Thursday, May 30, 2013

A Long Post On One of My Very Favorite Books (aka The Phantom of the Opera)

Why do I like the Phantom of the Opera?
Because…it really can’t be summed up, but I’ll try.
Here it is: If you don’t like the Phantom of the Opera- you shouldn’t read this, because I’m a PHAN with capital letters.  End of story.
Now I shall do an in-depth post on why I really like the PotO.  I’m not exactly sure if the book counts as a classic, but really…I consider it one, and it’s my blog.  Heh.  J
All right…I’ll stop gloating and start.
I first read PO when I was in…what?  Fifth grade?  Yeah, it was fifth.  SO, I was reading it, and going ho-hum, and not especially enjoying it.  Have you noticed that I generally like books better on their second or third reading??  Anyway, I was reading it, I didn’t enjoy it, and I put it away.  
Then, two years later, it was brought to my attention yet again.  My orchestra was playing the PO…theme, I guess it is.  The one that goes DA…da da da da da…
ANYWAY.  I was hooked- no, Hooked with a capital h on the music.  That night, I listened to the actual recording (with voices) on YouTube, and fell head over heels for the musical.  Lucky for me, my parents had a recording of the entire show, and I listened to it so many times that I could sing a lot of the songs by heart.  As I couldn’t watch the actual show of PO, I watched the movie of the musical- the one with Emmy Russo and Gerard Butler- (see, I know all the actors) and was duly impressed.  Emmy Russo did a great job.  BUT this is turning into a movie review and anyway, I like Michael Crawford (who is surpassed only by Anthony Andrews- aka The Scarlet Pimpernel) and Sarah Brightman way better. 
BUT this is turning into a review of the musical.  So while I could gush for ages about that…
(I had to put that.  How many of you have read the book, Do Not Make Me Smile?  ‘Cause it was awesome.)
ANYWAY.  I was listening to the CD over and over again.  Then I remembered the book I’d read in fifth grade.  The book that had started the whole thing.  And I thought, Hmmm…
I decided to read the book, pronto.  I couldn’t find it at our house- I knew we had it somewhere- so I checked it out from the library.  Or rather, I placed a hold on it and had to wait for TWO WEEKS.  Those weeks went tortuously slow.
But I finally got the book.  I read the first page.  I immediately got creeped out.  Apparently that’s not a word.  Too bad.  =)
For the next few days, while I was reading the book, I jumped at shadows, crept around corners and refused to go into the dark hallway.  For ANY reason.
Then I finished the book.  I finished it while reading under a lamp in the basement while the rest of my family was watching Cars.  I am not a sentimental person in general and don’t usually cry over books.  I cried over the ending of this one- or at least, I choked up and couldn’t talk cheerfully for the next 15 minutes. 
“Poor, unhappy Erik! Shall we pity him? Shall we curse him? He asked only to be 'some one,' like everybody else. But he was too ugly! And he had to hide his genius or use it to play tricks with, when, with an ordinary face, he would have been one of the most distinguished of mankind! He had a heart that could have held the entire empire of the world; and, in the end, he had to content himself with a cellar. Ah, yes, we must need pity the Opera ghost...”
-The Phantom of the Opera
My feelings about Erik (the Phantom, for those who haven’t read the book yet.) were mixed.  I was utterly and completely befuddled.  Gaston Leroux played on my emotions- one moment I was completely angry with him and the next I felt so sorry for him.  He’s a twisted genius, who’s been mocked and scorned since birth and grown up to be a genius who uses his extraordinary powers of mind for his own benefit. 
Then the story starts.  The Phantom has made himself rich and famous in different countries- he’s worked everywhere, from a freak show in a circus to building grand toys and buildings for a Sultan’s daughter.  Now, he just wants to be “some one”- to live normally like everyone else.
“Now I want to live like everybody else. I want to have a wife like everybody else and to take her out on Sundays. I have invented a mask that makes me look like anybody. People will not even turn round in the streets. You will be the happiest of women. And we will sing, all by ourselves, till we swoon away with delight. You are crying! You are afraid of me! And yet I am not really wicked. Love me and you shall see! All I wanted was to be loved for myself. If you loved me I should be as gentle as a lamb; and you could do anything with me that you pleased.” (Erik)
-The Phantom of the Opera
Being “some one” means having a wife- a family.  Erik wants someone to love him- and he wants someone to love. 
Erik has fallen in love with Christine Daae for her beautiful voice and her pretty face.  He poses as an “Angel of Music” that her father promised to send.
To explain that, you need to know Christine’s back story.  Christine’s mother died when she (Christine) was a baby, and Christine has been brought up by her father, a famous violinist, and her grandmother.  Christine dotes on her father and is crushed when he dies.  During the sickness that would eventually kill him, her father promises to send Christine an “Angel of Music” so she won’t be lonely.
I don’t know how the OG (Opera Ghost) hit upon being an “Angel of Music”.  It could have been a lucky guess, or Erik could have found it out somehow.  But Christine trusts him because she thinks her father sent him. 
