Phantom (1990)

     by Susan Kay

So here we finally are, with the grandmother of all Phantom prequels, sequels, and fiction that came after. Kay wasn't the first to write derivative fiction based on Leroux's work, but she was the first to do so with a wide enough audience and publishing reach to really become a household name for fans of the novel (and of Lloyd Webber's musical), and her book remains one of the "big" works in the Phantom canon, with tons of later influence and many derivative works based in turn on it. Many followers of this particular literary niche consider Kay's novel so definitive and admirable in quality that they put it on a pedestal of equal authority to Leroux's original.

 

I mean, y'all know me.  It's all right.  It's got good points.  I like lots of it.  

 

Way back when I first posted this review in 2008, the internet was all over me about the grade, ranging from "how dare you, this is Literary Art" to "did you not READ it, it is so flawed". I think the general landscape of literary criticism among Phantom story fans has changed since then, but it's still a favorite for a lot of folks!

 

Part 1: Madeleine (1831-1840)

 

Kay's novel is a fanciful biography, covering Erik's life from birth to death, in order to explain the motivations and history behind the actions and events of Leroux's novel. She shows a good understanding of the themes and ideas behind Erik and his relationship with God and the world around him, but my very first note introduces the biggest problem I had with Kay's work overall: she over-explains. Her characters, starting with Madeleine here, have a tendency to slip into navel-gazing, so that the action frequently grinds to a screeching halt so people can wax philosophical about their Great Pains. I mean, it's not that they don't have great pains, but as a reader I don't need to be experiencing great pains myself in my boredom as I wait for the story to pick back up. This book has a problem with telling instead of showing, and while you can have books where there is no "action" beyond peoples' inner lives, you still have to show that in some way other than the characters point-blank telling you.

 

The language used in the prose is descriptive and moving, though, providing a clear and interesting picture of what's going on. The characters are the main strength of Kay's novel, which does a beautiful job of making them relatable but also very self-contained and applicable to their respective metaphors, so this descriptive prose is likewise a major strength for Kay, and it will continue straight through to the end of the novel without many snags.

 

Unfortunately, her prose does do one thing that makes me sad, and that is a constant abuse of ellipses. Generally, the English language does not require a lot of ellipses at any given time. Ninety-nine percent of all ellipses can be replaced with other punctuation or removed in favor of sentence reconstruction, usually without disrupting the voice unduly. I'm not opposed to ellipses in general, especially when used responsibly, but if more than five ellipses appear in your novel, you may be treading on dangerous ground. If more than five ellipses appear in one chapter, you will definitely be courting disaster, and if more than five ellipses appear on the same page, except in very singular circumstances, you have erred unless you are doing something very stylized or we are reading actual journal text from a character or something. Constant use of the defenseless ellipsis looks lazy, and the trailing off effect that you are looking for is probably ruined if the reader is staring at it and reconstructing the sentence so that it becomes more interesting and self-contained. 

 

Back with the story, let's start with a look at the names. Erik's name in the original Leroux novel most likely translates as "dark ruler", although there's room to wiggle with the interpretation, but Kay decides to go all out on her naming conventions. Madeleine (Erik's mother) literally means "woman of Magdala", the birthplace and sacred city of Mary Magdalene from scripture; Madeleine's status as something of a sinful woman struggling to find grace makes it an appropriate moniker. The name Charles means "free man", and also bears connotations of strength and masculinity, all traits that the handsome and carefree father of the Phantom takes for granted, and which provide contrast for his unfortunate son's plight. And, of course, Sascha is a variant of Alexander, which means "defender of man", obviously appropriate for the faithful family dog.

 

Since we're talking about names anyway, it's fun to note the heavy irony of Erik's own name. Having been named after the priest, Erik becomes a conundrum of nomenclature; the priest, who is representative of God, lends his name to a child who is representative of abandonment by God. Erik is in a sense named after God, which he is luckily unaware of as he spends the rest of his life being cursed, abandoned, or actively persecuted because of his physical, and according to his beliefs, God-given form. Now that's irony.

 

Madeleine's horror of her son comes partially from the fact that he is the last remnant of her deceased husband, and the fact that that remaining link is through a child so obviously disabled causes her a sharp disconnect; she is unable to reconcile her handsome, loving husband with the terrifying creature that the two of them have created. She calls Erik "the monster that Charles and I had created out of love," not only hammering home that idea but also giving us a little window of foreshadowing into adult Erik's behavior, which will be continually characterized by evil acts that he will perpetrate out of a misguided desire to act on love. Erik's condition is almost an active betrayal, as far as Madeleine is concerned; Charles promised her perfection in their child, and as she had come to view the fetus as representative of their love and of Charles' legacy, it feels like an actual betrayal to her for him to instead be so visibly and profoundly "imperfect."

 

Unsurprisingly, Kay makes Erik's parents a singer and an architect, respectively, which is a popular move in later works to give him plausible genetic background for his prodigious talents in both fields (architectural prowess: in your DNA, I guess). The class lines are set up here, as well, when it's made clear that Madeleine's parents were somewhat relieved that she had chosen to marry a man - even a man somewhat below her social status - rather than becoming a performer with all the stigma that would have entailed. As per the cultural perceptions of the time, professional singing is set up to be representative of worldliness and sin, an idea that will be repeated many times.

 

It's interesting to watch Charles actively cast himself in a God role, saying that the creation of his child makes him feel like God, etc., because it extends the idea of a neglectful God even further. Charles' death is tantamount to abandonment for Erik, who never knew him and was left with only his unstable mother, and that absence of a father figure in his life correlates directly to the absence (or abandonment) of God. (It also has more than a little whiff of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, which is all about the "creation" of a horrible monster who spends his life resenting and seeking his "father's" approval, which might or might not be intentional given that both novels are mainstays of the Gothic tradition).

 

The slight class friction between Madeleine, as a monied lady, and Charles, as a working class man, is present, as previously noted, from the beginning. It isn't as pronounced as the later class dichotomy between Christine and Raoul will be, but it's an obvious parallel to their situation and helps reinforce the idea that class barriers do exist in this time period and are important to keep in mind (which I appreciate, since a lot of authors sort of conveniently forget all about them).

 

As for Erik himself, Kay's version of the character doesn't have quite the same challenges as others we've seen so far; he isn't dual-personality like Bischoff's Phantom, or a morally bankrupt indentured sinner like Englund's 1989 movie portrayal. Instead, is clearly capable of emotion and even of relating to other people, but he has some obvious deficits in empathy and isn't very good at being able to fully conceptualize other people's problems and personalities. He can appreciate inanimate objects and objective ideals of beauty, but he has a great deal of difficulty distinguishing between right and wrong, and appears to have almost no idea how the average person manages their morals. As a child, he has difficulty distinguishing between animals and humans (he believes the dog to be his mother for a while, for example), and learns to manipulate others at a very early age, using threats and fear to control his own mother's actions. While his fondness for Sascha and his desperate attempts to drag some motherly love out of Madeleine indicate that he does have emotional capacity, he doesn't have the ability to focus it correctly, and Madeleine's neglect ensures that he never learns how. This confused and fractured childhood is the basis for Kay's adult Phantom, whose moral compass isn't quite nonexistent but is very, very unreliable.

