Monday, April 11, 2011
The Phantom of the Opera
The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux is one of those stories that everyone thinks they know. Whether they've seen the Broadway musical or Lon Chaney's silent film version, they know it's a story about a masked man who hangs out in the Paris Opera House and who falls tragically in love with a young singer, Christine Daae. Despite how closely the silent film's action follows the novel (which it suprisingly does), there are nuances to the story that don't come through. Chaney, one of the early masters of the horror film, doesn't quite convey the human nature of the opera's monster. And we never find out in the film that the Phantom has a name....Erik.
While it is true that Erik commits some very horrifying and despicable acts, the novel reveals that there is a very lonely and hurting human being behind those acts. Erik longs for one thing--to be loved for himself; to be loved like any other person; to have someone look beyond the horrible disfigurement that he carries with him always and love the real Erik. Even his mother could never love him and hold him like other mothers did their children. And, since there was no loving influence to teach him differently, Erik grows up to be a very selfish person...using the wits he has to compensate for what he doesn't have.
Although published in 1910, the book is very true to 19th century writing...there is a lot of narrative and sometimes the pace drags, but the story is worth it. There is a great gothic atmosphere in the cellars of the opera--down in the Phantom's domain. The characters of Raoul and Christine are sometimes a little flat--the earnest young lover and the innocent young singer--but the story carries them and the underlying theme of love with its power to destroy and its power to set free is what ultimately gives the novel its timeless appeal. Four stars out of five.