On the whole, I tend to read books prior to watching their screen adaptations, often avoiding the film altogether. While there are rare occasions when I’ve watched a film that lives up to the book on which its based, more often than not they’re a huge disappointment, and I’m left wishing I hadn’t bothered.
With The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux, however, I first watched the film, before seeing Andrew Lloyd Webber’s stage production as a 21st birthday present from my Uncle Rory before only just having read the book many years later after first having come across the Parisian ghost story.
I first bought a copy aged 19 from a used book shop in Koh Phangnan in Thailand, though it inevitably got left on a bus when I was just a chapter or two in travelling north to Chang Mai. And so it was when on a recent holiday to Hvar that I found myself wandering around Split en route back to England that I stumbled across a book shop when exploring the underground market and consequently bought my second copy of Gaston Leroux’s most famous novel.
Telling the tale of the Paris Opera House and it’s resident phantom, the novel follows the talented Christine Daae who, shortly after being cast in the opera hears a beautiful, unearthly voice sing to her. She believes the voice belongs to The Angel of Music – a character from a story she was told as a child – and, having confirmed this, the voice offers her singing lessons. The Voice, however, belongs to Erik, a physically deformed and mentally disturbed musical genius who was one of the architects who took part in the construction of the opera. He is in love with Christine and has also been extorting money from the Opera’s management for many years, and is also called the “Opera Ghost” by the denizens of the Opera.
What follows is a series of eerie events that cause chaos in the opera house, running alongside the central love story of Christine and her childhood sweetheart Raoul, who hears her triumph at the gala on the night of her old managers’ retirement and seeks to rekindle their flame.
Both a ghost and a love story in equal parts, The Phantom of the Opera is a wonderfully enticing book possessing atmosphere in abundance and is the perfect Parisian read.
About Phantom of the Opera
First published in French as a serial in 1909, The Phantom of the Opera is a riveting story that revolves around the young, Swedish Christine Daaé. Her father, a famous musician, dies, and she is raised in the Paris Opera House with his dying promise of a protective angel of music to guide her. After a time at the opera house, she begins hearing a voice, who eventually teaches her how to sing beautifully. All goes well until Christine’s childhood friend Raoul comes to visit his parents, who are patrons of the opera, and he sees Christine when she begins successfully singing on the stage. The voice, who is the deformed, murderous ‘ghost’ of the opera house named Erik, however, grows violent in his terrible jealousy, until Christine suddenly disappears. The phantom is in love, but it can only spell disaster.
Leroux’s work, with characters ranging from the spoiled prima donna Carlotta to the mysterious Persian from Erik’s past, has been immortalized by memorable adaptations. Despite this, it remains a remarkable piece of Gothic horror literature in and of itself, deeper and darker than any version that follows.
About Gaston Leroux
Gaston Louis Alfred Leroux was a French journalist and author of detective fiction.
In the English-speaking world, he is best known for writing the novel The Phantom of the Opera (Le Fantôme de l’Opéra, 1910), which has been made into several film and stage productions of the same name, such as the 1925 film starring Lon Chaney, and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1986 musical. It was also the basis of the 1990 novel Phantom by Susan Kay.
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