Then, Christine meets her childhood sweetheart Raoul in the theater where she sings.  Raoul is instantly in love with her again, but Christine is scared.  Her “Angel of Music” has told her pretty much not to date anyone. 
When Christine tells Erik/Phantom/OG about this suitor, Erik speeds up his plan.  He sends Christine into a sort of trance with his beautiful, almost unearthly voice.  There’s another thing I forgot to mention.  Erik has the most beautiful voice in the world.  That’s how he can be a singing tutor and pretend to be an Angel of Music.
ANYWAY.  Erik sends Christine into a trance in her dressing room, and then draws her through a trap-door (her mirror) into his lair.  There’s a giant lake beneath the Paris Opera House (that’s the setting), and Erik has built a giant castle with all sorts of strange illusions and torture chambers.  Christine is still entranced when he takes her into his lair.
He asks her to marry him and explains that he just wants to be loved for himself.  Christine, ever curious, manages to take off his mask, revealing the awful face underneath.
“Look!  You want to see? See! Feast your eyes, glut your soul on my cursed ugliness! Look at Erik's face! Now you know the face of the voice! You were not content to hear me, eh? You wanted to know what I looked like? Oh, you women are so inquisitive! Well, are you satisfied? I'm a good-looking fellow, eh?...When a woman has seen me, as you have, she belongs to me.” (Erik)
-The Phantom of the Opera
Erik grows terribly angry and (because he’s emotionally unbalanced- he’s slightly crazy, in my humble opinion) he rages and weeps at Christine, begging her to love him while cursing her for taking off the mask.  Christine, horrified and afraid, pretends that it doesn’t matter to her that he’s so ugly and says she loves him.  Erik is instantly her willing slave and gives her all that his riches and talent can- except happiness.  She doesn’t love him- she loves Raoul, but she knows that she can’t escape from this Phantom who is obsessed with her.
Eventually, she gains Erik’s trust enough for him to let her leave, as long as she wears his ring on her finger.  If she loses it…she will never be heard of again.  He even lets her play that she is engaged to Raoul, which I thought was a little creepy and could only end in heartbreak.  Which it did. 
“And, despite the care which she [Christine] took to look behind her at every moment, she failed to see a shadow which followed her like her own shadow, which stopped when she stopped, which started again when she did and which made no more noise than a well-conducted shadow should.”
-The Phantom of the Opera
The Phantom still follows Christine, wanting to make sure that she is faithful.  One night, she meets Raoul on the roof of the Opera House.  She confesses her love for him and her fears about the Phantom.  She tells of how she hates and pities him at the same time.
Raoul, who didn’t know any of this before, immediately makes plans for his and Christine’s escape.  Christine agrees to flee with him, but her pity for the Phantom holds her back.  He loves to hear her sing, and she had promised to sing in the Opera House soon.  She refuses to leave until she has sung for Erik one more time.  Raoul eventually gives in, but gives her a ring to wear around her neck- a symbol of their engagement.
The only problem?  The Phantom was listening the whole time.
Enraged and heartbroken, Erik kidnaps Christine again.  Raoul tries to find out where she could have gone and meets the Persian, a person from Erik’s past who saved his life once and knows where Erik is hiding.  The Persian agrees to help him and they set off together.
The two go into Erik’s cavern through Christine’s mirror and swim through the lake until they reach his castle.  Then, they sneak in and listen in on a conversation between Christine and Erik.
“I give you five minutes to spare your blushes. here is the little bronze key that opens the ebony caskets on the mantle piece in the Louise-Phillipe room. In one of the caskets you will find a scorpion, in the other, a grasshopper, both very cleverly imitated in Japanese bronze: they will say yes or no for you. If you turn the scorpion round, that will mean to me, when I return that you have said yes. The grasshopper will mean no... The grasshopper, be careful of the grass hopper! A grasshopper does not only turn: it hops! It hops! And it hops jolly high!” (Erik)
-The Phantom of the Opera
Erik has tied her up and given her a choice.  She can agree to marry him by turning a scorpion carving- or she can refuse, turn the grasshopper, and blow up the opera house.  He gives her until midnight to decide.  He then leaves, and Raoul calls out to Christine.  They make plans to escape and reach her room, until suddenly Raoul and the Persian are dropped into a torture chamber.  This chamber, a devious invention of Erik’s, creates the illusion of a desert- heat, flies and all.
Luckily for Raoul, the Persian is familiar with this sort of chamber and manages to find a way out- right into the room where the gunpowder for blowing up the Opera House is stored.  Erik comes back and keeps threatening Christine.  Finally, desperate and ignorant of Raoul’s fate, she turns the scorpion- and floods the room full of gunpowder. 
She hears the cries of the two men being drowned and begs Erik to save them.  He does, and brings them out of the opera house.
As the narrator of that part, the Persian, is unconscious by this time, he only finds out what happened later, when the Phantom visits him:
The Persian at once felt who his singular visitor was and ordered him to be shown in. The daroga was right. It was the ghost, it was Erik!

