The Angel of the Opera (1994)
by Sam Siciliano
You guys are going to have to be understanding about this one. I read the book; I digested it; I wrote many notes. Yet, I am still sort of confused and befuddled by the whole business.
This is not a bad book. It is... fine. Okay. It is a book full of galloping mediocrity, so on the one hand, there isn't much about it that's truly terrible, but sadly there's just not much about it that's particularly good, either. It's just... eh. So-so. Nothing to write home about. Suitable for a plane. You get the drift.
Obviously, it's hard not to notice that Siciliano's book was published a year after Nicholas Meyer's The Canary Trainer, which was also a Sherlock Holmes pastiche featuring the Phantom as its villain. There isn't much in common between the two beyond the premise, but they establish a pattern; there will be several more Phantom/Sherlock crossovers, but professionally- and self-published, in the future.
First, let's check out the foreword, which is unintentional comedy on a large scale. To begin with, in contrast with the vast majority of Sherlock Holmes fiction, the story is not narrated or transcribed by Watson. It is instead told by a Dr. Vernier, a cousin of Holmes' that wants to narrate his story "as it really happened". Yes, you heard me: he is a doctor but TOTALLY DIFFERENT FROM WATSON, even though he acts the same, talks the same, fulfills the same story functions even to the point of making Watson's patented innocuous statements that miraculously jog Holmes' mind, and has so few distinguishing characteristics as to make me accidentally refer to him as Watson in my notes at least once every other page. His only singular characteristic is a girlfriend (whose name is definitely NOT Mary), who has absolutely no role in the story and is seen only in the epilogue. Entertainingly, NOT WATSON hates the real Watson, calling him a sensationalist, a liar, a fraud, a loser, a moron, and any other pejorative he can think of. There are a lot of them. He has 255 pages to think of new ones.
The kicker is that there just isn't any reason for this character substitution. I mean... if the new character is going to be exactly the same as the established one, why substitute at all? If Siciliano was trying for a new and different spin on the Holmes sidekick, I'm sad to say that he failed miserably. If he was hoping to tell the story in a different style from the usual ones and needed a new narrator to do it, he did not successfully carry off any kind of new style, even if you squint. If he was trying to distinguish his Holmes story from all the others with small details like this... well, it worked, but not necessarily in a good way. I don't have a deeply entrenched love of Watson, but there was just no reason for the change, and the ongling and purposeless Watson hate begins to wear thin after a few chapters.
The other completely hilarious (not in the fun way, though) part of the foreword is when Vernier explains to us that Watson lies through his teeth about Holmes' character. His explanation, involving some more Watson hate and something about how Watson is seeking to characterize Holmes as just as stuffy and British as himself, is hilarious (again, in a sad way) for anyone who's read the original stories. Check it out: he tells us that A) Holmes was not a semi-racist Imperialist bastard (yes, he was), B) Holmes was not a Christian (yes, he was), and C) he was in perpetual longing for love and romance in his life (he'd be mortally offended by the notion of that appearing in print). In essence, Siciliano decided that he wanted to write a Sherlock Holmes story, but he didn't like Sherlock Holmes, so he'd change him. He's writing a story about characters that aren't even the characters he's writing about. It blows my mind.
Hey, man. I have this novel concept. You write a story, and you use brand new characters, and you can give them whatever name you want and whatever political and religious leanings you want and they're YOURS. As opposed to writing new characters but pretending they're totally these old established characters and not your new weird ones wearing bizarre meatsuits because... why.
Also entertaining is the description of Holmes himself: he is described as skeletal and grotesque, with blazing eyes. Sound familiar? If you've ever read Leroux's description of the Phantom, it should. I thought, "Oh, ha ha, that's kind of cute. I like a good oblique reference as much as anyone else." Because I was naive, my friends, and I assumed this wouldn't be a conceit carried over throughout the whole novel. But I was tragically, tragically wrong. This was the sweet naiveté of youth. Siciliano does everything but hire a barbershop quartet to sing a song called "The Phantom and Holmes: Honeys on the Moon" to let you know how identical they are and how much they admire each other.
Yes, I know, we're still only in the foreword.
The first chapter has nothing to do with the Phantom story, being instead the end of the previous case that Holmes was apparently working on. Presumably Siciliano wanted to ease us into things; like Meyer's novel, this is first and foremost a Sherlock Holmes (well, a guy called Sherlock Holmes who appears to be an entirely different person, at any rate) novel, and the Phantom story is secondary.