 

Kay also begins a novel-long theme here that becomes super popular in later works: specifically, that Erik and his musical talents, especially his voice, are representative of sexuality. You can definitely argue that this theme is present in Leroux's work; Erik's music has the ability to affect people in a sensual, almost physical way, and his "forbidden/evil love" angle translates easily for the audience into a "sexuality evil/purity good" dichotomy, but Kay goes whole hog on this concept. When Erik first begins to sing, as a boy, Madeleine instantly forbids him to do so again, not because he sounds bad but because his voice rouses completely inappropriate sexual feelings in her. This is a double whammy for poor Madeleine; not only is she experiencing some sort of inescapable sexual assault, one that she wasn't expecting and has no defense against, but it's coming from her prepubescent son. That's nightmare fuel for any child, let alone Erik, who has already been giving her the heebie-jeebies for being debatably supernatural. Her fear of his voice and the feelings it has the power to rouse in her are a direct precursor to Christine's feelings later, especially in light of the fact that Leroux's Phantom had as much desire for Christine to fill a mother's role for him as a wife's.

 

By the way, if you were hoping this was the only place with a creepy incestuous tone, you are out of luck, because this novel is all about incest on multiple levels. This extremely Freudian Oedipal complex that Erik suffers from is a huge theme for Kay, and will continue on uninterrupted for the entire novel. Madeleine's rejection of Erik's voice also has roots in the societal mores of the time; since she sees it as a fundamentally sexual agent, she rejects it as evil for its sensual connotations. Conversely, the priest sees Erik's voice as spiritually transcendent, a sound he even likens to the voice of God himself; this gentle, never-discussed disagreement is a direct laying out of the central conundrum of Erik's character in the original novel, which saw him continually torn between the two facets of his personality, the sexual "predator" and the transcendent, musical "angel".

 

This unfortunate sexual conception that Madeleine has of Erik has several root causes; the sensually hypnotic quality of his voice is certainly the most obvious, but Erik's existence has been "tainted" for his mother from the beginning, primarily by her own guilt. Her parents' deaths coincided with her honeymoon, recasting the sexual bliss she had been experiencing in a guilty light because of the timing, and her choice to marry Charles (and the sexual pursuits that marriage entails) has become by the time of Erik's childhood something that she bitterly regrets as it not only curtailed her career but also landed her in an isolated cottage with a deformed son and a dead husband. Erik is a product of all the sexual evil in which she has indulged, and because of that he has become representative, in her eyes, of sin of the worst kind. No one likes a living reminder of their life going off the rails.

 

It is fairly unsurprising, in light of this Oedipal undercurrent, that Erik should see his mother's association with her boyfriend Etienne as a sort of betrayal. While he is still far too much of a child to have any understanding of sexuality or of his mother's differing perceptions of him and of Etienne, he is very firmly able to grasp the idea that he wants her attention to be his and his alone. Even at this early age, he is already setting the dynamic of his later relationships, most notably that he shares with Christine: just as Christine is drawn by his magnetism and terrified by his savagery into running to the haven of Raoul, so is Madeleine desperate to break free to the safety she sees with Etienne in order to deny the unnatural power her son has over her.

 

Erik, like many genius children, is resentful of the restrictions placed upon him by his mother and openly disdainful of her (he is totally convinced of his own superiority, an idea that Madeleine doesn't do much to discredit since she's spending most of her time trying to avoid him). His mental image of himself is shattered when his mother forces him to confront the horror of his own face, however; like everyone else, as soon as he sees his physical disfigurement, he immediately begins to hate himself. As a child in an environment surrounded by fear and loathing, there isn't much else he can do. His penchant for illusion and sleight-of-hand grows directly from this self-hatred; when combined with his natural curiosity and affinity for understanding the way things work, that self-loathing makes some ability to change his environment necessary for him, even if it should be only by obscuring the truth to help avoid exposing himself. His mastery of the arts of illusion is another layer of "mask", insulating him from the world around him and, to some degree, from himself.

 

Kay sets Erik's earliest years in a small, provincial French town, where religion is a facet of everyday life and superstition is much more likely to abound; the setup makes the idea of fearful peasants with suspicions of demons an easier pill to swallow than it would be in a major city, although we're still talking about the nineteenth century and not the fourteenth so there's some manufactured drama that doesn't quite get off the ground. The French Revolution and its Enlightenment ideals already happened a century ago and it's hard to really sell a religious mob yelling about the Devil. Kay's characterization of Erik himself helps with that a little; his uncontrollable temper and tendencies (even in childhood) toward extreme violence, combined with his deformity, make the idea of demon possession suddenly look not so far-fetched to the townsfolk, who are desperate for a solution that makes some sense (God having a capricious sense of humor is not what they are looking for here). It would probably have worked better if Kay had just gone ahead and called things what they are by claiming the townspeople just hated the kid and wanted to get rid of him, but it is what it is.

 

Erik's preference for illusion intersects, near the end of this portion of the novel, with his desperate desire for some kind of reciprocal affection from his mother. She can't bear to touch him, and after the terrible revelation of his appearance he understands her revulsion and internalizes the idea that he is unlovable. So he creates a proxy for her to love: a statue of a shepherd boy, which he animates with his ventriloquism and invests with enough life-likeness that she is almost drawn into believing it to be her second child. Via the shepherd boy, Erik is able to experience a mother's love vicariously, but even more than that, he is at heart a boy yearning to please his mother, and he is in a way making amends for what he sees as the terrible sin of his birth by giving her the perfect child that she wanted to make her happy. Erik's choice to construct an entire self-contained world, in which his mother is his and his alone, is of course something that he will repeat time and time again as he ages, up to and including his hidden fortress below the opera house. Madeleine herself falls prey to his illusion, the two of them living in a fantasy world entirely of Erik's making in order to avoid facing the painful reality of their lives. The poignancy of it lies in this longing for escapism, and in the fact that Erik will continue hopelessly trying to achieve this balance of fantasy and reality for the rest of his life.

 

Madeleine's continued musings are not a ton of fun to read through all the time, honestly. She often seems to be the vehicle for Kay to slip in some more telling, which generally seems totally unnecessary since there is plenty of showing going on. There is no need for Madeleine to say, "I was a practicing Catholic..." when we see her going to Mass, seeking counsel from the priest, at prayer. Similarly, she doesn't need to sit there and ponder how Erik is a law unto himself outside of humanity when the entire novel is making that fairly clear. Unfortunately, Kay seems to have a real problem trusting her readers to draw their own conclusions, and the narrative frequently runs the risk ofmaking the reader feel like a sulky child being led by the hand.

This opening section also feels like it has a lot of wasted potential; there's enough in the personality dynamics of these two characters for an entire novel by itself, and a lot of it falls by the wayside. While the basic concept that Madeleine's pain is real but that her treatment of her son is still terrible gets through, we don't really get to look at the roots of either of them - Madeleine's personality revolves entirely around her son and the death of her husband and we have very little idea who she would be without them, outside of "was a singer and is kind of spoiled", traits that feel designed more to lazily position her as an antagonist to Erik than to try to develop her as a character, and the larger social question of ableism and mistreatment of people with diseases or congenital conditions ends up largely ignored in favor of the simplistic handwave of "the people think it's Satan". Without looking more deeply at the underpinnings of why the ableism shown toward Erik by his mother and everyone else he knows is wrong at its base, we end up sometimes with the unfortunate implication that it's wrong to treat him that way because he's otherwise extraordinary - talented, imaginative, a genius, etc. - rather than because it's wrong to treat anyone that way.