He looked extremely weak and leaned against the wall, as though he were afraid of falling. Taking off his hat, he revealed a forehead white as wax. The rest of the horrible face was hidden by the mask.

The Persian rose to his feet as Erik entered.

"Murderer of Count Philippe, what have you done with his brother and Christine Daae?"

Erik staggered under this direct attack, kept silent for a moment, dragged himself to a chair and heaved a deep sigh. Then, speaking in short phrases and gasping for breath between the words:

"Daroga, don't talk to me...about Count Philippe....He was dead... by the time...I left my house...he was dead... when... the siren sang....It was an...accident...a sad...a very sad ...accident. He fell very awkwardly... but simply and naturally... into the lake!..."

"You lie!" shouted the Persian.

Erik bowed his head and said: "I have not come talk about Count Philippe... but to tell you that...I am die. ..."

"Where are Raoul de Chagny and Christine Daae?"

"I am going to die."

"Raoul de Chagny and Christine Daae?"

"Of love...daroga...I am dying...of love...That is how it is.... loved her so!...And I love her still...daroga...and I am dying of love for her, I...I tell you!...If you knew how beautiful she was... when she let me kiss her...alive...It was the first...time, daroga, the first...time I ever kissed a woman.... Yes, alive....I kissed her alive ...and she looked as beautiful as if she had been dead!"

The Persian shook Erik by the arm:

"Will you tell me if she is alive or dead."

"Why do you shake me like that?" asked Erik, making an effort to speak more connectedly. "I tell you that I am going to die. ...Yes, I kissed her alive...."

"And now she is dead?"

