First published in French as a serial in 1909, “The Phantom of the Opera” is a riveting story that revolves around the young, Swedish Christine Daaé. Her father, a famous musician, dies, and she is raised in the Paris Opera House with his dying promise of a protective angel of music to guide her. After a time at the opera house, she begins hearing a voice, who eventually teaches her how to sing beautifully. All goes well until Christine’s childhood friend Raoul comes to visit his parents, who are patrons of the opera, and he sees Christine when she begins successfully singing on the stage. The voice, who is the deformed, murderous ‘ghost’ of the opera house named Erik, however, grows violent in his terrible jealousy, until Christine suddenly disappears. The phantom is in love, but it can only spell disaster. Leroux’s work, with characters ranging from the spoiled prima donna Carlotta to the mysterious Persian from Erik’s past, has been immortalized by memorable adaptations. Despite this, it remains a remarkable piece of Gothic horror literature in and of itself, deeper and darker than any version that follows.
I’m an unabashed fan of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical of the Phantom. I’ve watched the movie numerous times, and have listed to the CD of the Orignal London Cast Recording enough times that I’ve memorized whole sections of the musical and play songs in my head at will. It is my dream to see the Phantom live in theaters (preferably somewhere cool like London or New York – but I’m not fussy). It is my musical obsession and I’m also enthralled by the story itself. Of a disfigured man, gifted at music hiding in the tunnels below the opera house in love with the young Christine whom he teaches. Of how Christine fears him and wants to run away with Raul. And of how, at the point of no return, Christine shows the Phantom that he can be loved and he lets her go.
Naturally, I was nervous to read the book the musical was based on for fear that I would not enjoy the book and it would forever soil my opinion of the play. Some positive reviews, and the feeling that I kinda had to read the book because I loved the musical so much, pushed me to finally pick it up. Thankfully, it was a good book – fast paced and dark – though my love of the musical overshadows it by a long shot. I was also quite surprised how closely the musical followed the book, and may even be sightly more in love with it because of how brilliant the adaptation is.
What I found most interesting was that the Phantom was a real legend and many people, including the author, believe he actually lived and died in the opera house. I’ve ordered some more books on the subject because I’m super curious to find out more. Leroux blended fact and fiction in his novel, so to a degree the story is true – how true? Well, that’s up to you to decide.
Whereas in the play Erik (yes, he has a name) is known from the beginning, in the book, he only comes in much later, and the whole thing is much more mysterious. The characters are quick to dismiss the strange events as an elaborate prank, or a ghost, or find some reasonable explanation. Indeed, not all of the things that go on are Erik’s doing, adding to enigma that is the Phantom.
The setting of the opera house is rich and intriguing, and the plot bounces back and forth between the managers of the Opera House and Christine and Raul’s story. It is well written and the journalistic structure added to the realism of the play. The romance more comes from Christine and Raul, than Erik with his obsessive infatuation, and the story is quite dark. The humour comes from the managers and their crazy antics, and acts as a counter-weight. It was a good novel, but I wanted something more – I wanted to feel the same emotions the music makes me feel. Perhaps it would have been better if I’d read it before watching the movie because I cannot prevent myself from comparing the two.
Why do I love the Phantom so much? The beauty and the beast story has always appealed to me and been my favourite fairy tale. Something about how the beauty could love the beast not for his looks, but his personality struck a note with me. It is a stark contrast from the other tales with the handsome princes with bland personalities. Belle is my favourite princess because of this (and she reads!). Something that goes unsaid is the strength of the beauty/Belle/Christine for confronting their fears and thinking with the hearts and not just their heads. In the case of Christine, she feels sympathy for Erik, a sign of strength not weakness, and is able to play his game. In the famous ending scene she shows him that he can be loved for who he is and it is she who saves herself. It is also about the power of art, or in this case, music. Then there’s the underlying issue of how we as a society treat people with a deformity and how we force them to become outcasts. Are they not human too? We are responsible for Erik’s action – we created the monster.
…Anyways, recommended to Phantom lovers, and readers of Gothic romances. And if you have never watched/listened to the Phantom before please do.