Three Days: A Phanfiction Story (2007)

     by Melissa Maranto

Okay, first things first: the cover. The cover. Yes, it looks exactly like you probably think it looks, even from the tiny thumbnail. And while I know the temptation is there, my friends, let us not make fun of this cover. It was obviously drawn by the author, probably as part of the labor of love of this entire messy book, and frankly I wouldn't have had the courage to put amateur art out there like that, so kudos to her. Yes, it's obviously anime-influenced and you can still see where the author put her name the first time before coloring over it and it has a terrifying scissor-arm thanks to bad anatomy, but it looks a lot like something I would have drawn when I was a teenager. Let's just graciously pass it by.

 

And speaking of teenagers, I am 99.9999% certain that this author was one when she wrote this. I knew that even before I Googled around for the internet moniker she uses (helpfully included on the book's title page) and discovered it littering Fanfiction.net and Fictionpress.net circa 2004. It looks like she no longer has a profile on either, and I would guess she probably deleted it at some point during the agonizing realization as an adult of how ridiculous her teenage self must have been. I feel you, Maranto. We've all been there.

 

But, anyway: this book. It's not good, and it's not surprising that most of the reasons it's not good are probably related to starry-eyed romanticism and hilarious plot swerving. But it tries, and there are moments here and there where it almost gets it right, and shit, that's better than half the officially published stuff on this site, right?

 

Preliminary

 

I guess "prologue" was too pedestrian for Maranto, which is weird because elsewhere in the book she's prone to naming things after musical movements. "Introit"? "Entr'acte"? "Overture"? I don't know, but I do know that "preliminary" makes me think we're either heading into exams or about to get a pap smear, and I don't like either experience.

 

The introductory section starts cold at the end of the Lloyd Webber musical (and this book is all about the Lloyd Webber musical, specifically its 2004 film version, almost exclusively), and it's obvious that Maranto assumes the reader has seen it and knows exactly what's going on, because she sure as shit isn't going to explain most of it. I'm not surprised, considering that the "phanfiction" tag in the book's title suggests that it was originally written to be read by other fans on the internet. I'd actually be interested to know what events led to it being published in bound form. Alas, what works when your entire audience has the same knowledge as yourself does not work very well when you publish and anyone with a few bucks can pick it up and start being confused.

 

Christine gets all of a couple of yards away as she's leaving with Raoul before abruptly about-facing; the move is not very well explained, and we're left with the impression that it took this long for the consequences of what's going on to finally flutter into the empty air of her brain. Her response to realizing that mobs rarely mean civilized teatime is to leap out of the boat and slosh back through the lake to "rescue" Erik, a move which makes no sense, is deeply contrary to her previous motivations and probable social conditioning as a nineteenth-century woman, and follows the events of the end of the musical about as well as a fart follows a triumphant encore.

 

Even worse, while Raoul sensibly points out what a terrible idea this is - what is she going to do, exactly? cry at the mob until they go home? - he also then just boats off without her after she promises to meet up with him at his house tomorrow. He just rescued her from a violent stalker, there's now an angry mob of other violent people on the way, and not only did he not stop her from throwing herself in harm's way, he didn't even go with her? This is the first time that Raoul will do things that make absolutely zero sense because he's inconvenient to Maranto's plot, but it won't be the last.

 

While there's a lot of material here that seems pretty clearly drawn from Lloyd Webber's musical, its movie version, all spangled with the Schumacher/Butler combination of overgilt sets and poet's blouses, makes appearances as well, making it difficult to tell which influenced the author more. The myriad broken mirrors of the finale of the 2004 film are mentioned, as well as the fire in the opera house above, and later Erik will refer to himself as the Devil's Child, calling back to the film's inserted backstory.

 

Christine does a lot of headache-inducing internal monologuing throughout this book, mostly mental gymnastics required to excuse Erik for his actions. Yes, of course he's dangerous and a murderer, she admits that, but now that he's going into hiding he's the persecuted party, so all that's okay! Yes, he did horrible things to her and Raoul, but now the mob is picking on him! Her compassion isn't out of place for the character, but unfortunately the blithe excuses made for every evil he's ever done don't go down well with the reader, especially when compared to the Christine of Leroux's novel (and even the terrified Christine of Lloyd Webber's musical, come to that). I still await a good Phantom book that really explores the effects of an abusive relationship on Christine's perceptions and excuses for her frightening lord and master, but this book ain't it.

 

...and there it is. The cardinal sin of derivative works. Christine has begun directly quoting lyrics from "Track Down this Murderer" from the Lloyd Webber musical. My notes just say "stop it" in increasingly desperate scribbles the longer it goes on. Apparently I was too destitute even to write the usual complaints about copyright infringement, unoriginality, and terrible story flow.

 

Lyrics aside, Maranto's prose is actually pretty strong; she's clear, descriptive, and active, the most important building blocks of any narrative that isn’t aiming for stylistic obfuscation. She has a little bit of a tendency to use giant words to sound more erudite when in fact it just makes her sound like she hasn't quite got her driver's license for the English language yet, but on the whole, she reads like an obviously young writer who shows a lot of promise. Things are not being helped along by the sudden appearance of several unnecessarily (and hilariously!) dramatic metaphors and similes, including one on page 14 wherein Erik's tears are referred to as "liquid diamonds", but we can't have everything.