"I tell you I kissed her just like that, on her forehead... and she did not draw back her forehead from my lips!...Oh, she is a good girl!...As to her being dead, I don't think so; but it has nothing to do with me....No, no, she is not dead! And no one shall touch a hair of her head! She is a good, honest girl, and she saved your life, daroga, at a moment when I would not have given twopence for your Persian skin. As a matter of fact, nobody bothered about you. Why were you there with that little chap? You would have died as well as he! My word, how she entreated me for her little chap! But I told her that, as she had turned the scorpion, she had, through that very fact, and of her own free will, become engaged to me and that she did not need to have two men engaged to her, which was true enough. "As for you, you did not exist, you had ceased to exist, I tell you, and you were going to die with the other!...Only, mark me, daroga, when you were yelling like the devil, because of the water, Christine came to me with her beautiful blue eyes wide open, and swore to me, as she hoped to be saved, that she consented to be MY LIVING WIFE!...Until then, in the depths of her eyes, daroga, I had always seen my dead wife; it was the first time I saw MY LIVING WIFE there. She was sincere, as she hoped to be saved. She would not kill herself. It was a bargain....Half a minute later, all the water was back in the lake; and I had a hard job with you, daroga, for, upon my honor, I thought you were done for!... However!...There you were!...It was understood that I was to take you both up to the surface of the earth. When, at last, I cleared the Louis-Philippe room of you, I came back alone...."

"What have you done with the Vicomte de Chagny?" asked the Persian, interrupting him.

"Ah, you see, daroga, I couldn't carry HIM up like that, at once. ...He was a hostage....But I could not keep him in the house on the lake, either, because of Christine; so I locked him up comfortably, I chained him up nicely--a whiff of the Mazenderan scent had left him as limp as a rag--in the Communists' dungeon, which is in the most deserted and remote part of the Opera, below the fifth cellar, where no one ever comes, and where no one ever hears you. Then I came back to Christine, she was waiting for me."

Erik here rose solemnly. Then he continued, but, as he spoke, he was overcome by all his former emotion and began to tremble like a leaf: "Yes, she was waiting for me...waiting for me erect and alive, a real, living she hoped to be saved....And, when I...came forward, more timid than...a little child, she did not run, no...she stayed...she waited for me....I even believe...daroga...that she put out her forehead...a little...oh, not much...just a little... like a living bride....And...and...I...kissed her!... I!...I!...I!...And she did not die!...Oh, how good it is, daroga, to kiss somebody on the forehead!...You can't tell!... But I! I!...My mother, daroga, my poor, unhappy mother would never ...let me kiss her....She used to run away...and throw me my mask! ...Nor any other woman...ever, ever!...Ah, you can understand, my happiness was so great, I cried. And I fell at her feet, crying ...and I kissed her feet...her little feet...crying. You're crying, too, daroga...and she cried also...the angel cried!..." Erik sobbed aloud and the Persian himself could not retain his tears in the presence of that masked man, who, with his shoulders shaking and his hands clutched at his chest, was moaning with pain and love by turns.

"Yes, daroga...I felt her tears flow on my forehead...on mine, mine!...They were soft...they were sweet!...They trickled under my mask...they mingled with my tears in my eyes...yes ...they flowed between my lips....Listen, daroga, listen to what I did....I tore off my mask so as not to lose one of her tears...and she did not run away!...And she did not die!... She remained alive, weeping over me, with me. We cried together! I have tasted all the happiness the world can offer!"