The end of this previous case has to do with a British ex-soldier being caught because he sacrifices people to Kali, the Hindu goddess of destruction and power. Having just finished hating all over Watson in the foreword for being a sensationalist bastard prone to overstatement and blowing things out of proportion, Siciliano then gleefully treats us to one of the most sensational end-of-case showdowns I have ever seen, including screaming, entreating of the gods, weeping, begging Holmes not to tell his daughter, personification and general evil from religious statues, and all of this culminating in a grand gesture suicide. Again... if you're going to make the narration exactly as sensational as that produced by the character you supposedly loathe, what exact reason was there to change it? Not much of one is my answer, beyond the somewhat obvious answer that Siciliano is indulging in a bit of author avatarism and putting himself directly into the story as the NOT WATSON doctor. There are, amusingly, many more references to how much Watson sucks in this chapter, which is funny for the reasons enumerated above.
The New and Improved Holmes starts right in being the little paragon of perfection that Siciliano has tweaked him to be, even to the point of flying into a rage and nearly beating the old guy to death for making a racist comment. Never mind that the original Holmes was as Imperialist and snobberifically superior as the next British dude of the era - he wasn't really, that was just bad reporting on Watson's part. (And never mind how instantly racist this book is being right now, using Kali, a goddess in one of the world's most major religions, as an evil heathen boogeyman god that only bad people worship and exotifying Indian cultures as bizarre foreign cults that murder people all the time.) Again, I wouldn't mind if Holmes changed his mind through doing something in the story, such as having experiences that caused him to reevaluate his preconceptions and naturally arrive at a new Kinder, more Ethnically-Conscious point of view. But he doesn't.
Miss Lowell, the lovely blind piano-player, is also introduced in this chapter. She will now disappear and you will not think of her again. Why does she even exist? I could not have told you for the vast majority of the book. My notes say something about how she's an innocent, guilt-stricken musical prodigy and thus a parallel of Christine, and that her literal blindness echoes Christine's figurative blindness, but she gets left in Wales while Holmes and NOT WATSON head off to Paris, so fuck if anyone cares, right?
Time to examine one of my pet peeves: the mixing of languages in character dialogue. There are lots of times this is fine in a novel; characters that do not speak the main language particularly well and occasionally lapse back into their native tongue are an example, as are situations where languages have become integrated into a native patois (stories set in older New Orleans often do this well, for example, or the use of Chinese in the Firefly television series). It is not, however, to be used willy-nilly as a device to convince people that you are multi-lingual and that your book is really truly full of well-researched authenticity.
In this case, Holmes and NOT WATSON are Englishmen in Paris being written about by an American, so the text is mostly in English but with annoying French interludes everywhere. This is unnecessary because both Holmes and NOT WATSON speak perfect French, and the audience is already getting a fully translated version of all dialogue from the narration because EVERYONE here in France speaks perfect French. While I understand that Siciliano would like to give the readers a real sense of being in France, a skilled writer can do that without resorting to the cop-out of just using a lot of French so things will seem more... well, French.
Original text (from page 29):
"'Whom?' I asked.
'Le comte de Chagny. He left a note for me at the desk last night inquiring if he might see me on a matter of some urgency.'
Holmes stopped at the front desk, an ornate construction of carved oak with a marble top. 'Pardon, mais auriez-vous un message pour monsieur Sherlock Holmes?'"
Non-Linguistic Melange Version:
"'Whom?' I asked.
'The Count de Chagny. He left a note for me at the desk last night inquiring if he might see me on a matter of some urgency.'
Holmes stopped at the front desk, an ornate construction of carved oak with a marble top. 'Excuse me, are there any messages for Sherlock Holmes?' he asked politely in French.
Something like the second version lets you know that the character speaks French and is using it to good effect without blipping half the sentence out for anyone who doesn't speak both languages. As it is, English-speakers reading this book have to guess what he said from the context and may or may not get it right, and French-speakers are wondering why you did this when the text was already full of people speaking French.
One good thing that came out of all this English/French silliness, however, was that Siciliano made a point of noting that while the dancers and opera singers refer to the Phantom as le fantôme, the ghost, the managers refer to him as le revenant, one who returns (also sometimes slang for the undead). It lets the reader know in a nice, subtle (well, sort of subtle) way that it is not a foregone conclusion either way that the Phantom is mortal or supernatural, and that the managers come down in the more solid camp while the artists are more superstitious.