 

Part 2: Erik (1840-1843)

Erik finally decides to abandon his mother and make a run for it, a plan which has two motivating factors: the one that he admits to himself is that he is leaving her for her own safety, which is certainly true enough in its own way (I'm sure she's not enjoying all the mob attention and black stares). This first letting go is, of course, a parallel to his later release of Christine; now, as then, his relationship with her is possessive and controlling and he has to discover selflessness in order to let go of it. He's not being entirely selfless, however, because he also wants (understandably) to avoid letting Etienne ship him off to a mental institute. Erik does few things over the course of this book that don't also benefit or protect himself, and while the idea that he might never have let go of his mother if there hadn't been an external threat might be disheartening in another story, here it helps set him up for Christine in the future - there, he has no other motivator and has to learn to do it just because it's the right thing to do.

 

Kay couldn't have made the Madeleine = Christine parallel any clearer if she'd painted it in red all over the pages of her manuscript. Everything Erik says, does, or thinks in regards to his mother is identical to his Christine fixation later on, from wistfully thinking about how beautiful she is and yet how remote from him to sternly controlling himself and knowing that he shouldn't touch her despite his desire to do so to feeling and lamenting an uncontainable love that he doesn't think he can possibly survive, and he understands her revulsion and hates himself for having caused it in her, as though he had created a flaw in something beautiful just by being present. He will repeat this exact sequence of emotions and action with Christine forty years down the road, which makes perfect sense - Leroux's Erik, after all, was obviously seeking not only a wife but a mother figure in Christine to make up for his neglected, malnourished emotional state, and Kay is providing a very plausible background for that behavior here. (Of course, the incest undertones make it all a lot creepier, but this is the novel that sets up for every other weird incestuous Phantom take ever, so get used to it now.)

 

The overdramatic prose is somewhat more noticeable here, probably because of the super-angst that Erik is experiencing in his flight; likewise, there's a little too much reflection going on. Kay introduces the idea of the spider as a metaphor for Erik here, a creature that creates complex webs that can capture and manipulate other things and that is hideous but capable of building things that are intricate and beautiful, but she spends a lot of time over-explaining it, which takes some of the fun out of it.

 

Erik's particular brand of navel-gazing confuses me, also. I don't care how mentally precocious he is. Would a nine-year-old, especially a nine-year-old who's just fled his home and mother after being traumatized and seeing his dog killed, really think the line, "Even a spider has the right to a mate"? Yeah, I know it's foreshadowing for his later fixation on Christine, but in context it just ramps that incest undertone up to one thousand percent OVERtone and I know some people are very into Freudian theory for this story but we're overdoing it just a little when the character isn't even close to puberty yet.

 

Once Erik falls in with some traveling carnival-runners and starts his career as sideshow attraction, the symbolism heats back up. Both Erik and the watching crowd see the sudden revelation of his hideous face as a kind of indecent exposure, a glimpse of something that should be kept private and not spoken of, which is very in line with his role in the original novel as a representative of the terrible and secret. Of course, Kay has to go and make it sexual (stop doing that, he's NINE) again by drawing a parallel to indecency in nudity and sexual situations, with even the showrunner Javert making passing note of Erik's power of fascination over women, quipping that "Don Juan himself couldn't have drawn more skirts in one afternoon".

Look, the idea that the Phantom is a figure representing repressed, forbidden, or otherwise not socially acceptable sexuality isn't a new one, and since that's common in Gothic literature, I get where Kay is coming from. But when you start this character over as a child, you need to think really hard about what you're saying when you imply that this prepubescent boy has an unstoppable sexual magnetism and adult women can't help responding to it, because that's just every adult excuse ever made for pedophilia and it is not a good idea to drop it into your novel without dealing with it. If you want a character to be an irrepressible dynamo of forbidden sexuality, you need to either wait until you at least put the poor kid through puberty, or you need to acknowledge that adults treating a kid like a sexual being is not just a sign of his precocious and powerful personality but also very, very gross.

What's also gross is the infamous interlude here where Javert, his boss, sexually assaults Erik. Narratively speaking, there's pretty much no excuse for it, since it doesn't serve any purpose to add to Erik's character other than heaping additional abuse on him to generate pity and comes with a host of other horrible problems. It's a problem because using rape as shorthand in place of character or plot development is lazy and insensitive; it's a problem because it casts the only man in the book who shows attraction toward anyone who isn't a woman as a pedophile, a disgusting stereotype leveraged against gay men (there's no way to know if Javert is gay because the book doesn't bother actually exploring him in any way past stock villain but the subtext is still there) for decades; it's a problem because Javert is also the only named Romani man in the book and one of very few people of color and making him a rapist and pedophile is playing right into some grossly racist tropes; and it's a problem because, as noted above, the way the text frames it suggests the victim-blaming idea that Erik's innate sexual potency and power (he is NINE YEARS OLD) is what causes this to happen. It's bad and I would not blame anyone for not reading past that point, or for being righteously upset when they realize by the end of the book that there was literally no reason for it to happen.

ANYWAY.

Erik, because he IS A CHILD, still doesn't really understand all this sexual content and activity flying around in this narrative like overworked storks on a deadline. We see him understanding the general idea, illustrated when he watches some of the carnival workers with their lovers during an interlude, but he doesn't have any frame of reference to apply the idea to himself. Nor should he. Because he's A CHILD. Again, this insistence that Erik start being a sexual dynamo RIGHT NOW in the text is creepy and gross, and while without the previous problems his questions here might be fairly normal ones for a boy headed toward puberty to start wondering about, they just add to the pile at this point.

 

Eventually, he figures that sexual urges and senxuality are tools, like his voice, which can be used to manipulate the actions of others and gain him a little bit of power over his surroundings, which is a classic response from a victim of sexual assault but also still tainted by the whole concept of his innate sexiness since frigging birth being just irresistible to grown-ass adults. Erik, as an abused and outcast boy who knows he's not going to be accepted by society at any point (incidentally, the majority Romani carnival would have been a great place to explore those dynamics since the people there have been discriminated against by the majority of society for centuries, but alas, another wasted opportunity) is a character who absolutely makes sense as one reaching for any control over his environment that he can get, so viewing him that way helps make the text's continued implications that he's Just So Powerful, He Came That Way a little more palatable, but the implication that he is just that special from birth continues to shoot the overall point in the foot.

(You know, had Kay written this as less hand-holding and given the reader more room to interpret what Erik's up to instead of always spelling out his thought process, a lot of this would be less of a problem.)

 

Part 3: Giovanni (1844-1846)

Incidentally, Kay's use of several narrators to give us a piecemeal, patchwork account of Erik's life from many different viewpoints is nicely faithful to Leroux's original style, which (probably because of his reporting background) involved several different characters narrating parts of the story as the need arose.

 

Having established Erik's bitterness, mistrust, and general mistreatment by the world at large, we now move on to shoring up his artistic cred. Creation, specifically in the musical field, is an integral part of Leroux's characterization of Erik, but Kay takes this one step further and introduces him as an architectural genius as well. It's not that great a stretch; Leroux's novel placed him as a building contractor on the construction of the opera house, and since Kay's version of Erik is so precociously genius-ified that his head might burst at any moment, we might have expected her to extrapolate that into a full-blown genius talent. Erik's pursuit of architectural perfection and his utter disdain for anything less reflects his inner morals; when he declares that "I would rather starve than build ugly houses!", he means it. (Of course, lots of architects say that and build ugly houses anyway, but we're not supposed to suspect Erik of maybe being a sellout at some point, which is kind of hilarious given his magnum opus will be the Opera Garnier and you should see how ugly the critics thought that building was when it was erected.) He has very little idea what to do in a social context, having been consistently rejected and reviled by the society in which he lives, but when it comes to inanimate objects he worships beauty and perfection, the ultimate symbols of control in a craft. Erik's desire to create, both in this field and in music, is yet another way of attempting to seize control, to impose his will onto his environment.

