The Phantom of the Opera

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The title of The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux implies a story of ghosts and horror. However, in the prologue the author lays out his belief that the ghost was real, that:  "Yes, he existed in flesh and blood, although he assumed the complete appearance of a real phantom; that is to say, of a spectral shade" (Leroux 5). Having never read this book or having seen any of the movies or stage adaptations, the prologue led me to believe that I was embarking on a mystery story rather than one of horror. I started to change my mind as I progressed through the story.

The element of fear is developed through the recounting of events that seemed supernatural and unexplainable in human terms such as the ghost appearing and vanishing suddenly, voices and singing coming from nowhere, the falling chandelier, the mirror in Christine's room, opera Box 5 in which objects would appear and disappear, and the toad-like croaks coming from Carlotta during a show. The appearance of letters and messages written in red ink and signed as "Opera Ghost", coupled with the demands that Box 5 be left unrented and payments be made monthly, while not really scary, did heighten the mystery of the tale and kept me reading.

I think the horror of the story is most present in the haunted atmosphere of the Paris Opera House and, in the character of Erik. The reader is immersed in the descriptions of the opera, from the top of its seventeen floors to the subterranean lake in the bowels of its underground regions. Added to the creepy descriptions of the underground levels, are the multitude of doors, chutes, stairways, ladders, discarded sets and rooms, and corridors - most continually in darkness. This setting creates the sense of being in a maze, of claustrophobia and isolation. It is within this world that Erik can live out his psychopathic tendencies.

Erik's character is as confusing as the netherworld of the opera house. By all accounts, his disfigurement and ugliness from birth were the reason for his isolation and hatred of everyone "normal". His genius in music, architecture, and puzzles (such as the torture room), created his sense of superiority. Erik becomes a monster, a real monster that didn't care about his actions, when isolation, hate, genius, and superiority melded. We also see a sad, conflicted, human side in his unattainable desire and quest to lead a normal life, even though he despises those that have it: "and now I want to live like everybody else. I want to have a wife like everybody else and to take her out on Sundays. I have invented a mask that makes me look like anybody ... All I wanted was to be loved for myself" (Leroux165). Erik is described as both a ghost and a corpse, apt descriptions for a man sentenced to live out his life underground and hidden.

I liked that Leroux included an epilogue tying up some of the storyline's loose ends including Erik's history and, how he was able to bring about the supposedly supernatural events at the opera house. While I found the prose hard to get through sometimes (maybe some of it attributable to the translation into English), I enjoyed the book. Now I am intrigued and will try to get a copy of the 1925 silent movie version with Lon Chaney to see how that first adaption translated to the screen.

Work Cited

Leroux, Gaston. The Phantom of the Opera. 1911. LaVergne,TN: Aegypan Press, 2010.Print.

4 Comments

Gaston does set up nice imagery with the Opera House and does set mystery as a lead dog with the cellars. The book really isn't horror per say, it's a melodramatic mystery with elements of horror such as Erik, he's the horror. I was also disappointed with the explanations to how Erik pulled off his tricks. A bummer to me. I liked the idea that he may have been real; a ghost that is.

The Chaney film is great! I used to have an old copy of it. Or the '43 version. Both good. The '25 version is about 19 bucks while the '43 version is about 11 bucks. Both DVDs.

Plus I love the Webber Broadway show of Opera. Saw that a while back. All of these are far better than the book. :)

You'll like the original movie, despite the suckiness of the text. I promise.

I'll agree with Jared and Sheldon. The Lon Chaney Sr. POTO is fantastic. Make sure you see one with the original soundtrack restored, though...There's one floating around with a new soundtrack by the keyboard play for YES, and it just ruins the mood.

Venessa G said:

I had a lot of trouble understanding Erik. While I get the wounded, misanthropic characterization, his relenting, at the end, to allow Christine to leave wasn't in keeping with anything I really knew of him as a character.

I absolutely agree about the Opera house. I think that was my favorite "character." :)

VG

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Venessa G on The Phantom of the Opera: I had a lot of trouble underst
Scott A. Johnson on The Phantom of the Opera: I'll agree with Jared and Shel
Jared Vickery on The Phantom of the Opera: You'll like the original movie
Sheldon S. Higdon on The Phantom of the Opera: Gaston does set up nice imager