 

The plot's not very promising, though. Christine appears to be suffering from some kind of time warp in which she has regressed to referring to Erik as the Angel of Music and has completely forgotten that any of the events of the original story actually happened. Even more annoying, Erik has decided to choose this moment to get all whiny and complain that Christine is playing with his feelings by coming to rescue him, which again makes me think that all previous time was somehow erased (did you go to the same lair scene I did, dude?) as well as making me make sourly amused faces at the gall of the master manipulator whining that Christine's kindness is just an attempt to bruise his tender little heart. Cry me a river so I can build you a bridge, Erik.

 

Not that I blame him for being confused about why she's here, because I also have no idea what she's doing, but I'm just saying he could be less of a douchebag about it. Maranto tries, but sadly being a non-douchebag is not really in this Erik's repertoire very often.

 

This mob, in case you were wondering, makes no sense whatsoever. For one thing, Erik says the opera patrons are in the mob. Yes, I'm so sure they're not only out for blood but totally dressed for this, right? Also, they begin randomly shouting about how much they hate and want to kill Christine as well, which makes no sense since they headed down here in a rage after he kidnapped her, but what the hell, we need a reason for her to be in danger so Erik can realize he still has a reason to live and gallantly save her.

 

Erik and Christine duck into a convenient hidden room so that the mob can pass them by, which allows a small crisis to happen over "the full force of [the mob's] hatred slamming into Christine's diminutive frame like a screeching tornado crashing through the flimsy structure of a man-made house." Let me remind you guys, not only are they nowhere near her, they can't even see her, don't know she's there, and are on the other side of a wall. She falls down dramatically anyway.

 

Sometimes the poetry also gets in the way of the realism, as when Christine sees on Erik's back "the profanely white and shiny lines of injuries never quite healed." If it's white and shiny, that's scar tissue. That's the definition of healed.

 

Christine ends up back in her Aminta costume thanks to a series of convenient accidents, none of which manage to disguise the fact that the author just really wants any excuse to have her wearing it instead of inventing something else. Erik, now that the immediate danger has passed, turns (as he so often does in bad sequels) to playing the guilt trumpet like a pro, self-righteously screaming at Christine in a combination of stolen song lyrics and poor-me self-pity: 

 

"After betraying me with a useless slave of fashion, exposing my face to an entire audience, playing the central role in a plot to have me shot like a rabid dog, and dashing any hopes I had of companionship..." 

 

I particularly love the absolute dearth of acknowledgment of his own dastardly behavior that drove her to do most of these things, and the fact that "dashing his hopes of companionship" is listed as just as much a sin as everything else. She didn't want to date him when he so obviously wanted to date her?! That there’s a capitol offense, y’all.

 

The other major influence for this book comes in here, when Erik mentions Javert, the villainous overmaster of Kay's 1990 novel. There's obviously a blended backstory going on here, with elements from the Frankensteinian Forsyth-growth backstory from the 2004 film mixed in with the events of Kay's retelling of Erik's childhood. It's nice to see so many things contributing to a modern work, although none of them really have enough purchase to shine thanks to the interference of the others.

 

Hours later, the mob hears Christine shouting in her sleep and returns for vengeance. All I can say is that this mob has the staying power of an elephant and that this continues to be the most nonsensical furious rabble ever to appear in fiction. The reason for Christine's shouting, however, is an excellent dream involving the fire above and various characters from her past, which is vivid, symbolic, and well done. I was sad to see it end and return to the world of Erik pouting in the sewers.

 

God damn it all, can't this mob be consistent about anything? One minute they want to kill Christine because they think she's hiding the Phantom, the next they think he must be torturing her and are all fired up to rescue her, and then a minute later they start referring to both of them collectively as "devils". If they're going to be down here for far longer than any mob has ever done anything at one time, they're going to need a clearer mission statement to get anything done.

 

Maranto has a distressing habit of saying true things and then letting the characters immediately declare them not to be true and set about ignoring them with a vengeance. A little of this from an unreliable narrator's point of view would be fine, but not only are Erik and Christine meant to be classically trustworthy narrators, it reads very much like the author saying, "Aha, I know you're going to object to [insert ridiculous thing I'm doing in my story], but here's the reasons that's invalid!" It's messy and reads like the author thinking more about her intended audience's reaction than the welfare of the story itself, which is another hallmark of fiction written expressly to entertain other fans. 

 

For example, on page 27, Erik says:

 

"Let's not forget what else I've done, Christine. I kidnapped you, terrified you, nearly murdered the person you love, and nearly got you killed. I find myself unable to fathom how you can bear to be in the same city as I." 

 

While my immediate response was THANK GOD SOMEONE NOTICED, Christine's immediate response on the next page is to handwave all that away by ignoring everything except the last item - nearly getting her killed - and deciding that that was her own fault because she screamed in her sleep. After a few chapters of this, I had a seriously grumpy case of whiplash between characters that were trying their damndest to stay true to the story they came from and an author hellbent on preventing anything that happened before from mattering in the slightest.

