His Father's Eyes (2004)

     by Jean-Marc & Randy Lofficier

          from The Phantom of the Opera, 2004

This short is shorter than most, clocking in at barely seven pages long, and is only to be found in the Lofficiers' above-pictured translation of Leroux's novel with the excellently creepy cover art. Their particular translation is widely disliked in the Phantom literature community, which is not surprising when its mission is to capture the “spirit” of the novel rather than necessarily accurately translate it, but the story is a stand-alone.
 
We'll be seeing the husband-wife team of the Lofficiers again fairly soon, since they also serve as editors for the Shadowmen short story collections, which contain at least seven Phantom stories and counting. If their classic French literature binges don't entertain you, there's also the large list of writing credits, both print and television, and the massive catalogue of comics and graphic novels. Basically, they have some cred in spite of the general hatred for their translation.
 
I've seen a lot of works use the idea of cyclical happenings for the Phantom and his genetic issues; Kay's book and both Meadows novels, in particular, introduce the idea of the Phantom's physicality/disability as a repetitive hereditary feature in his line (some works do it significantly better than others, but we can't have everything in life). However, while many of them deal with the possible consequences of Erik's health for any children he might have, none have ever approached the idea of his parents or ancestors having the same condition as well. This is probably because of the bit in Leroux’s novel in which Erik discusses his mother’s refusal to love and touch him, which implies that she was repulsed by his appearance and therefore must not have had the same condition, but that isn’t necessarily the only way to read it, nor can her behavior not be read any other way.
 
The story opens with the terrified Rosemary (a name that combines both the familiar rose imagery of the Phantom story and the idea of a virginal savior figure, as well as being given to an herb noted for its bitterness), a captive in a dirty shack in the Scottish highlands, mentally bewailing her fate as the captivprisoner of a hideous monster of a man. While we do not see this man for a few pages, Rosemary's description is familiar: a hideous, death-like face, burning yellow eyes, and a terrifying presence that turns her into jelly whenever he enters her orbit. The reader familiar with the Phantom story may immediately assume that this is Erik, perhaps in a story set before his tenancy of the opera house (after all, he moved in as an adult and traveled all over the world, according to Leroux; why not Scotland?), but the title of the story as well as a certain rougher aspect to the character's behavior and treatment of Rosemary are subtle clues that this is not the case. It is not, in fact, Erik, a twist revealed at the end (but, in all honesty, apparent well before then for those familiar with the story).
 
Interestingly, the creature (referred to by Rosemary only as he or him, both because she doesn't know his name and because he terrifies her into italic emphasis) possesses more animalistic traits than does the Phantom, most specifically a tendency to attack things with his teeth; Rosemary's dog met a gruesome end by having its throat torn out when he first attacked her, and he occasionally turns up with blood on his mouth from some other encounter that Rosemary wisely doesn't want to know about. This change, along with the very effective choice to make him almost completely silent (he speaks only once, referred to by Rosemary without giving him actual dialogue, and even then it is in a disjointed, rant-like style), give the creature a much more feral air than the Phantom, leaving him with more in common with an animal than a man. His silence is also interesting, as sound and particularly vocalizing are so central to the character of Erik.
 
Rosemary is, like her parallel Christine, a self-sacrificing figure; just as Christine does Erik's will in order to save Raoul and the opera house from eradication, so Rosemary does not escape when given the possible opportunity to do so for fear of bringing the creature's wrath down on others (specifically her father and her village). Her belief in the creature's near-omnipotent ability to track and find her is very similar to Christine's spellbound belief in Erik's abilities, while, as in Leroux's story, her father is the only family member mentioned in connection to her.
 
Tantalizingly, the creature speaks in a brief scene, muttering something about getting revenge for something that happened on the Orkney isle of Cround, a place invented for Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein, another Gothic classic which shares a good number of themes with Leroux's book, where it was used as the site of Frankenstein's aborted attempt to create a mate for his monster. For those Gothic literature buffs amongst us, it's the a-ha moment where we realize what's going on; prepared for a story dealing with Leroux's Phantom, we are suddenly clocked over the head with the revelation that we're looking at a girl captured and held hostage by Frankenstein's creation, not by Erik at all. The Lofficiers are quite cunning about holding this twist off for a while, playing heavily on the fact that the descriptions of the two monster-men - tall with taut, hideous skin and glowing eyes - are very similar, and the fact that we assume this story is about the Phantom by virtue of it being attached to a translation of Leroux's novel.
 
Of course, there are other issues here once we realize that. The creature was very well-spoken and in his own way beautiful; in fact, Shelley’s novel outright says that he was incredibly beautiful and it was only the visceral uncanny valley-like horror of seeing his unmatching, unnatural parts moving after death that made him frightening to everyone. Shelley’s creature often has eloquent speeches, especially when talking to Frankenstein himself, and his representation here as a feral, animal-like creature probably owes more to the movie-monster versions of the story than to the original.
 
