“It is I who must ask you that, my friend. Are we so unfortunate when we love?”
“Yes, Christine, when we love and when we are not sure of being loved.”
(-C’est moi qui devrais vous le demander, mon ami. On est donc malheureux, quand on aime?
-Oui, Christine, quand on aime et quand on n’est point sur d’être aimé.)
Phantom is next to Les Miz in my list of favorite musicals so one of the first things I had done when I lived in Paris last spring was to find a copy of the Gaston Leroux novel in its original text. Imagine my shock when after half-an-hour of looking for it in contemporary fiction, classics and romance, the customer assistant told me to look for it instead in policier, roughly translated in English as mystery, beside the French counterparts of Sherlock Holmes and Da Vinci Code!
Yet this classification is indeed the more accurate for the text. Greatly romanticized by Andrew Lloyd Weber in the musical, the original text in fact features a somewhat proto-Dan Brown kind of plot set in Paris’ Belle-époque. In the novel’s opening, Leroux insists that the ghost haunting the Palais Garnier is indeed true and is connected to the scandal involving the death of the Comte de Chagny and the disappearance of his brother the Vicomte and the singer Christine Daaé. Towards the novel’s end, the Persian, a character whose role is largely taken over by the originally minor Mme. Giry, goes into a rich narrative of the Phantom’s genius, explaining scientifically and mechanically the voice in Christine’s dressing room, the fall of the chandelier, and the “torture” chamber meant to kill himself and Raoul de Chagny. For all this, the novel remains a love story and the triangle between Erik, Christine and Raoul remains a focal point.
Christine, an orphan living with her foster mother and her dead father’s patroness, Mme. Valérius, is taken by the allure of a mysterious teacher who re-awakens her passion for music, long dormant since her father’s death. Her over-active imagination filled with the Swedish fairytales her father had told her in childhood, coupled with Mme. Valérius’ simplicity causes her to attribute to him the “Angel of Music” her father has promised to send her when he is gone. Fairytales and ghouls in the novel don’t conclude in Erik. Elements of the French romanticism sprinkle the novel’s content and it is in the rural shores of Brittany that Christine and Raoul share an innocent childhood begging for stories and watching for Korrigans (a Breton goblin) and fall in love in their early adolescent years yet are hindered from acting on their feelings by the differences in their social positions. It is likewise in Brittany, many years later that Erik in a fit of jealousy, lures and challenges Christine to deny her love for Raoul. In Paris, the Palais Garnier becomes the embodiment of the Gothic with its mazes above and below ground and its roof opening into the heavens. Erik ultimately dies in the opera house after freeing Christine and Raoul who then marry quietly and flee to Scandinavia with the promise of returning to bury Erik.
Significant differences exist between the novel and the stage adaptation, the most significant perhaps is the ending which makes the occurence of the musical sequel Love Never Dies impossible, another is the importance of characters such as Madame Giry, her daughter Meg and the Persian. What strikes most, however, is Christine Daaé’s transformation from the kidnapped Damsel-in-distress to the hero of the entire story when she sacrifices herself to be Erik’s “living bride” (Christine, horrified by Erik’s lunacy and deformity, attempts suicide early in her captivity) in order to spare her lover’s life. Few literary heroines are concurrently both feminine and portrayed as saviors.
This novel is a masterpiece combination of romance and thought. Throughout the swooning in Christine’s love story, one cannot help but marvel at the relation of events to mechanical genius and the careful construction of the novel’s gothic elements and the terrors of the Palais Garnier vis-a-vis the killer combination of Erik’s lunacy and mechanical skill. The entire time I was on one hand, swooning with the romance and at the same time on my toes calculating in my mind the rational explanation behind all that is happening.
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