In all likelihood you’ve seen The Phantom of the Opera either on film or stage, but did you know it was a book first? Yes, long before Andrew Lloyd-Webber penned The Music of the Night, a French newspaper reporter turned novelist, by the name of Gaston Leroux, wrote a spine tingling story titled Le Fantom de l’ Opera. I mean a long time before. Try circa 1910. And this French reporter has quite convinced me that he is a genius.
Just in case there is a random reader out there who has just returned from a country where Opera is forbidden and he actually doesn’t know the premise of this story, I’ll set the stage:
The Paris Opera House was at its height of glory in the late 1880s, but ask anyone who was there and they’ll also tell you it was haunted. The Opera house is fraught with all sorts of strange goings on, from harmless pranks to deadly accidents, and a mysterious, ghastly figure is always close at hand. Nothing is perhaps more mysterious, though, than the sudden rise of a young singer named Christine Daae, who claims her newly discovered talent is the result of visitations with the Angel of Music. The only problem is, just as Christine reunites with her childhood love, she comes to realize that her Angel of Music and the Opera Ghost are one in the same, and he wants much more than her voice.
Why should you take the time to read The Phantom of the Opera, even if you’ve seen it?
One: More Phantom
If you think you know the story of the Phantom, you are mistaken. In fact, I don’t think they even tell you his name in the movie. The book lets you in on his long and sordid past, achievements and travels as well as a much deeper look into his “lake house.” And for the record, he wears a full face mask.
Two: A better Raul
While I wouldn’t say the Raul in the movie is necessarily bad, he is a bit on the arrogant side, whereas in the novel he is a young man growing up beneath the shadow of his playboy brother. Although he is often childish in the beginning, a large subplot is the coming of age of Raul as he stands up not only to the Phantom, but to French aristocracy who would rather he take Christine as his mistress than wife.
Three: More Opera House
Leroux was actually inspired to write by the Opera House itself. Honestly, everything from its unfathomable architecture to its dark and mysterious history makes the Paris Opera House one of the most fascinating buildings in history, and Leroux really strives to give you a taste of each aspect.
Four: More subplots and characters.
Overall, I’d have to say that watching the musical version is like watching the shadows of a candle flicker against a wall. You get glimpses of the real flame, but you miss out on so much dimension and color.
So, yes, read it.
As to why I put this in the category of the Catchall: Well, originally, feeding of his past as an investigative reporter, Leroux meant the story to be read like an investigation into a cold case crime. When it was published it came to be known more as a horror novel (it was a little easier to horrify back then). And nowadays it’s categorized as a Gothic Romance.
**Little note here: if you are going to take my suggestion, see if you can get a hold of Barns & Noble’s edition, either paperback or eBook. They included a lot of additional historical notes as well as the original article about the Opera House that inspired Leroux. **
So, when was the first time you discovered that the book really is better than the movie?