After an hour’s worth of research, I found what I was looking for. The Phantom of the Opera has an expired copyright. What does this mean? It means I am legally free to read The Phantom of the Opera online to you. I’m doing it!
A special edition of Story Time begins July 2016. The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux. This precious classic has been overshadowed by the success of its 1988 musical. Yes! It’s a book dear reader! And oh… what a book.
Story Time: Mondays at 11:00 AM EST
Oh…such memories such beautiful nostalgia.
The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux, published in 1911 was and still is my favorite story of all time. I will be honest. I am biased. The Phantom of the Opera was the first book I ever read. It was introduced to me through the Andrew Lloyd Weber musical, which was also my first introduction to music. Perhaps that is why I am so fond of this tale…because I associate the discovery of my two greatest loves—books and music—with the Phantom of the Opera.
I virtually grew up without music and books. All I had for music was the Christian gospel sound of the choir and synthesizer and nothing else. Out-of-tuned pianos and mediocre organ playing on an old electronic organ…that was all I knew. Aside from the Bible and Pilgrim’s Progress, all literature was Christian youth and inspirational. Music and books…both felt as if a discolored film muted something unidentifiable underneath.
I was almost almost fourteen when I heard the raw sound of a sweeping orchestra led on by the strings of the Overture of Phantom. Real violins. Real flutes, oboes, and clarinets. The residual film was gone and the music plunged itself within me and enveloped my heart. Before the day was out, I would be in the school library combing the shelves for information on this thing I had found.
I located a small hardcover book, so dark blue it looked black, with Lon Chaney, who gawked back at me on the cover, though I had no idea who he was at the time. I only saw this man, this horribly disfigured man and I ached to know him. I gazed in awe at his deformity, speechless and desperate to know more.
I opened my first book and I read. Little did I know how much I would be transformed.
* * *
(I don’t hold back and this is NOT the same as the movies/musicals)
If you’ve only ever watched the musical or the movies, then you don’t know. You simply can’t know the haunting beauty within those pages. Christine is a child. A dreamy, witless child of about fifteen years, who is unable to accept her father’s death. Raoul is a starry eyed worthless boy who only dreams of Christine and he pines for her from a distance. And Erik, sweet Erik, is a man made monster by the cruelty of man. He was also a genius whose own cruelty had been shaped by Man’s hate. But the story isn’t about Christine, Raoul, or even Erik. The story is about The Persian.
The Persian is not seen in the movies or the book. He has no name and is called, very simply, The Persian.
It is he who tells the story. He who knows Erik and the truth of his genius. The Persian was the child of a wealthy noble. The Persian befriended his father’s deformed servant who mastered the art of trap making and mirrors, illusions, and hundreds of other crafts, and things only seen in Persia and the middle-east. Erik was so gifted that, in spite of his deformity, he drew the attention and admiration of the noble. Things soon went downhill from there. After Erik killed a man, The Persian helped smuggle Erik out of Persia, and Erik fled. He assisted in the design and building of the Parisian opera house where he hid from the world. He was a wanted man on the run. An architect, composer, musician, illusionist, and murderer. A genius. But nothing prepared him for Christine.
Christine was delusional and saw only her father when she heard Erik sing. Erik was delusional and wanted nothing more, but to be loved. Of course, Christine would fear him. He knew this, expected it, and prepared for it. But when rumors reached the Persian of a “ghost” haunting the halls of the opera house, too well, The Persian knew and recognized his old friend.
Determined to help his friend once more, the Persian led Raoul down into the catacombs beneath Paris. But Erik had expected the Persian to find him and prepared for the visit. What enfolds is only ever seen in the book. A trap door opens and Raoul and the Persia fall down, nearly twenty feet. They land in a subterranean terrarium grown in the likeness of the jungles of India with temperatures up near 120 degrees Fahrenheit and home to countless species.
Gaston Leroux transforms the Edgar Allan Poe styled Dracula tale into “The Most Dangerous Game” by Richard Connell 1924. I am a firm believer that Connell conceived the idea for his short story after reading Leroux’s Phantom. I gnawed my fingers down to the bone as Raoul and the Persian wandered this underground jungle in the dark and scorching heat for weeks while Erik hunted them in the jungle. Any moment his noose would find them leaving them no time to sleep. Dying of thirst, they hunt for Christine. You don’t know if they’ll die there in Erik’s jungle. If Christine is taken and dead. You know only the heat, the lack of water, and the glass walls in the jungles so hot from the heat it blisters their skin at the mere touch. This, ladies and gentlemen, is The Phantom of the Opera. The room that floods, drowning the Persian and Raoul who plead for the life within the terrarium. The Scorpion and the Grasshopper. Two figurines that never…never make an appearance. The story boils down to those two objects. Which will Christine turn? The Scorpion…or the grasshopper. Time is running out. The tension is insane. Raw, finger-biting, tension that is only seen in Leroux’s telling.
And then a silent Christine nursing the Persian and Raoul. In this version, Raoul sees the wedding band on her finger. In the book, Christine marries Erik. There is no angry mob. There is only Christine, Erik, and his own choice to make.
“Erik is dead.”
I slowly lowered the book, too stunned to cry, too numb to feel anything but absolute pity, sympathy, empathy, love…By the time I muttered the last three words of that book, I was changed. I would never be the same.
* * *
***END SPOILER ALERT***
No one should die unloved, I thought, and decided right then and there to love him, never mind the fact that he was fictitious. Someone should love him. Someone had to. No one should die not knowing love. And so, I would love him. So much about that book and how Erik lived spoke to me. Growing up, in my world, fiction and reality fused themselves together. See “Broken.” It was no wonder I loved him.
Such haunting story telling, such breathtaking horrific beauty, like a Gothic re-telling of Beauty and The Beast. This is the Phantom of the Opera you don’t see in the movie or on stage and I would know. I have seen them all. Lon Chaney, Claude Rains, one horror version I watched that was Baldr bad. The recent release with Gerard Butler and Emmy Rossum (Stunning!). The two musicals—Yes! There are two musicals. “Phantom” by Maury Yeston and Arthur Kopit, which I prefer to the Phantom of the Opera by Andrew Lloyd Webber I saw on Broadway. Not including the additional two books I read.
Phantom by Susan Kay ISBN 0-440-21169-7 This is a retelling of Leroux’s classic. But was more emotional than the classic, and she does the classic justice without stepping on Leroux’s toes.
Night Magic by Charlotte Vale Allen ISBN 0-8041-0513-8 This is a romance novel and is a modern version of The Phantom of the Opera with the same theme, but different cast. It was like the 1980’s television series, Beauty and the Beast meets The Phantom of the Opera during the 1960’s. I loved this book despite not being a huge romance reader.
I can not sing its praises more. Take the time and read this classic by Gaston Leroux.