The Phantom of the Opera
Harper Perennial (1911)
Classic / Mystery / Drama
My first exposure to The Phantom of the Opera was through the stage musical when I was in junior high. It was big and loud and bombastic. I loved the music and have listened to the original Broadway cast recording countless of times since then. I didn’t, however, remember much of the plot. There was a dude with a mask… was he magic or was he human? Did this all end badly for everyone or was there a happy ending? I honestly couldn’t remember, so I still felt like I was going on a twisty, turn-y ride by listening to the source material by Gaston Leroux. Though I did constantly wait for them to break out into song.
I think most would be familiar with the basic idea behind The Phantom of the Opera, either through exposure to the musical, the 2004 movie adaptation with Gerard Butler or through general cultural osmosis. There’s this disfigured guy who wears a mask and lives under the Paris opera house, obsessing over a rising star who he has taken under his wing to train as a singer. Disfigured guy gets posessive, steals rising star away, rising star’s boyfriend gets involved, they all break out into song, and things get messy. All the while the managers and staff of the opera house believe they’re being haunted by a mischievous and violent ghost, which is really the disfigured guy.
Four elements of the book version surprised me: It’s told in the form of a case study of a journalist researching the mysterious happenings at the opera house many decades later. Christine – the previously mentioned rising star – and her obsessive (and drama queen) boyfriend Raul are only around 18. All the men in this story cry a lot. And most surprisingly the “Opera Ghost” (otherwise known as Eric) gets a full and complete background story.