The Count's relationship with La Sorelli, the lead dancer of the opera, is nicely set out here and sets up the class divide and the artist/patron sexual relationship at the opera house very nicely. That is one thing I will say for Siciliano; he does a great job of presenting the very marked divide between the French aristocracy of the day and the lower classes. The Count in particular lays out many of the lines, explaining to Holmes that he encouraged Raoul's preference for Christine in order to get him into women (which... y'all know that 19th century Paris was a bastion of queer culture at the time, right? is Philippe just worried Raoul won't have a sufficient number of kids or something?), but that of course there could be no earthly chance of marriage, any more than there is between him and Sorelli. The artist receives patronage, money, baubles, status; the patron receives sexual and social favors in exchange. A lot of authors skip over this social convention in their haste to show us that Raoul really loves Christine, honest, but I think that's a shame; after all, forbidden love is much spicier than boring old regular love, and besides, Leroux is trying to make people look at social inequalities, and leaving them out doesn't really help a reader do that.
Siciliano begins in this chapter his relentless, all-encompassing campaign to make us hate the characters. All of them, forever. In the traditional vein of bad writers writing characters that activate their personal biases, all the characters that don't fit into the author's view for the story are demonized, which means, pretty much, that you are not allowed to like anyone except for Holmes, NOT WATSON, and the Phantom (I'll get into exactly why later... trust me). The Count de Chagny (spelled "Philippe" in this version, for those keeping score at home) is a stone-hearted, manipulative asshole who only cares about his reputation. Raoul is a whiny, ineffective little jerk incapable of true emotion and always one short step away from a hissy fit. Christine is a vapid, petty, backbiting little people-user with no concern for anything beyond her own personal comfort. The Persian is an evil prick. The managers are fools. Meg is ugly. Carlotta is fat (clearly, a CRIME). Buquet is a womanizer. And so on, and so forth. The only people you're allowed to like are the Phantom, who is a tortured, beleaguered, and misunderstood genius capable of true emotion; Holmes, who is as we've already noted a paragon of forward thinking and nobility; and NOT WATSON, who has no particular intelligence or artistic talent, but dammit, he's got heart.
(And yes, look at that, suddenly all the women in the novel have turned into obnoxious caricatures and will be ignored in favor of Noble Man Theatre. Which is always insulting and bad, but it's extra insulting and bad when this is the Phantom story and Christine is being sidelined out of her own goddamn narrative.)
Sadly, this is not a normal case of me just hating the characters because the author was bad at describing them. Siciliano really has intentionally created the world this black and white, and no amount of hysterical whinging on the parts of the managers and chorus members ever caused me to doubt for a moment that the Phantom was One of the Good Guys. It would be like suspecting that that Jesus fellow might be up to no good because those nasty dudes in the feathered helmets over there said so. Siciliano has no interest in character depth, conflicts of conscience, redemption, or any of the other ideas that can make the whole good guy/bad guy thing so interesting, which frankly cuts a lot of the tension of the story, since I kind of don't care about a bunch of action sequences when everyone sucks so much.
So first we meet the Count, who is a supercilious bastard who does everything but call Holmes and NOT WATSON peasants to their faces, yet still tries to hire them to keep Raoul and Christine from getting together. Holmes tells him to go to hell, and he and NOT WATSON agree that they don't like him. Douchebag status is assured.
Then we meet his brother, Raoul, who is extremely queer-coded as effeminate and therefore worthless, and is described as limp-wristed, watery-eyed, pale, and possessed of a tiny dusting of pubic hairs masquerading as a moustache and a consumptive complexion. He is also overdramatic, immature, and prone both to sudden fits of impotent, tantruming anger and despondent weeping. He wants to hire Holmes to find out who Christine's other suitor(s) is/are, and break them up. Holmes and NOT WATSON agree that he is a waste of carbon. Douchebag status is assured.
We go on to meet Christine. She is limp, sickly-looking, pale, pretty only "in a conventional sense", and also waspish, nasty (she calls Carlotta an "old cow, but she bleats like a billy goat!"), and calculating while still somehow managing to be dim in the intelligence department. Holmes doesn't like her; NOT WATSON agrees after he gets over the fact that she's pretty. Douchebag status is assured.
