The Phantom of the Opera (1993)

     adapted for Unicorn Publishing House

I think that of all the versions for children that I've yet encountered, this may be my favorite so far.

 

This looks like a collaborative effort style of a retelling, which was first put out by Unicorn Publishing and later in the edition I have by Barnes & Noble. It very closely follows Leroux's original text, and though it's drastically abridged and reduced down to a short picture-book format, it retains enough of the key points and scenes that I couldn't find anything to complain about. (Sorry, fans at home - there's no mention of who did the abridgement. A mystery abridgement.)

 

Like many abridgments, this one has to omit some elements, but the choices made by the editors are all sound ones; many of the incidental characters such as Jammes or Mama Valerius have had their names omitted or their parts shortened to cut down on the confusion that the original novel occasionally suffered from and to highlight the main characters more fully. This was done deftly enough that it didn't detract from the atmosphere of the story, which is always a concern when the setting and other characters are pared down, and I felt that the result was streamlined and still an interesting historical setting for little ones. Likewise, this version did a better job than the earlier Dickens kids' version at simplifying the language of the original novel, and a better job than the McMullen one at doing so without losing the original's flavor.

The main attraction here, however, is definitely Hildebrandt's artwork. His gorgeously evocative style and strong, vibrant palette are a joy on every page, and while I'm not by any means an art critic, the illustrations were a real delight for me as I was reading. Hildebrandt's skeletal Erik is very faithful to the original text and, at least to my eye, shows little hints of Chaney's 1925 film portrayal as well, and the backgrounds, particularly in the masquerade and magnificent pipe organ scenes, are splendid. I won't reproduce the art here since it's most certainly copyrighted and fantabulous, but there are some low-quality scans of plates online that really don't do them justice, and prints of the artwork are available at SpiderArt for those that might be interested. His Red Death, in particular, is one of my all-time favorites.

 

The ending lines for this version are of interest to me, especially since, this being a childrens' edition, the religious questioning ("Why did God make a man so ugly?", etc.) has been omitted and the text remanded to third person to avoid confusion instead of plunking it into the Daroga's first-person. The book ends with the lines, "In the end, for the Phantom of the Opera, it was Christine - nothing else. It was always Christine." While this is a little bit simplistic (I've never been a fan of distilling all of Erik's problems down to "He just needed Christine!" or even "He just needs a woman!" no, there are severely more problems than that), it works out fine for me in a childrens' book context, and also has more than a little relevance in that it's Christine that represents the acceptance of society for Erik (i.e., she is the "brightest and best", the most beautiful of society, so therefore her acceptance would be tantamount to societal acceptance). The editors' choice to have Christine spend Erik's last days with him and arrange for his burial is equivalent to a final social acceptance for Erik, which, though understated, might set a lot of childrens' subconscious minds at ease despite the sadness of the general idea.

 

If I were going to pick up a childrens' edition of this story, it would be this one. True to the original, easy to read and enjoy, engaging, and with wonderful paintings.

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