Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Phantom of the Opera - Gaston Leroux

Please welcome returning guest reviewer, Joseph Marshall!

Summary: 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. (Summary and image from

My review: It's no secret to bookworms, theater buffs, or movie buffs what this tale is all about. Over the past hundred years, it's been adapted many times both for film and the musical stage, the latter bringing it its greatest acclaim and fame. The greatest delight I take in the immortal Lloyd Webber production is its faithfulness to the source material. I'm comfortable allowing for artistic license to be taken in an adaptation (yes I'm a Tolkienophiles who still adores the LOTR films), so long as the makers frame it with an amount of accuracy and ultimate respect. I reread The Phantom of the Opera two months ago, then one month ago saw the show for the second time. While the production has all the typical rearrangements in plot, deletions of events and characters (the arcane Persian being the most significant and disappointing) and so forth, I am pleased with its constructors' restraint, and reverence for the original story.

There is a reason why it has so liberally been replicated over and over. It's a classic tale, tragic and tender, of a deranged prodigy smitten as if dead by the sweet and beautiful innocent whose timbre is to him the voice of Deity. (I love Cooper's description of the relationship between King Kong and Ann Darrow: "It was beauty killed the beast.") It is these stories, immortalized by sentiment, that people seem unable to get enough of. We thrive on them, are pained by them, and in the end yearn for more, sometimes in spite of ourselves.

In this tale it is the protagonist Christine Daae whom we follow and root for. A naive yet courageous Swedish orphan, by good fortune she finds herself an up and coming lead singer at the Paris Opera House. She also finds herself seduced by what she can only imagine is an Angel sent from God, appearing to transform her gift of singing into an ethereal masterpiece. She follows his lead for a time, until the Angel of Music is soon unmasked, revealing him a Phantom of Darkness, cold and cruel, yet also hurt and lost. Despite his hatred for humanity and physical derangements, as well as her own terror, Christine takes pity on him, which adds upon her charm and irresistibility. The plot stirs as Christine's childhood playmate, a respected viscount named Raoul, visits Paris and there watches her perform in the Opera House, likewise smitten to the core and determined to fight to the death for her. An amusing side plot emerges as the new managers of the Paris Opera House find themselves increasingly harassed and confused by letters signed "PTO", requiring of them a permanent seat in their finest box for the opera and a monthly stipend to boot.

The Phantom, the book's most enigma, is the reason for its continued retelling by whatever medium. Like many good villains' histories, most of his is untold, left to the reader's imagination, for better or worse. Physically the man is deformed beyond recognition, with two luminescent red beads where his eyes should be, racked with torment and humiliation from it all. But Erik also possesses gifts and ideas which at every turn appear not of this world. Having once studied mysterious arts in Persia, he has a knack for contraptions, inventions, and illusions of the most diabolical sorts. He possesses the deepest appreciate for music, trained in all its theories and techniques, frequently conjuring his own majestic (and also diabolical) manifestations. As for his singing voice it is so unspeakably divine that it can at will turn even the sturdiest minds to hypnosis.

It is the characters and the dialogues, the descriptions and the whole gothic charade that make this novel an unforgettable delight, numbered among classics for reasons far beyond what the greatest theater production could depict.

My Rating: 5 Stars. Suitable for teens and up due to thematic elements.

Sum it up: Gothic, Majestic

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