As a side note, we're almost (almost) allowed to like Madame Giry, for the sole reason that she is loyal to the Phantom. Holmes likes her for some reason, even though she's abrasive, overpowering, offensive, and no expense is spared in describing her lack of physical charms. Unfortunately, she is a woman and therefore pointless, so we will not see her for the majority of this book and she won't do much but bleat when we do.
As with Meyer's version, the novel has been jumped forward a decade to 1891; while I understand that this was necessary to make the two time periods jibe, it's confusing to just see it there with no explanation. It's a bit jarring to listen to the stage managers talking about refitting the opera house for electric lighting in the next few years, when I generally assume for a Phantom story that that's a good two decades off at least.
Speaking of the electric lighting, there is a long-winded aside here where one of the stagehands shows Holmes (and the reader) how an old-fashioned limelight works. At length. Seriously, it took forever, and being as I was always an indifferent student of the sciences, I really didn't care what chemicals were being used for what effects. I'm all for some interesting background information, particularly when it gives the reader insight into the time period, but after a page or so I was bored. The emphasis on each little step and action in the process was so great that it was impossible to miss that this was Chekhov's Limelight, destined to go off at some point later in the book, probably when Holmes realized something or other based on this knowledge or used the chemicals involved for forensic analysis.
And in this, the book had the last laugh; it was never mentioned again. Ever. That's THREE WHOLE PAGES of my life I lost to you for no reason, Siciliano. You're a literary terrorist.
I'm glad to see the re-insertion of the "siren" guarding the Phantom's lake, however. As it's one of the most ambiguous points of Leroux's original novel and serves little purpose, most offshoot authors leave it out, but it's used to beautiful and haunting effect here.
Christine's retreat into Brittany to visit her father's grave includes quite a bit of description and many references to the region's Celtic ties and origins. Unfortunately, none of that has anything to do with the story, either. I really like description in books, I honestly do, and it doesn't always have to have anything to do with the plot! But these asides keep coming in and basically acting as page filler without being especially useful or novel.
The violin playing in the cemetery has the unexpected side effect of producing a wild and unexplained sentimentality in Holmes. I mean, I got from the description that it was breathtaking, unbelievably beautiful music the like of which no one had ever heard before; but Holmes summarily declaring that maybe this was a real Angel of Music was kind of... ridiculous, really, considering the detective's usual firm basis in logic. And contradictory, as NOT WATSON made such a point earlier of beating it into our heads that Holmes is an atheist.
My only other note for this chapter, in a despairing scrawl in a margin, says, "God, stop whining about Watson."
So, at this point we have to stop and talk about how this entire novel is swimming, nay, drowning, in homoerotic subtext.
I was hesitant to come to this conclusion at first because Siciliano says absolutely nothing overt about it, but seriouly, the evidence is too great to ignore. Holmes' idealization makes him the perfect man, much as the idealization of the Phantom will do later in the novel; NOT WATSON's hyperactive jealousy of Watson takes on a whole new dimension; and Raoul, the only major male character besides the two Englishmen and the Phantom, is an undesirable and is therefore thoroughly feminized (which is a lot of gross misogyny and transphobia and homophobia in one package that I don't need to keep having to see on the damn page). Every time someone encourages Holmes toward romantic entanglements he replies with some variant of "No, you know my feelings toward the fairer sex," but never elucidates.
A thousand little remarks and conversations about the differences between men and women and the gulf between their understanding each other combine to make this very much a man's novel, and I don't mean in the using tools and having the wife starch their shirtcollars kind of a way. More than once the sentiment is echoed that men and women are perfectly equal (yeah, this book is definitely totally demonstrating an enlightened sense of gender equality) but very, very separate, and that only tragedy comes of trying to bridge the two sexes; the only man-woman relationships in the novel are tragic, unhappy, or otherwise undesirable ones (the Count & Sorelli, Raoul & Christine, the Phantom & Christine) while the male-male relationships (Holmes & NOT WATSON, Holmes & the Phantom) are positive and intelligent. NOT WATSON is prone to waxing philosophical about his lady love (I have already forgotten her name, probably because she is not in the novel until the epilogue), but curiously enough she is never described - not so much as an eye color or the vaguest of physical descriptions. I will harp on about this homoerotic subtext A LOT in chapters to come, because it is everywhere.
This really reads like a romance novel between Sherlock Holmes and the Phantom of the Opera. The only other interpretation I can really see is that it isn't, but that the author doesn't know how to write two male characters who respect and admire each other without feeling like it's GayTM, so they have to have a bunch of "no homo" moments and attachments that ironically just make it seem more like the characters are doing what would be expected of them in the time period and having plausible denial set up so they can avoid social stigma.
