Most people have heard about The Phantom Of The Opera by Gaston Leroux, but the book is probably less known than the musical, movies or even the legend itself. It was published about 110 years ago, and bears obvious inspiration from other French stories The Beauty And The Beast and The Hunchback Of Notre Dame, but also Edgar Allan Poe and Sherlock Holmes.
The setting is Palais Garnier; the Paris opera house, which was built from 1862 to 1875. What people might not know is that this story isn’t only inspired by fiction, but also by reality. The Palais Garnier actually sits on a body of water, though not quite as in the novel. There was a burying of a time capsule when they found bones, and the chandelier incident was real. In addition to that, Carlotta and Christine’s rivalry mirrors Marie Miolan-Carvalho and Kristina Nilsson in 1869, which also was over the lead roles in Faust. So this is a perfect blend of reality and fiction! Gaston Leroux was a journalist who had spent time at the Palais Garnier, so he writes it like the story is true. I definitely think he made people believe it was true at the time!
In the beginning of the novel we jump straight into the mystery of the opera ghost. At the opera two managers are retiring, and on their last night Christine Daaé sings instead of Carlotta. In the audience is Vicomte Raoul de Chagny, who knew her as a child, and falls in love with her again. When he goes backstage, he hears a man talking to her in her dressing room, but when he goes in after Christine leaves, there is no one there. He asks her about it, and she claims it’s the ‘‘angel of music’’ that her violinist father used to talk about. The same entity shows up at her father’s grave and plays violin for her. Raoul followed her there, but gets knocked out.
The opera ghost writes a letter to the two new managers demanding that Christine is to play the lead in Faust, and that box 5 is not to be sold, as he will use it. They laugh at this and ignore it, so when Carlotta sings, she ends up croaking, and the chandelier falls into the audience, killing a woman. The opera ghost kidnaps Christine, and we find out he is a deformed man named Erik when she takes off his mask.
Christine persuades him to let her go, as long as she wears his ring and is faithful to him. She plans to run away with Raoul, but hesitates and decides to perform one last time. During the performance Erik kidnaps her yet again.
Raoul goes after them with a help of a mysterious man referred to as ‘‘the Persian’’, and together they go deep under the opera house. They reach Erik’s house, but are trapped in a torture chamber, while Erik forces Christine to either marry him, or he will blow up the opera house, killing everyone. She chooses to marry him, but that makes him try to drown Raoul and the Persian, though Christine persuades him to release them. She kisses him and says goodbye, which means a lot to Erik, as he never even got a kiss from his own mother. He makes her promise to come back, give him his ring back and bury him, as he will be dead, which she does later. Christine and Raoul elope. The story ends with information about Erik’s background.
as the phantom in the 1925 film
One of the most famous adaptions of the story is the 1925 Universal silent film starring Lon Chaney. He did a fantastic job on the make-up, both with staying true to the novel’s description as well as skill and creativity.
Then of course we have the 1986 Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, which is now the longest running show in Broadway history, having been performed over 10,000 times. It was also turned into movies in 2004 and 2011.
The story has also been adapted into countless of other movies, stage plays, TV and radio shows, books (fiction, non-fiction, comics and even children’s books) and even games.
There are of course tons of bands referencing the story, particularly metal bands, like Iron Maiden’s song Phantom Of The Opera (which is amazing, by the way), Iced Earth’s The Phantom Opera Ghost, Nightwish, Lacrimosa and HolyHell’s covers of the musical’s title track and many more.
You can find references to it almost everywhere in pop culture. It truly has become a big part of western culture and history, everyone has heard of it - and I think it will stay that way for at least another 100 years!
Mary Philbin as Christine Daaé and Arthur Edmund Carewe as Ledoux (1925 film)
When I first read it, I was surprised it was more romantic than I had expected. More gothic than straight-up horror. I really loved the phantom / Erik, and wish we had seen more of him. It’s like Frankenstein’s creature, you really feel for him, it isn’t his fault he isn’t beautiful, and he just wants to be loved. But he has hardened because of how he has been treated, so he does bad things. The story is very exciting and keeps a good pace from start to finish, though I would have liked the story arc to rise a little bit more towards the end. Also the descriptions of the Paris opera house are amazing (obviously inspired by The Hunchback Of Notre Dame here), I need to go there sometime!
I give it a 4 out of 5 coffins! In the last one, Erik rests (I’ve made this joke before, I’m sorry).
Next month’s book will be Lost Souls by Poppy Z. Brite. I read it for the first time last month with the book club on Gothy Discord, so come back next month to read my thoughts on it!
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