 

And, as if that were not painful enough... there's page motherfucking 29. Not only do we have the same old tired attempt to take the blame of murdering Buquet off Erik's shoulders by claiming that it's not his fault because Buquet walked into a trap and he wasn't even there (AUTHORS, STOP. IT IS STILL MURDER IF YOU INTENTIONALLY SET LETHAL TRAPS TO KILL PEOPLE. STOP PRETENDING HE'S GUILTLESS AND IT'S OKAY FOR HIM TO BE "DEFENDING HIS HOME" WHEN HE IS ACTUALLY LURKING IN SOMEONE ELSE'S BASEMENT AND MURDERING PEOPLE FOR WALKING IN THE WRONG AREAS), but we now have in-text author's notes, the bane of every reader's existence. 

 

This particular note wants us to know that Erik's not lying about not killing Buquet because she's referring to Kay's novel, not the movie... but y’all. Not only does that not matter, it way does not justify leaping in as an omniscient author in the middle of the line (well, nothing really does, but this isn't close). Maranto didn't bother to tell us every other time she was using backstory from Kay instead of Leroux or Lloyd Webber, so why this time? Probably because she could smell the fact that people like me were going to call her out on the bullshit of the concept, and SHE WAS RIGHT.

 

Christine is upset by all this, of course (though not as upset as she should be, because she buys the "it's not my fault, Buquet killed himself" defense like a ninny), so it takes her "much longer than optimally possible" to fall asleep. Good thing she’s working on her sleep optimization, though, I guess. That’s healthy.

 

Christine, angsting away because what else is she supposed to do in a bad sequel where Raoul rows away and abandons her in the sub-basements, thinks that it would be easier to hate Erik if he didn't "treat her so well". Lady... he's kidnapped and terrorized and threatened you, tried to force you into marriage and sexytimes, and almost murdered your fiance. What else does he have to do to qualify as not treating you well, set you on fire?

 

Sigh. Ayesha, Erik's cat, has been imported from Kay's book. She serves the same purpose she did there - lending Erik the shine of "really a good person!" through the magical shorthand of "beloved by animals!", but unfortunately it has none of the grace that the book it draws from displayed when working with the idea.

 

It’s finally time to get to the plot of the book proper, which is so weighty with the smell of bullshit that my notes just say WHAT I CANNOT EVEN WHAT for half a page now when it's revealed. You see, after all this, Erik wants Christine to stay at his house for three nights. Because woe is him, it's only three days of your life, weh weh weh can't you do this for me so I can pretend to know happiness, oh my poor poor life? And Christine says, "That's fair."

 

THIS IS THE ENTIRE PREMISE OF THE BOOK. WHAT THE FUCK.

 

Yes, not only does Erik inexplicably randomly decide he wants her to stay for three days to just... have conversations with, I guess, even though they've known each other for years and she's stayed in the place with him for multiple days before, and he just got through telling her how he would never make her stay with him again like all those other times he kidnapped her. And Christine is all, "Oh, yeah, that's a good idea, I owe it to you because of all you've done for me," because she has the mightiest case of amnesia any kidnapping victim has ever had. 

 

Oh, and then, Christine just writes a letter to Raoul where she's like, "Hey, staying with the Ph for a couple days, just wanted to let you know so you wouldn't worry. Meet up for sandwiches later!" Because THAT'S going to go over well, with a guy who just saved you from the place you've randomly decided to shack up in because it was being threatened that you would be held there forever, and who you also promised to meet back up with but are now sending a letter instead, and who is perfectly well aware that shenanigans with notes are one of Erik's M.O.s, and who is also a dude from the nineteenth century who would seriously not be okay with his fiancee having a sleepover at any dude's house, much less one who has repeatedly and violently expressed a desire to creep on her. ALSO HE IS A MURDERER.

 

...but all that is fine because this is a Raoul who does things like letting her swim across a lake alone to confront a mob while he goes home, so apparently he's cool with it. My working theory is that the real Raoul has been replaced by a robot.

 

Christine proceeds to promptly fall ill of Convenient and Totally Not in the Slightest Bit Ugly Fever Disease, which strikes heroines when the author wants to give their male counterparts time to worry over their perfect, petal-like distress. She sings in her sleep. It’s the  lyrics from the Lloyd Webber musical. They're written out for us.

 

The only thing to like about this is that at least Erik, upon hearing her repeat lines about how frightened and miserable she was during the previous story's events, feels some remorse for his actions as a result. It's nice to see him take some responsibility instead of dismissing her as having brought it on herself (although he will be doing that some later, but any lighthouse in a storm, friends).

 

Day One: Ambiguity

 

As usual in these stories, Erik starts cleaning up after the mob instead of moving somewhere else, like literally anywhere else that people who want to kill him might not know where to find him. For a genius, he is incredibly bad at planning. Of course, so is the mob, since nobody ever comes down here again and apparently everyone who lives in Paris manages to have simultaneous strokes and forget about the cellars' existence.