In keeping with a Sherlock Holmes mystery, the Phantom is very logical in his actions and grounded in reality, for the most part, such as when he must buy a train ticket back to the opera house from the cemetery in Brittany rather than simply being there without explanation.
Like the Meyer Phantom, Siciliano's Erik is one of the original architects of the opera (though he is in this case deformed from birth with the death's-head appearance from Leroux's novel, rather than scarred from an accident). The idea of the Phantom as builder of his own kingdom is a provocative one that I enjoy every time an author makes use of it, and Siciliano does a good job of milking the concept for all it's worth, making several comparisons to the passage in Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame wherein he states that Quasimodo was the very soul of Notre Dame (the implication, of course, being that Erik is likewise the soul of the opera house).
I was amused by the phrase "Theseus himself would be confounded," referring to the maze beneath the opera house. Of course, Theseus did find his way out of the minotaur's maze, but he needed a magical ball of thread to do it; he would have been screwed otherwise. Also, Meyer literally made this allusion in his Sherlock book a year before this one came out.
One element of historical accuracy that is often missing from Phantom adaptations is the actual behavior of the audience during an opera performance. The majority of opera-goers were there to be seen and to socialize, not to sit meekly and watch the show. It's only recently that the novel idea of concerts and performances as sacred spectacles has evolved; the audiences of yesteryear were prone to conversing, hissing, booing, cheering, and catcalling at whomever pleased or displeased them on the stage. The idea of dimming the lights was practically unheard of until after the turn of the century. Siciliano does an excellent job of illustrating this, making the spectacle both irreverent and enjoyable, and very true to the time period in which he is working.
The first meeting between Holmes and Erik, the Phantom, is fraught with tension but strangely warm. They meet at the Masquerade ball, where Erik is dressed as the Red Death and Holmes as Quasimodo; in a respectful yet humorous scene, they quote passages of one another's novels at each other as they pass. Their conversation is telling in more ways than one; it exposes Erik's bitterness toward a society that ignores his intelligence and talents because of his appearance and elevates buffoons like Raoul (as in most of the novel, Raoul here functions as a representative symptom of societal illness, which is wild when you consider that's what the Phantom is supposed to be doing) while simultaneously establishing Holmes and Erik as kindred spirits, two sides of the same genius coin, nearly superhuman in their perfection and ability to rise above the common man. The symbolism is simple; the subtext made me expect them to rip their clothes off. Why am I being denied this obvious romance in favor of NOT WATSON complaining about things? Holmes' hideous Quasimodo brings him to Erik's physical level of grotesque deformity, which is probably intended to also show how much the two men mirror each other, but with the subtext also has an unfortunate side effect of equating ugliness (or more likely, the social stigma of it) with homosexuality.
Raoul, in keeping with his role as Chief Pathetic Assmunch, causes many a scene wherein he accuses Christine of sleeping around and shoves her, et cetera et cetera. Christine's one admirable trait is her fiery temper and self-assurance; while it doesn't by any means make up for having to put up with her the rest of the time, it's still a real pleasure to see her slap Raoul and tell him, in essence, that he doesn't own her and she is not interested in having to listen to him whine all the damn time.
The first two pages of this chapter are devoted to a conversation between Holmes and NOT WATSON about the utter silliness that women drive men to, how marriages inevitably descend into cynicism and hatred, and how men just really can't be expected to have to deal with women for god's sake. The implication, of course, is that men are perfectly sensible and preferable in one anothers' company; it's just the ladies that screw everything up. (But Holmes is definitely not a misogynist and this book is totes not sexist. They said so earlier!)
Holmes predicts that the Eiffel tower, which everyone in France sort of hates, will one day be its national symbol, which is true but also irritating and trite in its obvious desire to make Holmes look like even more of a genius and did not do a book already struggling to hold onto me any favors. Subtlety is a good thing, y'all.
Holmes confronts Christine in the church because the book is determined to lay everyone's motivations boringly out on the table and also make us dislike her, and she all but admits that she loves Erik, but also makes it perfectly clear that she will choose Raoul for his attractiveness, his riches, and his title; Holmes condescendingly says that the fact that she hesitates is to her credit as the vast majority of women would not, but the choice is ultimately a foregone conclusion. (In case you thought it had been too many pages since we pointed out how women suck and ruin mens' lives, and no, pay no attention to the woman behind the curtain holding up angry signs about the extremely limited options for a woman in Christine's condition to ensure financial safety and social comfort and how just because you love someone doesn't mean you have to goddamn marry them.)