 

Erik's morality, revealed by this particular interlude and many others throughout the novel, is peculiar but followable. The nebulous concepts of good and evil that were taught to him during his Catholic upbringing don't have much real substance for him, especially when so many contradictions (for example, the priest informing him that his beloved, affectionate dog was not going to Heaven when she died) and cruelties in the world seem unfathomable to a child and he's since endured a lot worse. Instead, Erik's morals revolve around beauty, which he worships most of all as it symbolizes perfection, control, and a will to create something without compromise. Unfortunately, as beauty is the pinnacle of "good" for him, so ugliness and incompleteness are the depths of "evil"; so, inevitably, he considers himself a literal embodiment of evil since he's "ugly" and can't ever change that, which doesn't help his self-loathing any. Unfortunately, he lacks the cultural context to try to construct an alternative definition of beauty, which nicely leads into his (and the original Erik's) desperate pursuit of what society is telling him is most beautiful, normal, perfect.

 

Much of Leroux's original novel deals with the idea of parental nurturing and/or control, specifically in the relationships between Christine and her deceased father and Christine and Erik, who comes to represent him; Kay also picks up on the theme of fatherhood and inserts Giovanni, who becomes the father figure to Erik that he was denied in his early childhood. Giovanni, who has had only daughters in his lifetime and whose wife is deceased, also gets in on the transference, coming to view Erik as the son that he feels he should have had.

 

The most major conflict between Giovanni and Erik, who otherwise coexist quite happily, has to do with religion (Giovanni, incidentally, means "grace of God"; it's the Italian form of "John"). As a devout Catholic, Giovanni is constantly distressed by Erik's refusal to acknowledge God; he sees Erik's condition as a curse placed upon him by the Devil, rather than a disfigurement inflicted by an uncaring God. Erik, conversely, professes to be an atheist but obviously is not one, failing even to convince himself that he doesn't believe in Heaven and Hell; unlike Giovanni, he is sure that his condition is the will of God, and that that, combined with the many cruelties and unfairnesses he has seen in the world, proves God to be a righteous asshole. He will continue to pretend to be an atheist for most of his adult life, but he is never quite able to banish that deeply-ingrained belief from his Catholic upbringing. God does exist to Erik; he just doesn't like him. (Oddly enough, that's where I'd really have expected an emphasis on a father figure relationship in this book, but I guess Kay really wanted Giovanni to be there being a positive influence in a more concrete way.)

 

We've established that Erik is a creative genius, a sexual force, and definitely has trouble relating to other human beings, but another facet of his personality comes into clearer focus here: his obsessive tendencies. He continues on with a project (such as pretty much any architecture project under Giovanni, or his own inventions) long past the point that others have quit, even to the point of having to be reminded of his physical needs (rest, food) in order to avoid keeling over. He lacks the mental failsafe that would give him that moment to stop and say, "I'm tired, let's take a break," probably because his ability to fixate is extremely strong as a result (again) of his desire to control his environment. His pursuit of perfection is not leisurely; the longer he takes to accomplish his task, the longer there are elements present which defy his control. This is yet another element that Kay introduces into her character in order to reflect the actions that Erik takes in Leroux's novel, in this case his inability to set boundaries on his pursuit of Christine.

(It's not really useful to try to pathologize Erik in this book, even though he has a lot of traits associated with various neurodivergent conditions and mental illnesses. The book doesn't really suggest that it intends any direct parallel to a real-life condition.)

 

Life is placid and enjoyable for Giovanni and Erik, in large part because of the absence of Erik's strife-inducing sexual influence, which doesn't affect the old man (I have a lot of questions about that, by the way. Does Erik's supernatural sexiness only affect people if they're already attracted to dudes? Why? What if they're closeted or don't know they're attracted to dudes? What about ladies who aren't into dudes, which the narrative seems not to have realized exist? What about asexual people? You can't just hurl incubus imagery around all willy-nilly and not explain how it works and this is why.) That all explodes, however, when Giovanni's daughter, Luciana (whose name means "light", a concept that has always been equal parts desire for beauty and fear of discovery for Erik), comes home from boarding school and destroys that peaceful order. Not only does she immediately latch onto Erik's sensually magnetic presence and fall deeply into infatuation with him, but she reintroduces that sexual dynamic into the relationships in the house with her dangerous lady equipment (apparently, see questions above), irrevocably destroying the serenity that had been there before her return. As it is in society at the time, sexuality and its accoutrements basically equate to discord and wickedness in much of Kay's novel. It's not a coincidence that Luciana, by being A) a lady and B) sexually interested in Erik, causes All of the Problems, implying that women by nature blow things up for Erik.

(If you think that sounds misogynistic, it's because it is. Women don't fare well in this book. Madeleine is a selfish, childish woman who mistreats her son and would rather live in a fantasy world. Luciana is a selfish, childish girl who refuses to respect Erik's boundaries and dies immediately as a result. Rookheeya dies offscreen to provide angst to the more important male characters. The khanum is an evil sexual predator. The odalisque is just there for sexy metaphor purposes and doesn't even get a name. Carlotta is a selfish, childish, talentless hack who loses her career essentially because Erik doesn't like her. Christine is a helpless, childish cipher of a character largely present for wish fulfillment. None of them have any control over anything, all of them suffer so that the male characters can develop, and none of them ever get any exploration of who they are as people, with Madeleine the only one who even gets close. It's a sad state of affairs, especially from a woman writer.)

 

Luciana really, really wants to see what's under Erik's mask, which is both understandable when she's kind of dating him and also a dick move when he keeps so obviously being uncomfortable and not wanting to show her. She's supposed to represent humanity's curiosity and desire to experience the forbidden (again with the ladies and the Forbidden Erik they Cannot Resist), and of course she echoes the reader's desire to get a good description of what everyone is so freaked out about. This is an interesting idea that I've seen touched on in many other pieces, both intentionally and otherwise - for example, no movie version of the story dispenses with the unmasking of the Phantom (except for the 1990 Richardson/Dance miniseries which intentionally played with the concept with a bunch of false unmasking moments), knowing that the viewers wouldn't stand for being denied the satisfaction of that curiosity. The idea that this curiosity is usually detrimental to us is fairly obvious, as Luciana's insistence that Erik show her his face leads directly to her death; and, of course, this is yet another preemptive parallel that Kay is inserting in order to impress the cyclical nature of Erik's life upon us, as Luciana's demand to see Erik's face and subsequent horror correlate directly to Christine's unmasking of him in Leroux's novel. It also has your Catholic Eve overtones, in case you were missing some additionally religious Original Sin and Ladies imagery.

