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The Phantom of the Opera (1991)

     by Doris Dickens

This isn't a new interpretation or rewriting of the story; rather, it's an abridgment for children, done, interestingly enough, by Charles Dickens' great-granddaughter. Her foreword discusses the fact that she believes that abridged, edited versions of classic stories are a necessity for children who might hear of or see the story in some other medium (a stage show, for example) but become frustrated when the original books turn out to be above their reading level. Apparently, Dickens has done several of these abridgments, including more than a few of her great-grandfather's books, and other classics such as Stoker's Dracula or Alcott's Little Women. I applaud her for this; yeah, I plowed through unabridged versions when I was twelve, but it was taxing, and making literature more accessible to more people (young or old) is always a worthy goal.


That said, I almost felt that she didn't go far enough; Leroux's novel is, after all, very stilted and fond of phrases and vocabulary not always found in your average grade-schooler, and while Dickens' version (no word on whether she's also the translator, but I suspect not - it looks like an abridgment of the de Matteos translation) certainly did dial that back a bit to make the book more palatable for young readers, I'd say that it was still quite a handful for your average child. There doesn't seem to be any particular suggested reading level on this little book, so maybe it's intended for the 12-15 bracket rather than the 8-12, which is what it seems like to me from the length and setup. I'm just not sure. Nevertheless, it's pretty well-done, overall.  There really isn't anything particularly interesting going on to recommend it, but it's a serviceable look at the story for a younger audience.


The thing that really makes this version notable for me is the excellent (and excellently creepy) art by Wayne Anderson, which you can see on the cover up there. I fell in love with Wayne Anderson at about age eight when I discovered Peter Dickinson's The Flight of Dragons, and that love has never waned. His evocative stippling style and excellent use of shadow and slightly grotesque shapes really work well with Leroux's creepy and mysterious tale, and I'd have picked up a copy for those alone even if I weren't committed to spending too many years of my salary on this project.

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