We are also finally introduced to the Persian, who in a complete 180 from his original role in the Leroux novel is now an evil, murdering bastard always looking to turn a profit and completely without morals of any kind. Holmes, of course, goes into another of his bizarre puritanical rages, ranting about the Daroga's sins and evil. The Persian very obviously fills the "villain" role for Siciliano, who is bent on making Erik one of the "good guys" and thus needs another antagonist (or at least, one with a bit more malice than poor lily-livered Raoul). Interestingly (and sadly) enough, considering that Siciliano has just gone to such lengths to make sure that we know Holmes isn't a racist, the fact that the big evil bad guy of the novel is the only non-white, non-European person around (and one to whom Holmes constantly refers to as "your kind" or "you people") doesn't speak well for him. Perhaps it simply didn't occur to him that he had chosen the one person of color in the entire damn book to be the Super Asshole, but frankly, having done so unconsciously is not a hell of a lot better than doing it intentionally. Incidentally, to heighten the Daroga's power and thus his capacity for evil, he is promoted in this version from policeman to the head of the entire Persian secret police.
A wise author reserves character development for some times in his novels, and action sequences for others. This book refuses to do this and instead keeps on attempting to have serious character discussions while there is frankly just too much going on for it to be even remotely realistic. Holmes and NOT WATSON seize every available moment to talk about their personal relationships: at the opera, during dinner, while chasing subjects, while rowing about Erik's creepy underground lake. Not only do most people (especially Victorian men) not really go for the relationship discussion every minute of the damn day, but as a generality they will usually not descend into soul-searching while poling around in the dark looking for a murderer. It just doesn't seem like an opportune time.
Holmes gets into quite a lot of supernaturalism and spiritualism here, talking about angels and God and I don't even know what else. Not only is it very out of place in his normally utterly realistic mentality, but again it's confusing as Siciliano went to such pointed lengths to make sure that we as the readers were aware that Holmes was an atheist (as opposed to the respect for a Creator that that rat bastard Watson keeps attributing to him, apparently). What even happened to this book? Was it originally written with Watson as the narrator and then Something Happened and Siciliano had to invent Vernier instead but never went back and fixed it?
The Siren, always one of the more confusing elements of Leroux's novel, is here offered a solution that I actually really enjoyed. The lovely woman's voice heard luring men to their doom is not a supernatural agency (as implied in the Leroux) or a result of clever voice distortion through the use of pipes or something, but Erik's voice without any augmentation or alteration at all. Erik is simply so incredibly vocally talented that there are no limits to his range; he can sing from the lowest bass role to the highest soprano with no difficulty. Of course, that's not how human vocal cords work, but it's a lovely explanation that increases the supernatural and ethereal element to the Phantom without affecting anything so badly that it becomes a problem in the reality of the novel. One thing Siciliano does do an excellent job with is the overall tone of the novel when it comes to Erik, always hovering somewhere between sorrow and reverence, fear and curiosity.
There is a lot more of the not-so-subtle romantic subtext between Holmes and Erik in this chapter; Holmes begs Erik to be allowed to help him, talk to him, give him companionship, only to be turned away by the ever-suspicious and lonely Phantom. Holmes seems very reluctant to leave Erik's underground world, appearing almost spellbound by the strange allure of the place, and repeatedly asserts that he has nothing but the utmost respect for the Phantom in all ways. NOT WATSON merely shrugs at all of this and reflects that both Erik and Holmes are "beyond the comprehension of mortals like myself." (Is that why we had to replace Watson? Did he brazenly dare to think he was a person?)
Interestingly, Raoul hates and fears Christine's voice; he tells her that it hurts his ears, asks her not to sing when they are together, and generally sits as far away as possible when attending her performances. As it is well-noted that Christine has a lovely voice, the problem isn't physical; rather, Raoul is discomfited by her voice because it is a very real and present reminder of his rival Erik and the Phantom's influence, past or present, over her. Additionally, Christine's voice is something Raoul can neither understand nor control, and his rampant jealousy and need for control cannot abide it. This is all confusing, of course, because if you hate an opera singer's voice, how do you even spend enough time at her performances to fall in love with her, but maybe Philippe's matchmaking expertise got around that one.
