The Phantom of the Opera (1987)

     by William R. Sanford & Carl R. Green

Talk about things you weren't expecting! As you can probably tell from Claude Rains up there, this is a little novelization for children based on the 1943 Lubin/Rains film, with various still shots from the film (including, I think, a few that didn't actually make it into the final cut of the movie). The writers, in their prologue (not much of a prologue, really more of a foreword), claim to have based the text entirely on the original script for the film, which was written by Eric Taylor and Samuel Hoffenstein.

 

The very unexpected choice for this book, which is an idea that I haven't seen before in any Phantom literature yet, is this: the Phantom is Christine's biological father.

 

Yeah, there are abundant father issues in the original novel and in most of its progeny, but there has never yet been a version in which Erik (or, in this case, Enrique... I have no idea why they added the "n" to the film's "Erique", unless there was some overzealous editor who thought they'd spelt it wrong, but for some reason they've chosen to change it to the French form of Henry instead of Erik) was actually his protege's biological father. Enrique apparently abandoned Christine and her mother while the child was still in infancy; though this is never exactly explained, it can be inferred that his flight to be a single violinist at the opera may parallel Christine's refusal to be tied down to a life outside her musical career. By abandoning her (and Christine, throughout the book, is never told that the Phantom is her father, even after he's dead), the original novel's dynamic of Christine as an orphan is preserved while the Phantom's role as surrogate father-figure is made a literal reality.

 

My big question here is this: did Sanford and Green come up with this idea on their own, or is it in the original script for the 1943 film and was removed in final editing? On the one hand, Sanford and Green are writing for a child audience, and it's possible that they thought that a romantic motivation for the Phantom might be either too adult or too unrelatable for children, who would more easily understand the idea of a parent wanting to take care of his daughter. But I strongly suspect that this was actually in the script of the film itself, at least originally; for one thing, the Phantom is very paternal toward Christine in that film, never making any kind of move beyond platonic affection (the same pattern was followed for his successor, the Phantom of the 1962 Fisher/Lom film, in fact). And furthermore, the film makes a big deal out of Christine's lullaby from her hometown in Provence, and it struck me as funny on my first viewing that Claudin's concerto was coincidentally on the same melody; while, at the time, I just put it down to Claudin listening in on her singing it and borrowing it for his writing, the tune is what allows Anatole to guess the Phantom's relation to the singer in this book version, and it makes much more sense that they come from the same town (and, indeed, the same house!) and thus know the same provincial music.

 

When I first reviewed this book, I didn't have a copy of the 1943 script, so I couldn't say for certain beyond noting that I've always felt that Rains' Phantom was one of the most fatherly versions of the character (the sexual undercurrent present in most versions, including the original, is almost totally absent). But later, fabulous readers pointed me toward this YouTube clip from a documentary discussing the filming of the 1943 film, which confirms that the script originally placed Erique as Christine's father.  Apparently, Universal Studios decided that confused audiences might think there was some kind of incest going on, and the script was changed to its final form to remove the father/daughter relationship between the two.  Personally, I think that's too bad; the older man's obsession with Christine is a lot less appropriate without the father tie, and even if it weren't, the plot makes much more sense as written if he has a paternal motivation.  But, luckily, here are Sanford and Green ensuring that this particular idea survives for us to take a look at!  A second viewing of the 1943 film, armed with this new knowledge, wouldn't be amiss for me or anybody else who wants to watch for that new element.

 

The rest of the book is very simple and straightforward, and about what you'd expect from a novelization of the film. Interestingly enough, the relationships seem to be skewed slightly; whereas in the original film Anatole was something of a more sympathetic hero character than the stolid, temperamental Raoul, here Christine is shown as obviously being in love with Raoul but as still stringing Anatole on in order to help further her career. This might be a response to the Lloyd Webber musical, which had come out a few years prior with Raoul very definitively in the hero role. Raoul certainly gets a little more face time in this book version, and the love triangle seems more balanced. Anatole's relentless campaign on Christine's behalf makes Biancarolli's conviction that he's the one threatening her make more sense, and it's nice to see that they even brought Feretti, the voice teacher, back to mention that he had told Christine he was teaching her for free so that she wouldn't ask questions (I whined during the film that she came off as bafflingly unaware for never questioning who was paying for her lessons, so I appreciated that touch).

 

The reason that this version got graded down from the film is that, sadly, the writing is impressively unimpressive, even for a kids' book. Possibly in order to keep the length down, there are buckets and boatloads of telling going on instead of actually showing the reader what's happening, and the sentences are choppy and difficult to take an interest in because of it. I realize that kids don't have the attention span or vocabulary for high art yet, but I'd still want my kids reading something that was an example of decent writing for their reading level, and your average kid's interest is usually kept much better by showing them a scene rather than just telling them, "The character did this." The book was really interesting for me - but interesting for academic reasons. I'd have been bored as snot reading it for fun.

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