Sunday, March 12, 2017

"The Phantom of the Opera" by Gaston Leroux


It's Beauty and the Beast Week over at Meredith's blog, On Stories and Words!  Be sure to stop over there to see all the fun posts, games, and so on.  For this event, I am reviewing The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux, the gothic novel that inspired the famous Andrew Lloyd Webber musical.  While The Phantom of the Opera is not strictly a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, it does share a lot of similarities, which I will explore here.


I became a fan of the musical thanks to an art teacher who used to play the original cast recording while we were painting together when I was thirteen or fourteen.  She owned two copies on cassette and graciously gave me one when she realized I loved it and had never heard it before.  I listened to that recording over and over, trying to figure out the story line from the songs alone.  I came to several very erroneous conclusions by doing so, like I thought that Christine's song "Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again" was her singing about the Phantom, not her father -- that song seriously confused me for years.  Because y'all, this was the mid-'90s, and no one had made a movie version yet.  I didn't have the means to get to Broadway to see it performed live.  It didn't tour anywhere near where I lived.  And so, the story line remained what I could make of it until April 6, 1999, when I found this book at Barnes and Noble, bought it, devoured it, and finally understood the plot!

(Sarah Brightman and Michael Crawford in the stage musical)

Gaston Leroux claims in the novel that he based this on real events, and that he interviewed all sorts of people involved, but from what I've been able to dig up on the internet, really he just took the fact that there really are all sorts of underground layers to the big Paris Opera House where a skeleton was found, and then made up a story to go with it.  

Young soprano Christine DaaĆ© debuts at the Opera House in Paris to rapturous acclaim.  Viscomte Raoul de Chagny, who knew Christine when they were children, becomes enamored of her, but she insists she cannot become romantically involved with him.  Her vocal teacher, the mysterious Angel of Music, demands she remain single.  Meanwhile, the opera's managers try to figure out who is sending them demanding notes signed Opera Ghost.  Christine disappears, reappears, disappears again.  Raoul valiantly attempts to rescue her, with the help of a man known as The Persian.  

(Mary Philbin and Lon Chaney in the silent film)

What does all this have to do with "Beauty and the Beast"?  Christine DaaĆ© is beautiful, innocent, and kind.  The Angel of Music, or Opera Ghost, is actually a disfigured man called Erik who lives under the Opera House.  He wears a mask to cover his hideous face, but he is a musical genius and has helped Christine perfect her singing voice.  He falls possessively, obsessively in love with her and whisks her away to his hidden home, where he surrounds her with luxuries and begs her to love him for himself, despite his ugly appearance.  Doesn't that sound a lot like the Beast, with his castle or palace, who yearns for the beautiful girl he holds captive?

Christine does not love Erik.  But she pities him, and comes to feel kindly toward him.  Eventually, she agrees to marry him, initially to stop Erik from killing Raoul and the Persian, but she does feel grateful toward him and does not try to escape him.  Erik then rewards her honorable pity by releasing her from her promise and sending her off to live happily ever after with Raoul.  Which might sound rather different from the ending of "Beauty and the Beast," but both beautiful girls find their feelings toward their captors changing when they come to understand him better.  Pity, kindness, and gratitude all come into play.  And while Erik doesn't physically change from a beastly monster, he undergoes a radical transformation inside, changing from utterly selfish to capable of selfless kindness.  Instead of forcing Christine to marry him and spend the rest of her days in his underground lair, he frees her.

Thanks to the wonders of the digital age, you can read this book for free here via Project Gutenberg!  If you like the musical, or gothic novels, I highly recommend it.

(Emmy Rossum and Gerard Butler in the movie musical)

Particularly Good Bits:

None will ever be a true Parisian who has not learnt to wear a mask of gaiety over his sorrows and one of sadness, boredom, or indifference over his inward joy (p. 49).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG for suspense and dangerous situations.


This is my seventh book read and reviewed for my second go-round with the Classics Club.  

18 comments:

  1. Random thoughts.
    I accidentally deleted your comment on my post after I read it! Sorry!

    The copy I read had a rather ghoulish preface which mentioned at least one murder, at the New York Opera. Eep!

    This is sort of a Beauty and the Beast (which when I look at too closely creeps me out) but worse. We don't really do scary, and certainly not when I first learned about it (when the movie came out 05? . . . which I didn't watch until like last year maybe). We saw it as part of a traveling Broadway show, but I disliked the Phantom's voice, disliked the Phantom (I thought everyone loved him then because one of our friends who was obsessed preferred him to Raoul), and wasn't musical. Then a few years ago I watched the 25th anniversary edition. Um yes, please.