 

Part 4: Nadir (1850-1953)

 

Leroux's enigmatic Persian daroga has always been a source of speculation, mainly because Leroux himself didn't bother to furnish us with too many details about the man (who basically serves as an exposition point and a deus ex machina to further the plot, but doesn't get to be much in the way of an actual character, which is crying out for later works to explore him more and yet no one ever wants to give me what I want). Kay does one of her best jobs of the novel in expanding him into a real person, giving him a believable moral framework and a background that jibes with his role in the original novel; she does this so well that her version of the Persian is often the one drawn upon for works published later as their basis rather than Leroux's original. He also gets to be another part of the constant mirroring of events that surrounds everything in Erik's life, starting with the fact that his wife, Rookheeya, has recently died and that his son, Reza, is disabled and dying because of the lack of mothering. The motherlessness of Leroux's original novel is repeated again in Rookheeya's absence, and is only intensified by the earlier interludes with Madeleine (who, depending on how you view her attempts to mother and avoid her son, can represent either the one mother figure in Erik's world or the lack of mother figures).

 

Leroux's "reporting" style in the original novel, featuring very anecdotal personal accounts, is fairly accurately represented in Nadir's personal account, which is full of short anecdotes and personal asides that, while they don't really have much to do with the point, add a nice flavor to the proceedings. He occasionally makes things very obvious via these side notes, much the same way that previous characters have made points extremely obvious, because that's just the kind of book this is.

 

Much to Nadir's horror and the shah's amusement, Erik is predictably disrespectful while working at the palace and his usual, superiorly disdainful self, which he gets away with by virtue of it being a novelty for the greatly-feared ruler. His lack of respect for the shah is a direct example of his lack of respect for any mortal authority; he knows both that he is superior and that they reject him out of hand because of his appearance, so it isn't surprising that Erik sees little point in paying respect to a society that not only rejects him, but that he has great difficulty in viewing as "like himself" in any way. There's no irony when he says dryly, "The king of kings must learn patience... like everyone else." His lack of connection with humanity is further highlighted by his passionless dissection of bodies and his study of human remains, ideas which are not yet scientifically accepted and which have a ghoulish and sacrilegious stigma in the time period; his ability to mess around with corpses and their icky bits without qualms further refines (and introduces Nadir to) Erik's apartness from the rest of society.

(Are you getting tired of how Erik is Genetically and Automatically Better than Everyone? I am. I get that this is all coming from Leroux's lines about how Erik had all these great talents and gifts and had to be content with a cellar, I really do, but Kay's having him be born as a genius prodigy with near-supernatural skills no one else has and no need of anyone teaching him swerves right past Leroux's theme of society disadvantaging and destroying its own members through prejudice when they could have so much to do and offer and heads right for a weird kind of character worship that makes Erik a lot less interesting and sympathetic. It stops being a story about how society should stop mistreating the disabled and starts being one about how everyone is fools, I tell you, for ignoring this one guy who is so clearly better than they are and deserved it. Not because every person deserves dignity, just because he's Very Special.)

 

Nadir's son is dying of a degenerative, progressive disease; his inevitable death, which we are very aware is imminent for most of this section of the book, mirrors the constant themes of parental loss of children and childrens' loss of their parents which are repeated time and time again (Madeleine and Erik, Giovanni and Erik, Giovanni and Luciana, and of course the later creepily paternal shenanigans with Christine). Erik's unexpected kinship with Reza is confusing in light of his complete disregard for most of humanity, but it's not so much a glimmer of unnoticed softness as it is simply approaching him the right way; Erik understands pain that he has suffered himself (it will be the same story later, when he sympathizes with rape victims but not murder victims), so he is able to sympathize with a doomed child, who is begging for a little parental affection (the fact that Nadir is losing his son not only to disease but also to Erik, to whom the boy transfers much of his affection, is heavily and tragically ironic). Erik was of course a disabled little boy himself, even though he wasn't terminal, so the parallel is pretty obvious.

 

In contrast, Erik is totally unmoved by pitiful living conditions and people in poverty and pain in the capitol city, since they are part of the overall picture of humanity, but he is angry about at the sloppiness of the architecture. He is still much more able to relate to inanimate objects, which conform to standards of beauty and craftsmanship, than to humans who operate on a mystifying moral system to which he is neither party nor invited. Of course, this fits with the whole concept of Erik as rejected by society, but it doesn't work nearly as well when dealing with other people who are also being rejected by society, which makes his superiority complex a lot more unsympathetic.

 

One of the few times a point is made and not explained to death is when Nadir, discussing the exiled vazir's wife, says casually, "There is nothing you can do to destroy the love of others." Besides being an obvious foreshadowing to the tragedy with Christine that will occur later (which involves in large part Erik's inability to force her to love him instead of Raoul), the line enrages Erik in the present; not specifically because he cares whether someone loves someone else, but because he cannot abide the idea that there may be a realm of human behavior over which he has little to no control. Not only does Erik not strictly understand the motivations behind unselfish love, but he is driven to assert his dominance over it in the same way that he has a need to manipulate others in every other arena in order to reaffirm his worth and place in a universe which rejects him at every turn. This is handled pretty well; obviously, this would be terrifying behavior out of anyone, but Kay does a good job of showing how it comes from Erik's background and problems with empathizing with others rather than being a generic villainous trait

 

Then, there's some more overt telling instead of showing. "This face, which has denied me all human rights, also frees me of all obligation to the human race." Yeah, we know. So does anyone who heard that real similar line from Lloyd Webber's musical, too.

 

Even the daroga can see the sexuality inherent in Erik, despite said phantom's oblivious ignorance to the effect he has on people; the khanum (the shah's mother) has more than a slight interest in Erik, but a combination of confusion at social signals and inability to believe that anyone would want to see his hideous body keep him from realizing it. A later interlude with an odalisque shows us that he is certainly not without his own sexual urges, but as a consequence of his past captivity he is hesitant to express or pursue those urges with anyone who would be subjected to his physical appearance and challenges (which would be a lot more compelling as a portrait of someone with a disability trying to get past that to enjoy a normal sex life if Kay hadn't insisted on trying to make it seem sympathetic that he didn't force a girl with no choice to have sex with him because he's just so selfless, which is not sympathetic so much as baseline required to not be The Villain). This is another case of compassion that seems to be more motivated by Erik's ability to empathize with a certain situation rather than to empathize with people.

 

Erik's statement later (while he's retching up blood from an unfortunate poisoning incident, as you do when you are low-key feuding with various members of the royal family) that he requires death to be aesthetically pleasing is yet another example of his desire to achieve perfection and his somewhat horrible ability to be without normal human qualms or morals when it comes to the taking of a life. Where most of humanity sees death (and any reminders of its inevitability) as a terrifying and disgusting thing (which is, incidentally, a large part of the instinctive revulsion most people in both Leroux's original and Kay's novel feel upon meeting Erik, who is essentially a brutal reminder of what they're going to look like a few years down the road), Erik sees it as just another facet of the world, and like any other situation, he looks for control and artistry in a field to which the vast majority of his fellow humans are not up for participating.

 

The etymological naming shenanigans continue, by the way. Nadir is an Arabic name meaning "rare", but it is also an astronomical term in English that refers to the lowest possible point on a celestial sphere, the direct opposite of the zenith. Essentially, it means "the opposite point", and Nadir's function in Kay's novel is to serve as the opposite pole for Erik, balancing out his outbursts with reason, his dissociation with emotion, and his violence with calmness. Erik himself refers to Nadir as his "conscience", as he did in Leroux's novel, both cognizant of the fact that he lacks the ability to understand societal morality and accepting of the fact that Nadir can provide him with that compass externally. Nadir's son Reza's name means "contentment" or "satisfaction", suitable for his gentle character and the comfort that he provides for the other characters before his death.

