October 2016 Book of the Month: Gaston Leroux’s The Phantom of the Opera

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!!! I thought it would be appropriate for October to read a classic horror story for this edition of Book of the Month.

Before I go on, how many of you are familiar with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical The Phantom of the Opera? How about the classic film version from 1925 starring Lon Chaney and Mary Philbin? Or the recent version from 2004 starring Gerard Butler, Emmy Rossum and Patrick Wilson?

If so, you may, or may not, be familiar with the classic novel by French author Gaston Leroux released way back in 1910, where the famous musical and various film adaptations take their inspiration from. The picture below is the copy I own and found at a used bookstore when I was in college.

Credit: Image from Amazon.com

I actually read this book way back in high school when I befriended someone interning in my Creative Writing class and she lent me her copy. So it was fun to return to this again a couple years later after finishing college. It’s true when they say you see a book in a different light, but also appreciate it, when you read it again.

The Phantom of the Opera takes place during the nineteenth century at the Paris Opera House. The building and its patrons are haunted by a mysterious, possessive and diabolical man and composer living below the surface. He is dubbed the “Opera Ghost” and communicates to the managers of the Paris Opera House through notes and Madame Giry, plays tricks on the subscribers who come to watch a performance in HIS box; Box Five and becomes obsessed with his pupil, Christine Daaé, who calls him the “Angel of Music,” to name a few of the events that occur in the book.

If you are more familiar with the movie and musical versions of this classic, you might not have known of characters like The Persian or Professor Valérius and his wife, the minimization of Meg Giry’s character, Christine’s character having a different physical description along with more timidity and playfulness with love interest Raoul, the Viscount de Chagny. Plus, the novel is more macabre and horrific in describing the Phantom, the relationship between him and Christine and the scene where Christine goes to her father’s grave. But, you may find familiarity with some scenes because they are found in the musical and film adaptations.

Interestingly enough, also, in the introduction to the Centennial edition of the novel, Dr. John L. Flynn argued that “the terms ‘horror’ story or ‘monster’ story are largely inappropriate” (Leroux viii), in describing the novel. Instead, the Phantom, Erik, is “no monster; his acts of violence are committed solely for the women he loves and to protect his world of anonymity” (viii). The story is even compared to “Beauty and the Beast”and tales like Dracula. Another fun anecdote is this story was based around an actual event when excavators discovered a skeleton below the Opera House, fueling speculation and curiosity. That helped me better understand why this story is so timeless today because of the mystery around a real-life event and the powers of horror and love have on people.

I admit in my very first reading, I was horrified and not too crazy about the story because of loving, and knowing more, about the 2004 movie adaptation. But upon the second reading years later, and after also watching the 1925 version,  I loved it!! To me, Phantom is a horror story because of his cruelty, murders and playing upon the innocence of a young girl who believed he was her “Angel of Music.” The story also shows the darker side of love through obsession, jealousy and desire.

It was quite appropriate for Halloween 😀 muahahaha…take a chance to read the classic if you’re curious, interested or a huge Phantom of the Opera fan that wants to see where all the fun began! I suggest reading it more than once, too. You might grow to enjoy the book if you don’t like it the first time around.