    Needless to say, I greatly prefer the musical, this version, to the book.

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    1. Livia, yikes! Different preface than the one I have.

      This is one of the rare instances of me really liking a story (I've read the novel 3 times, memorized basically all the music, seen the movie quite a few times), but not really liking any of the characters all that well. Christine is shallow and kinda ditzy, Raoul is dippy and impatient, and Erik is troubled and murderous. And yet, I really dig the story -- I think it's because I want all of them to improve, and they do a bit over the story? Hmmm. In the book, my favorite character is definitely the Persian, and in the musical, the Phantom is more sympathetic, so he's my favorite there.

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  2. Same here! Before I read the book or saw the movie, I had my own little story I'd pieced together from listening to the musical. It was pretty disorienting to watch the movie and realize how many incorrect assumptions I had made. ^.^

    And I wonder how far one could take an Erik/Gaston comparison. Of course Gaston wasn't part of the original fairy tale, but there are a few similarities.

    Good review! :)

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    1. Meredith, the whole "Hold your hand at the level of your eyes" part especially confused me. Man, when I figured that one out, I was so excited!

      Hmmm, an Erik/Gaston impression. They do both want to possess the heroine, to some extent, but Erik wants her to love him, whereas Gaston just wants her to make him look good. I think Raoul's more the Gaston, only a good Gaston instead, rich and powerful and sought-after, but not icky.

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    2. Comparison! Not impression. My fingers and my brain are not wholly connected today, it seems.

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    3. Haha, I can imagine! I watched it with some friends who explained it right away so I never got a chance to figure it out on my own.

      Oops, I meant Raoul/Gaston, but I suppose you could compare either. Apparently my fingers and brain aren't in complete harmony either. xD

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    4. Lol! Let's blame it on the time change, huh?

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  3. I love both the ALW musical adaptation and the 1990 Charles Dance miniseries but the Leroux novel was my introduction to The Phantom of the Opera and it's probably still my favourite version of the story :) Erik is more complex and flawed in the book than he is in the adaptations but is still very, very sympathetic and his final conversation with the Persian is so moving and sad.

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    1. Hannah, I haven't seen the miniseries. Should I seek it out?

      Erik makes me cry in the novel, and he doesn't quite manage that in the musical. The way they hold off on relating his sad backstory until the very end, when he's dying of a broken heart, just combines to really tug at my heartstrings.

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    2. The miniseries isn't perfect but it's on YouTube (which is how I first saw it) and it's definitely worth checking out! It's still the only POTO adaptation to be shot at the Paris Opera House, the actors are really good in it, it has great production values, and it's funny but also very touching. The only downside is that it's only a very loose adaptation of the book and some of the changes that it makes to it are just too weird for my liking. For instance this version swaps Raoul's character around with his brother Philippe! :S

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    3. Hannah, that's cool! I will have to try to watch that -- especially as I see that Burt Lancaster is in a couple eps! Ooooooooh.

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  4. The musical was my first intro to the story, too. :) I wasn't as impressed by the book, but have been meaning to give it another read. I like your comparison between this and Beauty & the Beast, can definitely see the Raoul/Gaston similarity. Also, Christine and Belle both have a close relationship with their fathers, which plays a big part in both stories. (The "Wishing" song gets me every time!)

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    1. MH, I prefer the musical overall, as the novel has some pacing issues, and the lack of good character development for most of the principals bugs me less in the musical.

      You're right, that close relationship with their fathers, and the fact that their mothers died when they were young, is another link between Christine and Belle. Good one!

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  5. This was a great comparison! I LOVE The Phantom of the Opera. It was the first Broadway musical I ever really became a fan of, and though Newsies has since bumped Phantom down to second place, it'll always have a special spot in my heart. :) Have you seen the 25th anniversary production, starring Ramin Karimloo and Sierra Boggess? It is SO good.

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    1. Thanks, Natalie! It's the first modern musical I loved :-) I haven't seen the 25th anniversary production, but I'd like to!

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  6. I remember being amazed at how different the book was from the musical the last and only time I read it. Erik was exceptionally creepy, and I don't remember actually liking any of the characters in the book, but I need to re-read just to be sure.

    The musical, on the other hand, is an absolute fav!

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    1. Carissa, yes, I like the characters better in the musical overall -- they're all more sympathetic.

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