Don’t let this siren cast her spell / Don’t let her fire sear my flesh and bone / Destroy Esmeralda / And let her taste the fires of hell / Or else let her be mine and mine alone.” He wants her dead to hide his sin. He wants her gone because, it’s her fault he acted the way he did. His lustful desire leading to calling on the Lord to kill someone. His lustful desires leading to him attempting to kill someone.

Lustful desire turning to murder (or in this case attempted murder). Where have we seen this before? The story of King David and Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11). Most of us remember the story of David and Bathsheba. While shirking his responsibilities, David stumbles upon the beautiful Bathsheba while she’s naked taking a bath. He lusts for her and the two of them are intimate. She gets pregnant. After failing to trick her husband, David has him killed. He marries Bathsheba. But, the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). The Lord chooses not to kill David at this point, but to take David’s child born of this sinful union. The wages of Frollo’s sins come full circle at the end of the film with his death.

Frollo in his crazed lust discovers that Esmerelda has escapes at this point in the song. He then (which is edited out of the above video) says he’ll burn down all of Paris if he needs to in order to find her. He threatens to potentially kill the entire city of Paris in order to fulfil his own sinful lusts. Or, stamp out the person he’s deflecting the blame toward. Is Esmerelda to blame? Certainly not. If so, every person who another person merely finds attractive would be at fault for the other person’s actions. Your actions, your thoughts, your fault.

Frollo ends the track with more threats of murder if she does not choose to be his woman. Murdering a woman if will not choose to be your wife? Is that Biblical? Well, let us remember how the Lord calls us to treat our wives. Husbands are called to give their all, laying their lives down for their wives and loving them as their own flesh (Ephesians 5:25-30). I don’t see murderous rampage where you threaten to burn down an entire city if you don’t get your sexual desires met on the list. Frollo is not loving as a Christian should. He is not forgiving as a Christian should. He does practice self control as a Christian should. The real question you have to ask after seeing the film is – did Frollo even understand anything Jesus ever said? For a man who is supposed to be of the church, he truly lives and treats others like an angry and bitter heathen.

In one of the darker Disney animated films, we see a man struggling with lust and instead allowing anger to fester and lead to greater sin. As with King David before him, there are consequences to such unhinged behaviors and, frankly, they are not very Christian.

About the Author

Matthew Newman
Matthew Newman is a Christian environmental engineer (Professionally licensed in Maryland). He’s also a husband, beard aficionado, Dad of four beautiful children, blogger, and all around geeky guy from Baltimore County. When he’s not chasing his kids or working, he’s probably asleep.

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