 

As so often happens when inexperienced authors try to handle the divide between Erik's violent temper and his creative genius, things go badly. He does way too much monologuing, mostly so he can unattractively vent his spleen on everyone in the universe except himself and make a lot of speeches about "worthless, contemptible worms that called themselves human". Not only does he sound like a supercilious asshole, he's once again totally peeing all over the original novel's concept of Erik as the lowest of the low thanks to his rejection by all of humanity, even its lower classes. His personal inadequacy and inferiority issues, looming monstrously huge in Leroux's novel, are here more like hats he occasionally remembers to wear and the rest of the time leaves on the floor to be stepped on.

 

But hey, folks! He tells us that he doesn't hit girls. So that's how you know he's an okay dude. (Physically fucking kidnapping them and threatening rape by coercion is apparently fine, but he would never hit them.)

 

I am very confused by the idea that Maranto introduces here of Christine being so passionate during the performance of Don Juan Triumphant (particularly "The Point of No Return", because lyrics are totally involved all the time in case you forgot this book was half Lloyd Webber's proprietary material) with the Phantom that she must actually love him. I've seen it in a few other sequels as well, and it never fails to stump me. 

 

Seriously, writers... do all of you just think Christine is the worst professional actress in existence, or what? It's her job to look like she's totally into Don Juan while she's onstage. That is literally what she is being paid to do, and after being trained by Erik, she ought to be pretty goddamned good at it, shouldn't she? I can't figure out if authors think that opera singers only sing and never actually do any acting, standing around like wooden boards, or if they think that anyone who acts well must actually be feeling those emotions toward their co-stars, or what. I can't even get on board with Erik thinking this except in his most delusional moments; of all people, he ought to be the first to know that Christine is actually a professional actress and capable of being good at her job.

 

Raoul's just been referred to as "foppish". Everybody playing the drinking game from home, drain your glass!

 

It's important for the reader to know that Erik inexplicably hates corsets. Ready to swoon at his feet, ladies, for this totally anachronistic and pointless defense of our fairer sex? For bonus nonsense points, corsets were actually encouraged for opera singers (and still are sometimes, in fact) because the rigid boning and lacing aided in breath support and posture. But Erik is pretty much a terrible teacher in this book, despite Maranto's assurances to the contrary, so maybe he just isn't aware.

 

Wait! Erik suddenly has golden eyes! Thanks for dropping by for a second, Leroux.

 

On we plow, into a thoroughly tiresome scene featuring Christine demanding that Erik admit his feelings for her (that amnesia is really something, isn't it?) and whining over how sorry she is that she "never gave him a chance". Heaven knows it's important to give kidnapping murderers a fair chance to win your affections - what if you hurt their feelings by not being in love with them?! Not only is it annoying, it's boring in the extreme, because I've seen it in approximately 237265381340918 other Phantom story sequels at this point. Move it along, folks.

 

...wait, no, don't move it there. Now it's time to clumsily illustrate how much Raoul is unsuitable for Christine in his absence! He taught her to be ashamed of bodily emission noises, the cad! (The fuck he did. Christine did not grow up in a box. He is not her only connection to human society. She knows people are not into burps and farts.) He doesn't know her favorite food! He doesn't even know her favorite color! I'm so glad we can lay the groundwork for the inevitable dumping by complaining about incidental things Raoul doesn't know about the fiancee who he just risked his life to rescue. 

 

If you want to dislike him for something, guys, dislike him for letting Christine run off and start this whole obnoxious adventure because he apparently couldn’t be bothered. I have no idea why he did that other than The Author Said So, but at least it'd be a legit reason to think he might not care about her. And could we stop using how much a guy knows about you as shorthand for how much he loves/deserves you? A stalker probably knows a lot more about a woman than a guy she dates who obeys the rules, but that doesn't mean she should go with the dude who goes through her garbage at night.

 

Erik, who just escaped a mob, sifted the wreckage of a major fire, and lifted a cave-in off himself, hasn't eaten in "one week, maybe two". Sounds legit.

 

If Christine is going to be struck by Erik's "towering presence" every time he talks to her, this book is going to last forever. I'm not sure I'm going to make it.

 

In one of the stupidest interludes in the book, Christine briefly plots to poison Erik and escape, possibly the only sensible move she's made since we started, but of course she immediately ruins it by getting upset with herself. It's a cocktail of bad characterization; not only do I not know why she wanted to poison him in the first place, since she's been about as worried about the threat he poses to her as she would be about a small fluffy animal, but she also lays all the blame for the idea on herself ("how could I?!") and, bizarrely, on Raoul ("he would want me to!"), even though that poor sucker isn't even here. Just to get a cherry up onto the top of that trash sundae, I also can't figure out why she's making such a huge deal over planning to poison his food, when they've just spent way too much time establishing that he doesn't motherfucking eat.

 

In an obvious Disney's Beauty and the Beast homage, Erik gives Christine access to his library and various books therein to amuse herself. Normally I would whine about the ensuring two pages of the author just retelling folktales from around the world instead of writing her own novel, but the folktales are much more interesting than the arrestingly uninteresting saga of Christine and Erik, so instead I'm actually pretty relieved to see them.

