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 Daaé 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 Daaé 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.