 

Part 5: Erik (1856-1881)

Erik is now an adult, and as an adult no longer has as much access to pure fantasy as a form of escapism from the upsetting reality of his life. Instead, like many a tortured artist before and after, he turns to drugs, in this chapter abandoning the opium that Nadir had introduced him to (for vocal reasons, which is valid - smoking of anything is hella bad for your lungs) in favor of morphine. It is interesting to note that while opium might trash his voice, morphine in large quantities will kill him a lot faster by collapsing his veins and damaging his circulatory system; Erik is very clearly much more willing to be cavalier with his health than with his voice, which is not only one of his instruments of manipulation and a source of power, but also the only truly beautiful thing that he has to his name.

 

I feel like Kay is getting tired along with me, since statements are getting more blatant ("I was growing very cynical..." thanks for spelling that out) and foreshadowing more heavy-handed ("Good job we didn't have a chandelier..."). Erik continues to be far more invested in the beauty and maintenance of inanimate objects than he is in his fellow humans, and the destruction of Paris and its beautiful old buildings is far more of a real emotional occurrence for him than the many Parisian citizens who are killed, maimed, raped, and so forth. War infuriates him for entirely separate reasons from most of his society; he hates the wanton destruction far more than the human cruelties that the actual people involved may be suffering. (Again, this doesn't make him very sympathetic. I get it, but at least the narrative could also signpost that it gets it, too.)

 

Kay introduces an interesting metaphor when she introduces the Paris opera house, the Palais de Garnier. Erik sees the place as a direct correlation to himself (or rather, he treats it exactly as he would wish to be treated, without admitting that he is relating the place to himself); he sees it as an ugly, malformed, hideous child from whom he first recoiled due to its terrible design, but which must be nurtured and brought along so that it can be loved for the beauty that will be within it, specifically the beauty of music. I love that metaphor and how it draws in the historical context of how hated Garnier's design for the place was, so I'll forgive Kay beating it into the ground like she does most other metaphors to make sure we didn't miss it.

 

Erik, now middle-aged and having seen a great many things, is beginning at this point to display more advanced signs of social anxiety. He no longer views society's fear and loathing as a challenge to his skills, but as a painful ordeal that he wants to avoid. He starts using proxies for all interaction with others, using friends and servants to run errands and get him necessities, refuses to work on the opera house plans in an office with other architects and submits everything directly through Garnier instead, etc., all leading up to his desire to finish the work on the opera house and immure himself beneath it in order to permanently sever contact with the world everyone else inhabits. This underground kingdom that he is building is a subconscious attempt to regain the peace and solitude of his happy period when living in Giovanni's basement; as the one period in his life when he was content, unbothered, and allowed to pursue his own activities in privacy, the memory has a powerful nostalgic effect on him. He reminisces that "As long as Giovanni was there above me, like God in his heaven, I was safe"; not only was Giovanni a replacement for the father figure that Erik never had, but he was also a replacement for a God that had never loved him. (Of course, we're talking about before Luciana showed up with her evil Womanliness to ruin everything.)

 

Erik's withdrawal is also a form of very quiet suicide, which is more gently treated in the text. He is removing himself from society; he has convinced himself that it's because he's accepted the fact that he doesn't belong with the rest of mankind, but in reality it is mostly because he is giving up. Having completed works and destroyed countless people, he is tired. Building his tomb and sleeping in his coffin until he finally dies, pre-buried for society's convenience, is the ultimate in gentle suicide (though Erik, as a Catholic no matter how hard he tries to deny it, will never admit this as he retains a horror of suicide above all other crimes. It is the only form of self-destruction with enough plausible deniability to sate his odd "conscience").

 

Erik has a cat, Ayesha, that he rescued from the streets as a kitten, and she serves as a vehicle to show us the juxtaposition of Erik's obvious fondness and caring for the animal and the complete lack of normal mores he displays toward other people at the same time. He states with total seriousness that he would have killed people and fed them to Ayesha if food supplies ran low; her well-being is far more important to him than any human's, just as Sascha was the most important figure in his childhood. Erik appreciates innocence, usually in children and animals, but not adults, who have made their own decisions and created their own destinies; as usual, he is empathizing with what he can understand, the helplessness of the young. This deep-rooted empathy for the innocent and the doomed is one of the greatest factors that will initially draw him to Christine, and a creepy but definitely recognizable motive for how he has no problem with killing and threatening people in the opera house.

 

Erik's hatred of the war with the Prussians stems, as usual, from a source other than misery at the suffering of his fellows; by putting Paris under siege and creating a general panic, the Prussians have metaphorically trapped Erik in another cage, one that forces him to remember and participate, however peripherally, in the affairs of a society he is trying to ignore. It is frustrating, especially since Erik's desire to escape from society is still quietly waging war on his desire to be loved.

 

Why, hello, Greek mythology! We haven't seen you in such a long time that I was wondering if the writers had abandoned you for good! Kay uses only one reference, but it's a good one, tried and true when it comes to comparing the Phantom story to Greek mythology: "And so my labyrinth was wired for death, a vast web encircling the minotaur's secret lair." Unsurprisingly, Erik is casting himself as the monster, in a situation wherein it would have been perfectly feasible to view himself as the master maze-builder (Daedalus); his self-image is still one of personal loathing, so he represents himself with the deformed half-bull son of the queen, kept in the labyrinth and fed young men in order to keep it complacent.

 

Charles Garnier, Paris' celebrated architect, has a role in Kay's novel, making him one of few real people to make an appearance in this or any other Phantom story to date. He is interesting because he represents, in many ways, what Erik should have been; quite apart from being appreciated for his talents, he is strong-willed, intelligent, and said to be physically ugly. It's a socially acceptable ugly, however (which isn't an objective blanket, you know - I'm sure there's someone out there for whom Garnier turns their crank!). Where Garnier falls short of true hideousness in his appearance, he also falls short of true genius, and is very aware that Erik is a far greater talent than he could ever aspire to. It seems obvious that the two of them are meant to make a point about trade-offs - Erik has the greater talent because he also has the greater suffering - but I'm not sure it works here in this novel where we don't talk about God or any other explanation for that kind of cosmic balancing.

 

Erik's return to his first love, music, has all the qualities of a man returning to his childhood sweetheart. He says that "The urge to create had been burned out of me during those fifteen years..." and immediately follows that with the feverish desire to complete Don Juan Triumphant, a creative drive that is, as always, obviously correlated with the sexual drive to reproduce (which has no direction in Erik, who has decided he's doomed to never have much in the way of physical contact which probably enhances the need for a musical outlet). His repetition of traditional wedding vows afterward is a telling moment: he has ceased sowing the wild oats of his creative ability all over the landscape and has "married" the opera house itself (or, more accurately, his solitude and perceived sanctuary there).

 

Y'all, no, he can't have "played Chopin's Prelude in B minor, sotto voce..." Sotto voce is an Italian musical term that literally means "under the voice", and is used to refer to a particular style of singing or speaking in which a line is uttered somewhat under the breath, giving it a furtive or hushed quality. It's not strictly incorrect - there are instrumental pieces out there that use it - but it's very rarely used outside of vocal literature, which Chopin is not, and Erik should know better if he's as fancy as you want me to believe, Kay.