 

A new Greek mythology spin pops up! The myth of Alcestis and Admetus is referenced here, and while it's not one of the ones we normally see tied to the Phantom story, its parallel themes - a boy about to die, a girl offering herself up to save him, and personified death being overcome so that both are able to escape and live happily together - make it a great one to include. It's so good I'm surprised I've never seen it in a Phantom story before; I can only assume the Hades and Persephone myth is just so much more popular and obvious that it's always turned to first.

 

And now back to Kay. Erik now recounts the part of Kay's novel that revolves around his foster-father Giovanni and his daughter, Luciana. Since I've already read Kay's book, it was basically several pages of boredom; Maranto obviously expects her audience to already know the story, but strikes a poor balance between explaining it too much for those who are already with her, but not enough for any stragglers who might not be.

 

I'm somewhat astounded by the treatment of Luciana, a character who, while certainly flighty in the way all teenage girls are flighty in Kay's novel, has here been reduced to a foolish busybody who should have known better and who Erik never really loved because he was only a child then. The utter devaluation of the character threw me for a loop - why, exactly, would you do that? My assumption is to remove her as even past-tense competition for Erik's affections, but it's clumsy and pretty insulting all around. Worse, Erik and Christine agree that it wasn't Erik's fault that Luciana died (true), but go on to implying that it was her own fault (untrue), making me very cranky indeed. Do y’all understand that just because one party wasn't at fault, that doesn't mean the other should automatically be blamed? For fuck's sake, Erik can't help his condition, Luciana couldn't help being startled, and the balcony she was standing on couldn't help crumbling because it was old. You don't have to make it her fault ("She shouldn't have been afraid of poor sainted Erik's appearance, and she'd still be alive!") to absolve him of blame.

 

Honestly, it’s more than likely that it isn’t even so much a function of wanting it not to be Erik’s fault as it is of wanting to have someone convenient to blame for Erik’s heartache. Women who fail to be properly nurturing or loving often get this in Phantom narratives, and we’re already seeing Christine being blamed for being “wrong” or “cruel” for having rejected Erik. This is just more of the same.

 

Also, around this point I realized that the idea of Erik not eating and sleeping is also a concept stolen from Kay's book, in which the Phantom attempts to commit suicide in Persia by starving himself into oblivion. It's not very graceful here, which should be obvious from my slowness in recognizing it; mostly it just serves as a weird and annoying reason for Christine to constantly pester Erik about food.

 

Sigh. Madame Giry turns up here, and she starts out strong with reasonable objections and points when confronting Erik about Christine's presence and what he's up to, but true love sends her packing before long and everyone is very pleased that she's seen the light about how Erik would never mistreat Christine and only someone unbalanced and unromantic would think so. 

 

Day Two: Probity

 

Authors in Phantom stories absolutely cannot stop romanticizing candles. Yes, we think of candles as wistful and romantic right now, but in the 1800s, they just meant you couldn't afford gas lights. They're the mark of low class, not high. Which is appropriate for Erik in some stories, but here Maranto is setting him up as super McRichypants of the cultural elite, so not so much. (Also, he lives underground, so not only would non-smoking lights be nice, they’d give an author a chance to show off his architectural genius by having him create gas piping for the place. Alas.)

 

Did you guys get enough of that whole "Erik is a good guy because he loves animals" thing earlier with Ayesha? In case you didn't, Maranto is here to help by revealing that Erik runs a weird underground Humane Society in which he rehabilitates injured bats. Now... I have to admit, I love bats so I'm totally prejudiced, and I kind of like the echo of previous incarnations of Erik (particularly in the Wellen story and Argento/Sands film) being associated with rats, but I just can't run with it. The cliche is overwhelming, and after this scene the bats return whence they came, never to be important to the plot in the slightest except to again remind you of how great Erik is.

 

They are horseshoe bats, though, and horseshoe bats are adorable.
 

Anyway, we need to get back to demonizing Raoul, now by pointing out that he doesn't tell Christine she's beautiful as much as Erik does. Sigh. It's good to make sure we weight that idea of "womens' love can be bought with presents and compliments" idea as much as possible, in case anyone thought Christine's free will might get involved at some point.

 

This book just used the words "brobdignagian", "brummagem" and "pleochloric", all on the same page. Put down the thesaurus before anyone else gets hurt.

 

We’ve reached page 97, which is officially the time of Rage. When Christine (distressingly but reasonably, considering her life experience to date) asks if her only worth as a person lies in her voice, Erik reassures her by telling her that she's also worthwhile because she doesn't cheapen herself by acting like a “whore,” and further broadly characterizes all the other girls (and women, including Carlotta) of the opera house as cold-hearted and conceited whores, therefore placing Christine firmly on a pedestal of Better Than Everyone Else. It's like a bingo-card of horrible, from the assessment of all girls other than the love interest as sex workers, to the suggestion that sex workers aren't worth anything as people and further that any woman having sex outside of her One True Love might as well be one of said worthless trashcans, to the implied subtext (made fully frontal by the use of the word "cheapen") that womens' worth is always in their chastity, not anything their personality or talents might have to offer, and on through the end, where all that reassurance to Christine that she's a worthwhile person is couched in terms that remind her, "But don't have sex or feel pride in your accomplishments, or you will become worthless and I will start referring to you with all the poisonous, hideous language I use to talk about everyone else in this book." 