Erik's status as tragic, tortured anti-hero is cemented in this chapter; everybody and his or her uncle muses on what a tragedy it is that God should curse such an intelligent, talented, wonderful man with such a hideous deformity. Erik is a noble figure in some ways, true, but the removal of all his flaws has much the same treacly effect that it does in Holmes' case; I no longer believe in the characters, and frankly think they could stop being such emo kids over the cruel, evil world, which is not really a reaction I should ideally be having to a Phantom story that attempts to expose a corrupt society.
Somehow, however, the whole budding underground romance between Holmes and Erik sort of grew on me a little bit. I mean, yeah, it's kind of silly, and pretty obviously just an author going overboard this pairing of ideal paragons business, but it's done with a lot of obvious emotion on Siciliano's part that makes it compelling even when I'm rolling my eyes at the level of histrionic adulation.
I spoke too soon earlier, by the way: Holmes again makes a reference to Erik's maze being complicated enough to "baffle Theseus himself." A sort of not really appropriate reference was okay once, but Siciliano used it twice in the same novel.
NOT WATSON spends an extended interval of internal musing reflecting upon his fear of love and marriage. I do mean extended; it takes up several pages. I really can't seem to find any good reason for it, except that A) it shows him as a serious, intelligent dude who enters his relationships for good reasons instead of all the Raoul/Christine flightiness are him, and B) because he is a mouthpiece for the author who would like to remind us, once again, that women are problems impersonating people.
The transformation of the Phantom from dangerous but noble criminal into tragic hero continues apace. Holmes mentions a few times in the novel that Erik must be mentally ill, but no one seems to be in the slightest bit fazed by this, and Erik certainly never behaves with anything but the utmost gentility. His line during the disastrous frog-croaking performance, "She is singing to bring down the chandelier!", is here construed to be a warning to those in the seats below so that they can bail out in time; the only person actually injured or killed by the falling chandelier is the unpleasant woman the managers hired to replace Madame Giry, who refuses to move out of her own stubbornness and is so unflatteringly described as to leave little doubt that Siciliano wants us to feel that this wasn't Erik's fault and, anyway, she deserved it. (But remember, this is not a sexist book, women just deserve to die sometimes because they are unpleasant.) In contrast, the plot of Raoul and the managers to capture Erik adds to the nastiness quotient of their characters, since Erik is apparently awesome and they're just doing it out of jealousy/spite/pettiness/general assery.
Holmes gives Christine his pledge that he will protect Erik from capture, hurt, or any other ills that might befall him. Holmes is both perfectly happy to promise that since he has a serious love-on for Erik, and amused by the question, as he considers it a foregone conclusion that no one can capture Erik unless he wishes to be caught. As always, mere mortals can have no hope of triumphing over a Holmes or an Erik.
Holmes also says something here alone the lines of, "No, it is life I am angry with, but as I am not Jehovah I cannot change the blasted thing." Excellent atheism there, dude.
After the performance of Faust (which is nice; Siciliano clearly has a familiarity with opera), the idea of a frothing mob invading Erik's underground rears its ugly collective head again here (despite not being in the original novel, many many many later versions like to include it, which we can probably blame on the 1925 Julian/Chaney film and its case of fractured warring directors). In this case, that slimy no-good bastard the Persian tipped them off as to its location. I've already made my views on the characterization of said Persian clear, I feel.
As in some of the early films, Erik has an accomplice here, a that he brought with him from Persia, who is not given a name and is heavily implied to be mentally ill and incapable of surviving on his own because he was a victim of that evil evil Persian's machinations. Accomplice characters can be very cool, since you get to use them to illustrate how the Phantom interaacts with others and mess with how they could affect the plot, but like every other thing that could be interesting in this book, he wasn't. He existed for a few measly paragraphs, largely ignored and under-described, until he could be shot and killed by Raoul to serve the twin purposes of making Raoul yet more of a jackass than he was already and giving the Phantom yet another facet of life to get all emo over. This second part wasn't even followed through on, since after a morose "now I don't even have him to keep me company" statement, Erik reacts much the same way he would have had Raoul shot his dog. So we were wrong, earlier; there are two people of color in this book, and one is an evil monster who wants to kill the protagonists and the other is a mentally disabled child who is murdered to give his white savior angst feelings. It's not a racist book, though.