And Erik fell into a chair, choking for breath:

"Ah, I am not going to die yet...presently I shall...but let me cry!...Listen, daroga...listen to this....While I was at her feet...I heard her say, `Poor, unhappy Erik!' ... AND SHE TOOK MY HAND!...I had become no more, you know, than a poor dog ready to die for her....I mean it, daroga!... I held in my hand a ring, a plain gold ring which I had given her ...which she had lost...and which I had found again... a wedding-ring, you know....I slipped it into her little hand and said, `There!...Take it!...Take it for you...and him! ...It shall be my wedding-present a present from your poor, unhappy Erik.....I know you love the boy...don't cry any more! ...She asked me, in a very soft voice, what I meant.... Then I made her understand that, where she was concerned, I was only a poor dog, ready to die for her...but that she could marry the young man when she pleased, because she had cried with me and mingled her tears with mine!..." Erik's emotion was so great that he had to tell the Persian not to look at him, for he was choking and must take off his mask. The daroga went to the window and opened it. His heart was full of pity, but he took care to keep his eyes fixed on the trees in the Tuileries gardens, lest he should see the monster's face.

"I went and released the young man," Erik continued, "and told him to come with me to Christine....They kissed before me in the Louis-Philippe room....Christine had my ring.... I made Christine swear to come back, one night, when I was dead, crossing the lake from the Rue-Scribe side, and bury me in the greatest secrecy with the gold ring, which she was to wear until that moment. ...I told her where she would find my body and what to do with it. ...Then Christine kissed me, for the first time, herself, here, on the forehead--don't look, daroga!--here, on the forehead...on my forehead, mine--don't look, daroga!--and they went off together. ...Christine had stopped crying....I alone cried....Daroga, daroga, if Christine keeps her promise, she will come back soon!..."

The Persian asked him no questions. He was quite reassured as to the fate of Raoul Chagny and Christine Daae; no one could have doubted the word of the weeping Erik that night.
The monster resumed his mask and collected his strength to leave the daroga. He told him that, when he felt his end to be very near at hand, he would send him, in gratitude for the kindness which the Persian had once shown him, that which he held dearest in the world: all Christine Daae's papers, which she had written for Raoul's benefit and left with Erik, together with a few objects belonging to her, such as a pair of gloves, a shoe-buckle and two pocket-handkerchiefs. In reply to the Persian's questions, Erik told him that the two young people, at soon as they found themselves free, had resolved to go and look for a priest in some lonely spot where they could hide their happiness and that, with this object in view, they had started from "the northern railway station of the world." Lastly, Erik relied on the Persian, as soon as he received the promised relics and papers, to inform the young couple of his death and to advertise it in the EPOQUE.
-The Phantom of the Opera
The Vicomte de Chagny is Raoul and Count Phillipe is his brother, whom Erik accidentally killed.
Erik eventually shows mercy to Christine because she showed mercy to him.  She gave up everything to save her love, and he gave her everything back because she did it. 
Erik couldn’t live much longer after that:
That was all. The Persian saw Erik to the door of his flat, and Darius helped him down to the street. A cab was waiting for him. Erik stepped in; and the Persian, who had gone back to the window, heard him say to the driver:

"Go to the Opera."

And the cab drove off into the night.

The Persian had seen the poor, unfortunate Erik for the last time. Three weeks later, the Epoque published this advertisement:

"Erik is dead."
-The Phantom of the Opera
PotO is a cross between a horror story, a murder mystery, and a romance.  It’s a story about love, self-sacrifice, and good overcoming evil.  It tells about a broken, twisted man who is redeemed through love- like Christ redeems us.  This book is not an allegory, but perhaps you can learn something about Christ from it.
And a last quote:
“If I am the phantom, it is because man's hatred has made me so. If I am to be saved it is because your love redeems me.” (Erik)
― Gaston Leroux, The Phantom of the Opera

Notes: I’m still working on the Emma review.  I’ll probably do a TSP1982 review on Saturday.  Please leave a comment and tell me how you liked this post and what you’d like me to write about next!
-Miss Jane Bennet


Lucy said...

Great post!! I only recently read Phantom, I think it was in January, but it's definitely one of my favourites too :) Also I totally get where you're coming from with feeling creeped out while reading it, especially at the end when Raoul and the Persian are being tortured. Such a good book!

Please follow me back :)

Miss Jane Bennet said...

Thanks! I followed you back, as you probably already know...;)