 

It is nauseating. Holy shit. I know the author was a teenager when she wrote this, and probably not really very clear yet on ideas of self-worth and -determination, but oh my god.

 

And yes, I'm sure Erik really does believe these things. He's a nineteenth-century dude, and nineteenth-century dudes are sexist douchebags; it comes with the cultural territory. But, once again, the author's serving a particularly gross sermon to the reader, reinforcing those ideals as the reasons her heroine is a desirable and worthwhile person and offhandedly discarding all the other non-desirables she mentions, and at no point will there be any acknowledgment that Erik is, you know, being an ass. If Maranto hadn't made an effort earlier to try to show us that Erik was some kind of forward-thinking, equality-minded individual, this would suck less, but that's where we are.

 

But remember, he's against corsets. Woman power!

 

And in case I didn't hate this book enough yet, Christine goes off on a woe-is-him tangent now about how her capacity for love is so much less than Erik's that she could never possibly understand his feelings for her and therefore she has done inconceivable monumental damage to his wounded heart. Oh, you poor, noble wretch, Erik! Of course a mere tiny-brained woman could never comprehend your emotional glory! Fold delicately over this fainting couch and have some port while we all examine the constellation of sadness that is your life.

 

Perhaps sensing the reader’s need for comic relief, Maranto here has Christine and Erik sing some music from Puccini's opera La Boheme, rhapsodizing over how beautiful the story and music are and, once again, transplanting in lyrics to keep a maximum level of boredom achieved (now in Italian, to further confound the reader!). I love La Boheme as much as the next person, but sadly I don't believe that Erik and Christine do... because it didn't exist yet in the time period they inhabit. The opera debuted in 1896, fifteen years after the events of Leroux's story (and twenty-five after the ridiculous date of the 2004 film), and it didn't come to France for another two years after that. Puccini would probably be fairly surprised to hear them singing his praises as an opera composer, considering that he won't write his first opera for another two years at the time of the Phantom story (or, if you're for some reason using the 2004 timeline, because he's only thirteen years old).

 

It seems like anachronistic musical pieces and composers/performers are a chronic problem for Phantom-based literature. I have to assume that to many modern writers, all opera sounds equally ancient and therefore must have been available at the time of the Phantom story, when apparently everyone in the world knew all the famous operas at the height of their popularity. Which is pretty hilarious when you consider that we can accept that popular music styles change every decade now, but somehow we think every musical piece prior to 1920 was composed at the dawn of time.

 

Alas, that brief and exciting foray into incorrect time periods is gone now, and we're back to the fiercely boring filler that most of this chapter is padded with. It's an endless litany of people thinking about their feelings, talking about their feelings, fussing over their feelings, and trying to justify their feelings, over and over ad infinitum. Nothing happens, nothing is resolved, and nobody is interested.

 

Not that we weren't all aware of the blatant Kay theft all over this book by this point, but it's reinforced here again when the Persian shows up and is named Nadir. Between the repetition of Nadir invoking Allah (thank you, author, I get that he's Muslim, but he's said it three times in as many pages), the repetition of Erik referring to Raoul as a "pathetic young slave of fashion" again (Maranto, I have only about a thimble-full of faith that you know anything about fashions of the nineteenth century), and the fact that you literally can't follow what's going on between these two characters unless you've already read Kay's novel, I'm developing an ulcer within moments of his arrival.

 

However, despite all that, the scene is actually one of the most emotionally gripping and dynamic of the book. Nadir is every kind of right in his assessment of Erik's obsession with Christine and worries over his current behavior, and their confrontation is intense, emotional, and meaningful. We're trapped in Erik's point of view, unfortunately, but he's not doing himself any favors in his attempts to defend his obviously sketchy behavior from Nadir's probing questions. Most telling is the moment where Nadir points out that Christine was in love with someone else and Erik whines back that "she forgot her teacher and protector for over half her lifetime when her childhood sweetheart appeared out of bloody nowhere", thus further establishing himself as an entitled asshole.

 

Of course, all of the romance in this book is entitled and black-and-white, and most of it is nasty. There's a lot of "if you really loved her, you'd do X!" going around, which is not only wildly simplistic and downright wrong in a lot of cases, but also functions as an annoying cop-out opportunity for the author, who can then say, "Aha! He does X! He therefore really loves her no matter what else is going on, QED!" Further, it totally ignores the fact that a character can love and still be selfish or bad in their behavior; treating someone well does not necessarily mean that you love them, and treating someone badly does not necessarily mean that you don't. Human behavior is a wide spectrum and, especially when dealing with someone like Erik who has severe problems, there are no flat generalizations that can cover it in a meaningful way. Love isn't the sole purview of the virtuous, and I think that fact is the one that Phantom sequels that over-sympathize the main character most often overlook.

