Having recently written reviews for both Andrew Lloyd Webber’s film version of The Phantom of the Opera as well as a sequel novel, I decided it was high time I actually read Gaston Leroux’s original novel. As I’ve written in an earlier post, I don’t usually enjoy classic literature. I generally find it long-winded and with dour hidden message about the evils of life. But when writing about film adaptations and book sequels, reading the source material is a must.
For those unfamiliar with the story it is somewhat of a Beauty and the Beast type tale. The orphaned Christine Daae works as a dancer at the Paris Opera House, but has secretly been taking lessons from a figure she knows as the Angel of Music. At the same time the opera’s new managers are under the impression that the stories of the Opera’s ghost are just an elaborate practical joke perpetrated by the former owners. Rumors and tragic events which have occurred are all linked to this mysterious ghost.
Meanwhile, a young Raoul, Vicomte de Chagny returns to Paris and notices his old playmate Christine. Initially Christine ignores him and then sends him mixed signals which drives the immature but lovelorn Raoul to distraction. He is never quite assured of Christine’s affection, but eventually they play at an engagement. Christine finally confesses her love, knowing it is for naught since she is bound to her music tutor.
Everything comes to a head when Christine disappears from the stage in the middle of a performance.
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Although there are some big differences between the book and the film adaptation of Phantom of the Opera that I’ve seen, overall the main plots of the story remain the same.
There are some additional characters in the original novel which have been trimmed from the stage play and film. These include Raoul’s older brother Phillip, the Comte de Chagny, as well as smaller players in the opera house.
The Persian, who plays an important part in the book, is the most glaring character missing in the film. He is the only one who personally knows Erik, thanks to a shared past history. His knowledge of the Phantom (Erik) is crucial in helping Raoul rescue Christine in the final chapters of the book. It is also his knowledge which explains Erik’s backstory to the reader, giving the Phantom added depth.
While Madame Giry and her daughter Meg appear in both the book and film versions, they are described very differently in the novel than they appear in the film. They also serve entirely different purposes than portrayed in the film.
Another very glaring difference between the book and the movie is that the film version tends to focus on Christine and the Phantom, telling the story from their perspectives. Leroux’s version tells the story from pretty much everyone else’s perspective but theirs. I found this frustrating at times. But the upside is that we get a much better perspective of the politics and management of the Opera House. I particularly enjoyed the chapters which focused on the opera managers. I found myself laughing out loud many times at their inner contemplations and their suspicions as they tried to track down the truth of the opera ghost.
Raoul gets much more “screen” time in the book than he does in the movie. I can’t say that this pleased me much. While his love for Christine doesn’t vary, he is much younger and more immature in the book. I found myself very annoyed with him at times but still able to sympathize with him occasionally. No matter the version, I’m just not a fan of Raoul.
Christine is much the same, a pure innocent, and yet reveals a little bit more complexity than I’ve seen before. She is more aware of the demands and the danger that Erik presents and much less naïve. Erik/the Phantom is also more complex thanks to a greater revelation of his character than the film shares. Physically, his appearance is more that of a walking corpse and thus that much more hideous. I did love having some of my long standing questions about his skills and origin answered.
The Phantom of the Opera was originally published over the course of about sixteen months in serial form for a Parisian newspaper. Thus, it doesn’t follow the general rules or format of a novel. It reads more like a series of vignettes than well plotted, character driven fiction. This presented a bit of a challenge for me since I find that fiction generally has a cadence I can fall into as I read. But eventually I was able to follow the somewhat disjointed storyline.
Despite some of the challenges and the dislikes I’ve mentioned, I’m very glad I read The Phantom of the Opera. Though I still prefer Webber’s film and stage versions, I also found much to enjoy about the book. I appreciate some of the additional details found in the book which will now further enhance my appreciation for this story in any form.