Raoul gets to be further trivialized by his overreaction to the torture chamber; Erik tells Holmes that he has been screaming and fainting pathetically after twenty minutes in there, despite the fact that (unlike the original in Leroux's novel) the chamber is perfectly nonlethal and won't do a damn thing except make the two men in it uncomfortably hot. Hysterics: an excellent way to make people look bad. At this point, it all just feels like a cake that has been so drowned in icing that no one has any idea what flavor it was before.
Erik is further exonerated from any shadow of ill intent here by the revelation that he didn't kill Buquet; Buquet just stumbled into one of the noose-traps he sets up to prevent unwelcome visitors, and hanged himself by accident. I fail to see how that exempts Erik from blame since he set those traps for the express purpose of killing intruders, but apparently it shifts enough blame over to Buquet to mollify everyone else. (So now you know: if you set traps that kill people, apparently that doesn't count as killing them, it's their own fault for being clumsy and/or somewhere that you chose to put a trap. Very logical.)
There is also another great line here, as Holmes tells Erik, "I have often seen men of great ability reduced to idiocy by women." Normally I would ignore that as period-appropriate parochialism, but I am SO TIRED at this point. Yes, we know. Women have cooties. Men are amazing. You two go kiss and stop subjecting us to this book.
Oddly enough, the grasshopper and scorpion statues are reversed; here, the grasshopper is the symbol of Christine's acceptance while the scorpion symbolizes the destruction of the opera house. I can't fathom a good reason for this, unless it's that we as a culture view the scorpion as a much more menacing figure, and Siciliano for some reason didn't like the grasshopper representing an explosion because of its ability to hop. I'm sure he thought he was changing it so that it made more sense, but all it does is make me wonder if he read only the cliff notes version of the novel.
In this version of the story, Christine kissing the Phantom buys her own freedom and Raoul's, but everyone else is still stuck waiting for the impending explosion, which is obviously important because otherwise she might have looked like she was more important to this story about her than the dudes are. Holmes - naturally, didn't you know that he was far more excellent than any woman? - gets to rescue everyone else with his mad skills at talking down depressed Phantoms.
The climax of the covert behind-the-scenes romantical shenanigans comes in this scene, where Holmes is attempting to persuade Erik not to kill himself. The following incredibly charged conversation had me watching with rapt attention to see if anyone would come out and SAY IT already (but of course, no one did):
"Erik laughed, but we heard only pain. 'Please do not say such things. Do not try to make me hope. My face condemns me to perpetual solitude.'
'You need not hide your face from me. I do not find it particularly frightful.' Holmes hesitated. 'You will always have one friend so long as you live.'
'Forgive me if I am amused. I do not mock your friendship, but only seventeen minutes remain of my miserable existence. I would greatly value your friendship, but it would not suffice. There are men who can live alone without the society, the intimacy, of women, but I am not such a man.'"
Or, if you will permit me to paraphrase:
"Erik whined about the pain of life. 'I am so hideous!'
'I don't think you're hideous,' said Holmes. 'I'd hit it.'
'Sorry, I don't swing that way.'"
Seriously. I could not have made this up if I tried. People would have manifested out of the trees to accuse me of a nefarious LGBTQ agenda or something.
Somehow, nevertheless, Holmes is very persuasive and Erik decides not to kill everyone in his explosive suicide attempt and the day is saved, no thanks to those miscreants from the original story.
So, do y'all emember Miss Lowell? No? That's okay. No one else does, either. She was the blind woman with no reason to appear in this story in the first chapter. Drumroll please.... Holmes sets her up with Erik! Because Erik's ugly and she can't see him! And also they can both makemusic! Genius, right? Can you hear me crying from here? I have seldom seen such a slapdash, I'm-not-even-trying-anymore happy ending bandaid on a story. Holmes wanders around the gardens being emo over the whole thing while NOT WATSON tells him that he's very noble for giving up the chance to date Miss Lowell.
But is that really why Holmes is emo? I think not. You ain't foolin' no one.
There are no themes in this novel. The themes are dead. There is no redemption, no salvation for Erik, because he was never damned in the first place. The entire novel is an exercise in terrible self-inserts, soapboxing and insistence that it's really enlightened I promise, and telling because showing is too hard and might make writing a relationship take a lot of time. And the one thing that could have saved it, the bizarrely barely-even-subtext-anymore relationship between Holmes and the Phantom, was just-kiddinged into oblivion so everyone could end the novel straight and paired up appropriately, while also of course making sure we remember that the most important step in any relationship is acknowledging how terrible women are.