 

I should be used to it by now, but I'm still never ready for the random dissonance of the coffin from Leroux's book appearing the middle of stories that obviously only met Leroux once in the hallway while they were on their way to get coffee. It's an element that's poorly shoehorned in for god knows what reason; certainly it's not helpful to the story, which suffers from several paragraphs of space-filling junk words as Erik tries to explain it to Christine (and the readers) in a way that makes it sound rational.

 

Day Three: Comity

 

SIGH. I SIGH SO MUCH IN THIS BOOK. Now Christine spends some time letting us know that she is a free-spirited, independent lady who argues passionately that she makes her own decisions! Then she makes excuses for Erik's treatment of her like a champion and eventually decides to blame herself, because it was her fault he terrorized her, because she was too "ignorant" to realize she shouldn't have been afraid. No, Christine. Not being afraid of violent murderous stalkers does not mean that you are enlightened. It means one of two things: you are a master of Krav Maga and comfortable in the knowledge that you can take him out with your bare hands if he comes near you, or you are unaware of the fact that you SHOULD be afraid of people who murder other people and watch you while you’re undressing.

 

(I would read the hell out of a modern-day Phantom book in which Christine was a martial arts master! Someone write that immediately!)

 

Maranto apparently heard my complaints about La Boheme and, bless her heart, she took them as a challenge. Erik now has Christine sing "O mio babbino caro", which he refers to as "an Italian folksong". It's not an Italian folksong, of course, but another Puccini aria, this time from the operetta Gianni Schicchi, and one of the most popular pieces of soprano repertoire in the world (well, you know, in the modern day now that it's actually been written). It's an entirely lovely piece (if you haven't ever heard it, give it a quick listen!), but I can't appreciate it while I'm busy spending all my time wondering how Erik time-traveled to 1917 to learn it. 

 

Like the Greek myth earlier, however, it's a lovely symbolic echo to accompany the Phantom story; the aria is sung by a young girl begging her father to allow her to marry the young man she loves or else face her killing herself, which parallels Christine's struggle in the original novel to escape to Raoul as well as Erik's role as her surrogate father. Of course, it doesn’t make any sense in this book, but I’ll take it while it’s here.

 

We've known it was coming practically the entire book, but on page 151 the Raoul castigation arrives in force and it's every bit as ridiculous as you were probably expecting. I'm just going to quote Erik's self-pitying inner monologue so you can revel in the full glory of the name-calling, generalizing and character assassination going on:

 

"As much progress as Erik had made with accepting that Christine was not his, it was still difficult for him to speak of her marrying that pretentious Vicomte. Christine did not love him; very well, he was resigned to that. But to lose her to that otiose boy, the rich coddled spoiled nobleman who could care less about Christine's passion for music...all right, fine, Erik would have to admit that he treated her reasonably well, but what kind of life would Christine have with him? She would be catered to by servants and have all the luxuries that came with noble status (that is, if the Chagny parents did not disown their son for marrying a singer), but what of her soul? Her lovely, unsullied, lonely soul that needed such care - would it be healthy, living such a monotonous, unmusical life? Any life Christine might have with the Vicomte is ten times better than any life you might offer her! The snide remark slithered into his mind, but he ignored it. Of course he was bitter; he hated that boy simply for his cavalier attitude towards Christine's love of music and, all too often, her thoughts and beliefs. And, oh yes, there was the fact the boy had made multiple attempts on Erik's life. That was a bit irritating."

 

Jesus god, where do you start? With the assumption that wealth automatically equates with being a bad person, or the hilarious about-face a few sentences later where the fact that Raoul might lose said wealth is also used as a reason that he's a bad choice? With the bewildering repeated assertion that Raoul doesn't care about Christine's love of music (or anything else about her), despite the fact that nothing in either Leroux's or Lloyd Webber's version of the story has ever suggested anything of the kind, or the flip implication that because Erik loves music more, he must be the only person with a worthwhile personality here? With the attempt to pretend he gives a shit about Christine's personal desires, or the immediate sidestep where he goes on to whine that it's not her decision, it's that it's Raoul that really gets him, even though he has literally no frame of reference for Raoul outside of her relationship with him and hates him purely and simply because of that relationship? With the hilarious complaint about Raoul's attempts to kill him, which are not only nonexistent (unless you're counting the swordfighting scene from the 2004 film, I guess, but Raoul intentionally let him live in that, so it's not a great example) but would also be pretty fucking justified in self-defense? I think my personal favorite is the struggle over what kind of life would be better for Christine, which for some reason does not in any way involve Christine's decisions or what kind of life she might want or decide it's worthwhile to pursue. Thank god Erik is here to make sure she doesn't have to decide what she wants on her own.

 

But y'all have heard all this before. It goes on for a few more pages, with Christine timorously (but not very vigorously) trying to defend Raoul and Erik ranting on until she's been cowed into agreement. Lovely.

 

Speaking of Raoul, he's still not around, and I still don't understand why not! Everyone here seems very concerned that Raoul will send the police after them if he thinks she's being mistreated, but no one seems to think it's weird that he hasn't already sent the police after them BECAUSE THIS GUY PREVIOUSLY KIDNAPPED AND THREATENED HER, AND ALSO IS WANTED FOR MURDER, SO POLICE SHOULD BE HERE EVEN IF CHRISTINE WERE AT HOME NOT MAKING ABSOLUTELY NO SENSE. Is this a post-apocalyptic story, and at the end we'll find out that everyone other than the two of them is actually dead? What the HELL is going on?