 

Erik finally gets in touch with his greatest source of despair in that it becomes obvious that he is aware, subconsciously, that walling himself up under the opera house is simply putting himself in another sort of cage. The insoluble problem for Erik is that his life has been nothing but a succession of cages, from his mother's attic to Javert's literal cage to the shah's court to his underground dwelling; and even further, that his entire existence is lived in a cage of the inescapable fear and hatred of the rest of humanity , who consistently try to bar every door to him and deny him the most basic of human comforts.

 

Erik also does some tarot card dabbling, by the way. I assume we're supposed to infer that he picked it up from hte carnival when he was there, which is another annoying stereotype of the Romani people as fortune-tellers, and it's also pretty obviously under-researched. Those cards that are mentioned - Death, The Lovers, and The Fool - are interpreted on a strictly face-value basis. Tarot divination, as it is practiced today, at least, assigns several factors and gradients of meaning to each card, increasing the supposed accuracy and detail of the reading. For example, the Death card's interpretation doesn't usually have much to do with actual physical death - it's about change and growth, the end of something so that something else can begin, etc. - and The Lovers generally presages a choice ahead or an impulse toward action, rather than having to have anything to do with actual lovers. It's all very Hollywood. You could make an argument that the three cards are meant to represent Erik (Death), Christine (Lovers), and Raoul (Fool), or possibly Erik (Death), Christine & Raoul (Lovers), and the daroga (Fool), but now I'm just doing an author's job for them.

 

It's here, when we finally reach the point of Kay's retelling that intersects with Leroux's original novel, that the influences become blurred. Pretty much everything up to this point has been based directly on the Leroux novel where it hasn't been made up out of the whole cloth of Kay's imagination, but now there are obvious elements of Lloyd Webber's musical beginning to make themselves known. Most obvious are Meg's close friendship with Christine (which didn't exist in the original novel), the apparent assertion that Carlotta is talentless (as opposed to Leroux's assertion that she's very talented but lacks emotionality), the chronological positioning and motivation of the chandelier crash, the single rose (here incorporated into an Arabic fairytale), and the final kissing scene between Erik and Christine. All are patently borrowed from Lloyd Webber's popularized version of the story, and it's a little whiplash after the majority of the novel worked so hard to blend and create original elements for its story. Kay's romanticized style is certainly quite reminiscent of Lloyd Webber's more sympathetic version of the Phantom's story, even though she includes much of the ugliness of Erik's original conception.

 

At long last, Christine is introduced. Her character is reminiscent of Leroux's innocent Swedish maiden at first, but while we do get some development of her, it almost all centers around her relationship with Erik and his impressions of her, and Leroux's heroine who would tell people off and physically fight her captivity is nowhere to be found. Kay presents her with an idea that she has a perfect voice but is passionless and emotionless, making it impossible for her to actually use it effectively without Erik's help. Which is ironic, since that was his complaint about Carlotta in the original novel, and also depressing, since it makes Christine very literally a "half person", one who can't function alone and has to be taken control of by a Manly Man in order to show her full potential. Kay was obviously reaching for an idea of soulmates who complete one another, Erik's passion and genius to Christine's physical and vocal perfection, but instead we get one fully realized genius badass of a dude and the helpless, useless woman that he takes charge of because otherwise, well, she's useless, isn't she?

 

Unfortunately for Erik, the terrifyingly familiar sight of Christine and the accompanying return of human emotion completely destroy the illusion of not needing humanity to which he has been clinging so fiercely. The problem with Christine (for Erik; Christine probably has boatloads of problems but we don't get to see many of them because the narrative doesn't care) is that she is a dead ringer for Madeleine - not just similar, but absolutely identical - which brings up a host of buried psychological problems for Erik and brings our incest theme right back again in case you missed it. Having been denied love from his mother, the one person that should have fostered his emotional growth, Erik is driven to achieve that love from Christine, who is a proxy for his mother way more than she is an actual person in her own right to him. (You could definitely make an argument that Christine maybe doesn't look exactly like Madeleine, but that Erik is projecting that onto her because he doesn't know how else to deal with having this intensity of an emotional connection to someone. But Kay didn't do the work to make that fly, so I'm not going to bother.)

 

Part 6: Counterpoint: Erik and Christine (1881)

So Erik and Christine start in on their relationship from Leroux's novel. They are not so much in love as in awe of one another, Christine of Erik's otherworldly genius and almost supernatural abilities, and Erik of her beautiful potential and symbolic significance.

 

Kay is not subtle about Erik as sexual force, literally having Christine say, "His music swells within my body like a beautiful, burgeoning child..." to give us the image of him metaphorically having sex with and impregnating her via his lessons. Incest themes aside, this doesn't add attractively to the already existing problems of Christine being presented as empty and incapable of doing anything with her talents until this dude comes along and metaphorically knocks her up, thus fulfilling her destiny.

 

Raoul is certainly present, but he's almost invisible until the very last section of the book, instead serving merely as a catalyst for Erik's and Christine's relationship to go through the violent trials that it does. Poor Raoul. He never gets any love. Erik is aware that his irrational hatred and jealousy of Raoul is tragically unwarranted, but he has never been particularly good at governing his worse emotions, and he is experiencing a powerful transference of envy as he sees Raoul enjoy every indulgence and human comfort he has ever been denied. He's watching Etienne steal his mother from him all over again, and he getrs more and more irrational as a result.

 

Erik, who continues to view himself as a sort of cancerous, evil influence on everything he touches, is deeply troubled by his attraction to Christine. Quite aside from the undeniably strong sexual attraction he feels toward her (and believe me, he does plenty of agonizing over that one), his mere association with her "taints" her innocence with his deception about her Angel of Music. He recognizes the parallel between this situation and his previous associations, but he feels powerless to avoid it, remaining trapped in an addictive cycle which calls to mind his ongoing love affair with morphine. His love for her remains unconsummated, and in fact he strives not to even suggest any kind of physical contact to her, being all too obviously cognizant of the disastrous effect when he begged his mother for kisses as a child and probably still traumatized by Luciana's death when she got too close to him. Christine, in turn, is beginning to see Erik as a man (at odds with Leroux's original conception of the character, who was devastated when she discovered that her "angel" was flesh and blood, this one figures it out and kind of... is fine with it?), but the continuing arrangement is preferable for her; by not acknowledging his very mortal origin, she can keep the relationship in a non-threatening, safe arena wherein nothing untoward will be expected of her.

 

Christine's continual fascination with seeing Erik's face is a forceful reminder, both for Erik and for the reader, of the doomed Luciana; consequently, his tendency to treat Christine with incredible annoyance and eventually murderous fury when she refuses to leave it alone is a result of him lashing out at what he perceives as a reminder of the inevitable, tragic end of this love affair with Christine. He subsequently has a heart attack, which is a neat moment - it's not only a cute reference to the obvious source of his discomfort, but a nod to his age as compared to Christine's and a realistic consequence for his continued morphine abuse.

 

The knowledge that Christine will not actually be his lover or wife is not doing anything particularly good in Erik's psyche, and, having ruined his previous effort by becoming the Phantom, he now attempts to commit suicide via inaction once again, this time by giving Christine all the keys and access to his haven. He even goes so far as to suggest that she have Raoul ambush him if she wants to; he accepts, subconsciously, that he can never be with her, so he hopes that she will put him out of his misery. Christine, for her part, is actually somewhat relieved at Erik's threats against Raoul, which give her an easy out and an opportunity to retreat to a safer and more comforting place and person.

