Getting Reacquainted With Gaston Leroux’s “The Phantom of the Opera”
Thanks to Andrew Lloyd Weber, most people hear the words The Phantom of the Opera and instantly think of an actor wearing a white half-mask and belting out “Music of the Night” on Broadway. However, Gaston Leroux’s original novel was not necessarily the sappy love story that Broadway fans squeal about. While the basic premise is the same as Weber’s musical adaption, Leroux’s book was more akin to Sherlock Holmes than anything else.
Leroux’s Erik (the Phantom’s real name) was not the tragic Broadway hottie who paraded around on stage, he was a 50-something year old man who wore a full face mask because he had no nose and literally looked like a walking, talking skeleton. The novel also had more of a “murder mystery” air and was much kinder to Raoul de Chagny, who was determined to figure out why his crush Christine Daee disappeared and was suddenly avoiding him.
The Phantom of the Opera is more terrifying than its Broadway counterpart; Erik is much more unstable and has a torture chamber in his house. Leroux heightens the sense of dread and makes sure you understand the Phantom is a madman who doesn’t “just need a hug.”
However, even though Erik is far more deadly than his musical theater incarnation, Leroux manages to make you feel sorry for him, too. After all, Erik has never been shown any human kindness, which is why he shows a glimmer of humility after the young opera singer takes pity on him and treats him like a person instead of a freak show attraction. Regardless of what adaptation you’ve watched or read, the original Phantom is a classic that everyone should read.