 

Once we've established how much we should all hate Raoul, we move on to the usual encore about how great Erik is, starting with the by-now exhaustingly trite reminder that Erik is actually super duper hot other than the facial deformity and everyone should get as moist as possible whenever he arrives. Then, lyrics from "Music of the Night". How fabulous.

 

Aubade and Aftermath

 

Christine finally goes home, where Raoul quite sensibly doesn't believe anything she says about how everything was fine and persists in trying to figure out if anything terrible happened to her (the cad, burn him). His butler is also condescending to her when she shows up on the doorstep. Woe, how could she ever have thought she'd be happy here? As usual, despite the drowning reams of inner monologuing Christine spent on telling us every tiny permutation of emotions regarding Erik, the fact that she supposedly loves Raoul is glossed over with lightning speed and she has no difficulty whatsoever ignoring it.

 

In possibly the most unintentionally hilarious exchange of the novel, Raoul says, "When you narrate all this stuff he gave you and said, it sounds a lot like he's trying to buy you," which is EXACTLY what Erik has been doing the entire time. But, of course, Christine instead says NO YOU'RE THE EVIL PERSON WHO WANTS TO BUY ME, which leaves Raoul (and the reader) more confused than when we started. I guess because Raoul has more money... even though apparently he doesn't, judging from the opulent splendor of Erik's quarters and gifts? Your guess is as good as mine.

 

And after spending what feels like ten gazillion zillion pages in Erik's underground bachelor pad of sick riches and silken luxury, where things like enormous, intricately carved gemstones and perfectly trimmed out tuxedos are apparently the order of every day, Christine's response to Raoul's house is to think it's all flamboyant and vulgar for showing off how rich the family is. It's not tasteful like Erik's place! After the extreme emphasis on how rich Erik apparently is (not that she ever says he's rich, he just has oodles of luxurious things for no apparent reason and can always have whatever he wants), the excoriation of Raoul for displaying wealth is baffling. You just spent a whole bunch of time telling us that having access to fancy things was sexy and a great quality in a potential romantic partner! And what are we supposed to be imagining in the decor here anyway, gold-plated neon-colored wealth flamingos? The de Chagnys ain't new money, dear.

 

Christine releases what feels like a Greatest Hits of Bad Phantom Stories album into the wild here. It includes such popular tracks as "He's Suffered So He Deserves Me More Than You", "I'm All He Has So I'm Obligated To Love Him", and the international smash hit "He's a Nice Person and All Allegations Against Him Are Just Bad Press".

 

Unfortunately, Maranto (perhaps sensing that nothing that was going on made any sense?) made a final desperation move here that seriously spoiled what was left of the pudding. It is revealed that Raoul and Christine have had sex - once, during the events of Leroux's story. While it was consensual at the time, Christine now decides that she hates him for it and accuses him of taking advantage of her frightened emotional state at the time to get into her pants. It's painfully shoehorned in here at the very end, it's only present to force the audience to realize what a heinous bastard Raoul must be, and the unattractive irony of presenting Raoul as a manipulative predator while she's busy mooning over Erik hardly even needs to be brought up. It uses sexual abuse as a quick plot point without engaging with it while sweeping other sexual abuse (lest we forget that someone definitely did try to blackmail a woman into marrying and presumably having sex with him here, and it wasn’t Raoul) under the rug. I want to yell about it more, but instead I keep finding myself closing my eyes and lying down on my desk. I don't even care anymore..

 

Christine returns to Erik, as we all knew she would, and a final scene that exists only to prolong things for everyone involves her giving Erik a cathartic confession of her childhood sorrows in regards to the death of her father. It's not without impact, but it doesn't add anything, is awkwardly placed in the narrative, and, let's be real, we are all just about running on empty at this point.

 

Finally, there's some bad poetry - like, seriously bad, you don't even know, it starts with the line "my angel, you lie imprisoned in the pits of hell" and it's all downhill from then on - and we're finally finished. The author also includes a glossary of the musical terms used throughout the book, which is a nice touch.

 

What's most interesting about this is that it's sort of Distilled Fanfiction(TM). Almost every tired trope, bad plot device, and clearly-missed-the-point subtext that you find in fiction written about the Phantom story by modern fans repeats the same ideas, making this a kind of easy first-time primer for everything I see over and over again. It's interesting as a kind of cultural artifact, a collection port for the ideas that large numbers of modern viewers came away with after seeing the 2004 film: the importance of the woman not as a character but as a reward, the class backlash against Raoul but the simultaneous worship of aristocracy and wealth as romantic qualities, and the entitlement of the sufferer to everything and anything he wants regardless of his behavior. It's a hymn to all the writers who subconsciously identify with Erik and therefore go out of their way to try to reward and soothe him, striking back at anyone who opposes him as if they were being personally attacked.

 

It's not a good book, but oh, man, is it ever a book that gives you a very clear picture of literary trends.

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