 

Even having locked Christine in her room in order to spare her the ravages of his unconquerable lust, Erik still manages to rape her in another fairly infamous scene, aurally assaulting her as he plays the uncontainable Don Juan Triumphant. Christine, who is simultaneously having her first honest to god orgasm and also mentally begging Raoul to come rescue her, is presented as caught in a dilemma, torn between the forbidden but enticing world of Erik and the safe, comforting world of Raoul, but in case you were wondering, a rape metaphor is not a good place for this. The text both does acknowledge that Erik has essentially sexually assaulted Christine, but also excuses him by saying he couldn't control or help himself, and by presenting Christine as actually liking and being intrigued by it in spite of her fear (essentially, the old "she had an orgasm, therefore it doesn't count as rape" argument that can get set on fire and launched into the sun any moment now), the author is excusing it. And, like the earlier assault by Javert, this doesn't even need to be here - what is it adding to the story? How is it helping develop these characters? We already knew Christine was afraid and conflicted and we already knew Erik was supernaturally sexual and prone to losing control. There is no reason to do this except to use it as an excuse to show how Christine is actually into Erik because of his mind-blowing sexiness and that's gross because it is a RAPE METAPHOR.

STOP DOING THAT.

 

Finally, when Christine has had enough of all this and planned to take off with Raoul, Erik admits that his atheism has been a sham, a sort of flipping the finger at the big guy because he can't really do anything else. This hatred is central to his character; by accepting that God is real, he must accept that all of the sufferings and injustices that he has been subjected to and inflicted on others were not only allowed by an apparently conscienceless God, but foreordained. The irony that he has finally broken down and gone to the roof to pray, begging for Christine to love him, is doubly cruel since that's where he is when he overhears her planning to leave with her fiancé. God has answered his prayer by showing him what he cannot have, which is why he snaps on the spot and decides to dedicate himself to vengeful mayhem. Just as Christine is turning toward her childhood, reaching for old friend and love Raoul to keep her safe and chase away the horrible things she has experienced, so too is Erik regressing to his bleak, dissociative childhood, becoming once more a child with no more care for the evil he perpetrates against others than he would have for stepping on an ant. Through Christine, the unwitting representative of love denied, Erik is reliving the pain of Madeleine's rejection and Giovanni's betrayal.

 

In the end, much to his own dismay, Erik is unable to be the truly heartless monster that he sees himself as; he was unable as a child to cause his own mother pain, and this inability to hurt Christine is something that he sees as the final, damning failure. He has already failed at being human, failed to understand and properly emulate the behaviors and morals of others, failed to be a part of society or to gain any kind of adequate acceptance, and now he has also failed to be the evil monster that he is generally perceived as. He is a total failure - not a creature proudly living outside the laws of humanity, but a person incapable of being either a proper man or a credible beast. Failure is the result of loss of control, and here as Erik realizes finally that he has no control whatsoever and that there is no level of perfection or power that will make society accept him, the very underpinnings on which he has built his self-image are destroyed, leaving him confused and mentally destitute.

 

He is so ravaged that he is almost incapable of understanding Christine's final kiss, instead becoming lost in loops of regressive memories of his mother. His final snap back to lucidity comes with a fierce return of his protective love for Christine, and he finally steps back and releases her to depart with Raoul in his only really selfless act of the novel.

 

Part 7: Raoul, 1897

The time skip brings us to Raoul, Christine having died a few years ago, and to their son Charles. Via flashback, we get to watch Erik finally choose to be a father to Christine, to give her that parental guidance that he was denied in his own childhood rather than taking the role of a child begging for his mother; having accepted that he cannot have her, he graciously gives her away to Raoul, who he knows will love her. (Or so it is presented here, since Christine is kind of not being consulted much even by the narrative. Sigh.)

 

Christine's determination to return to Erik before her wedding is impressive, considering she and Raoul had to flee to England to escape and get married, and while Kay represents this as his influence still being so strong that she is incapable of breaking that final promise to him, even to the point of letting Raoul dump her because of it, we don't really get much reason for that in the text aside from the ever-present justification of "well, Erik is just that powerful". It's the last place where the lack of coherent characterization for Christine really does the story in; if we knew more about her, if we saw more of her personality, we might be able to piece together her motivations, but as it is, it's just one of those moments where she's weak and he's powerful so here she comes. 

 

And since we just couldn't leave without getting in some more weird incest imagery here, Christine comes back with a daughter's devotion but goes on to "marry" Erik, wearing his ring, spending the night with him, and leaving in the morning, which is a double-whammy of metaphorical incest since he's sleeping with someone identical to his mother and she's sleeping with someone who has acted as a father figure to her. The marriage is short-lived; she is his wife for his last night on earth and widowed in the morning, just in time to marry Raoul and thus feel that she managed to keep her promises to both of them due to Erik's convenient death. (Sadly, no, she didn't smother him or anything, which would have been a more proactively amoral version of Christine than we got here. He just dropped dead helpfully so she could leave.)

 

Christine's son, Charles, is the spitting image of his grandfather, Erik's deformity apparently having been an aberration that was not passed down to the next generation. Charles represents the final remnant of Erik's life; he is the last vestige of his genius father, the legacy that will not only perpetuate Erik but also, by virtue of his impressive compassion and intelligence, help bring more humanity to the very society that rejected his father. I'm not sure how Christine knew that Charles was Erik's father's name in order to use it, so we're going to have to go with the theories that either he's actually named after Charles Garnier, or that this is supposed to be one of those serendipitous coincidences.

 

Raoul is never bitter about all of this, surprisingly; he knows what's going on and he's more resigned to it all. Having achieved what he wanted, his marriage to Christine and their happy life together, he is nevertheless aware that she continued to have feelings for Erik until her dying day, and he accordingly lays her to rest with all of the tokens and mementos of Erik in recognition of the fact that he has been her husband just as much as Raoul has for the remainder of her life. (Does that sound weird? I can't really tell, because Raoul doesn't get any characterization in this book, either. He's just here to do the wrap-up. Could y'all have not gone off to be a nice threesome if you were all so chill about this?) Raoul is presented as having held Christine in a sort of trust, and while he is thankful of the time spent with her and knows that she loved him, he is always aware that the influence of Erik could not be forgotten, and he behaves more like a guardian than a husband, often governing his choices based upon what Erik might have done in the same situation. Which, again, is supposed to be poignant and I want it to be poignant but I can't get there because CHRFISTINE IS AN ADULT OH MY GOD SHE DOESN'T BELONG TO ERIK AND YOU CAN'T HOLD HER IN TRUST LIKE A FEDERAL BOND, YOU GUYS. That's infuriating, not romantic.

 

So, to recap the metaphorical situation: Erik marries his mother and sires his father, while Christine marries her father and gives birth to her grandfather, and Raoul ends up fathering the child of his wife's father. Thanks for that. That was definitely super necessary.

 

I want to note that there were several phrases in this book that were very similar to lyrics from Lloyd Webber's musical, none of them close enough to trigger copyright problems but definitely meant to evoke the songs, which I really could have done without in an original work.

There's a lot of work in this novel, and a lot of good ideas, and a lot of places that are engaging and interesting and a lot of moments of symbolism that are very neat for the reader. But given that it also has a ton of problems, it's not going to end up at the top of my list of best adaptations, even though it's always going to have a strong presence as one of the most powerful influencers of later works.

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