It's interesting to note that it's the creature's eyes, not its face or body, that most terrify Rosemary; she is positively beside herself whenever they're pointed in her direction and by the end of the story she is intentionally keeping her own eyes shut tight despite her terror, choosing blindness over the horrifying sight of him. This is appropriate, since Frankenstein's monster is a character more associated with the unnatural - what should not exist in nature, rendering his beautiful form horrifying no matter what he does. Meanwhile the Phantom's death's-head is terrifying because it represents the inevitable end of nature - death and decay.
 
We can pretty much see this coming by now: Rosemary falls unconscious in terror when she realizes the monster's intention to take her as a mate, and wakes up a few weeks later at home after having been discovered naked and battered in the mud somewhere and returned to her father's care. Her inevitable pregnancy is a powerful idea, both because of the obvious correlation to the Phantom story (by the way, she moves to Rouen to have the baby) and because of its implications for Shelley's creature, who ended his own existence, declaring that he would remove himself from the earth so that no other abomination like him could ever be created but who also created life in spite of being made up of death. His reasons for returning Rosemary are a mystery, though the events of Shelley's novel imply that he had other business to attend to, and his own epic moral struggles suggest that, as is always his tragedy, he is not enough of a monster to force her to stay with him and not enough of a human to convince her of her own free will, another idea that parallels Erik's story in Leroux's novel uncannily closely.
 
Rosemary dies of a heart attack when the child is born with "his father's eyes!", the glowing yellow orbs that so distress everyone in both novels, effectively rendering Erik as motherless as his father was and leaving him the sole carrier of a monstrous legacy. He is named Erik after his maternal grandfather; this is stressed in order to remind us of the original monster's namelessness, an orphaning device equally applicable to Erik himself, whose name is unknown to all but a few key players in Leroux's novel.

Not only is this an interesting interpretation of Erik's physical condition, but its implications spiral outward and upward through the entirety of Leroux's story, solving the question of whether the Phantom is mortal or supernatural (answer: both, being half human and half unnaturally created monster, a Merlin-like dichotomy) handily and moving his central cry of despair against the God that created him to a cry against Man (as represented by Frankenstein), who not only created him an outcast by its societal rules but literally created him a monster as well. This short story reinterprets the entire novel through the lens of its seven pages of revelation.
 
The coda quote is, of course, from Shelley's Frankenstein:


"Shall each man find a wife for his bosom, and each beast have his mate, and I be alone? I had feelings of affection, and they were requited by detestation and scorn."


It brings things to a close, emphasizing the cyclical, identical, and now complementary natures of the two stories perfectly.

And, of course, lest we get so mired in the Gothic that we miss more recent references, this story makes Erik quite literally Rosemary’s Baby, the 1967 novel by Ira Levin that basically founded the Satanic child subgenre of horror. If we were following that novel, that would make Erik literally the Antichrist and son of the Devil, which of course is one of the many things that Frankenstein called his creation over the course of Shelley’s novel.

Now that I’ve seen this in a few places - this story did it first, but Althea Liu’s Christine did the same thing later in 2006 - I do want to take a step back and talk about this as a running theme in Phantom literature, though. The idea of a terrible secret in one’s ancestry leading to unspeakable horror in the present is a staple of the horror genre, often in Gothic literature and especially prominent in the Weird fiction movement that followed it (spearheaded by H.P. Lovecraft, who unfortunately often meant “non-white relatives” when he was talking about a terrible secret in one’s background, so you can see where the use of the theme needs to be interrogated). However, attaching rape to it as a casual addition is a more modern convention, and it’s starting to get obvious in Phantom literature. Not only do we now have two different stories where Erik is conceived as the product of rape, but we have dozens of others in which he commits or attempts to commit rape himself.

The idea that monsters are born as a result of rape isn’t new in horror, but it is a problem. Writers go for it because the idea of something terrible being born out of something terrible is appealing; see, they point out, we’re saying that rape is bad, so therefore that’s why all this started. But unfortunately, this ignores two important things: that using rape as lazy shorthand for your plots is not only poor writing but damaging for many readers, and that implying that children conceived by rape are tainted and evil from birth is not a particularly rad thing to do to the many human beings currently alive who were.
 
As the Shelley quote above points out, the idea of the juxtaposition of human monsters and monstrous humans - that humanity is capable of both creating and becoming monsters - is one of the most powerful in Leroux's story, and I wish more authors were inclined to travel that road to see what other precursors to the Phantom they can come up with. I just wish they’d choose a way to do it that is more interesting than the tired and painful old rape backstory method.

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