Sunday, August 2, 2009

Erik is NOT Dead

This, my friends, is Gaston Leroux, 19th century Paris journalist. I have a lot of respect for this man, and not only because, like me, he's beefy, bespectacled and blessed with a preponderance of puffy pompadourish hair. He's also the author of probably one of the best books I've read this year: Phantom of the Opera.

This is not, you besotted ones, the Phantom made popular by Andrew Lloyd Weber and Michael Crawford. This is not the phantom with the dinnerware on his face and the character depth of a mud puddle. This is the book that gives the phantom feeling, Christine Daae a soul and a mind and, frankly, makes the Vicomte de Chagny into kind of an impretuous, foppish dandy while the real hero of the story -- the Persian, a mysterious fellow from the Phantom's past who doesn't actually get a name -- is cut out of the musical entirely.

Do yourselves a favor, Phantom fans. Read the book. You'll get a lot more out of Christine's character, for one. She's such a soggy heroine in the musical, all fainting and nebbishness and no brains at all. In the book she's a rather strong woman who faces an incredibly difficult moral dilemma, and passes it.

You'll get a lot more out of the Phantom, too, and find out that behind the waxy persona, the schizophrenic mind, the dreamer, the composer of Don Juan Triumphant, that you basically have a normal guy who figures out in the end that it's not the having that counts, but the wanting.

And can I tell you what, this book has something the musical will never have -- exposition. I suppose the musical is written, in a way, for people already familiar with the story. Unforutnately, it's a crippled version of the story that leaves out a lot of the explanations. I know, it's the vogue these days to leave things up to the imagination, let the reader or viewer -- or soppy love-story lover -- to fill in the details. I like it when an author is in control and fills in the details for me. I like seeing how they all fit the story. Leaving things up to the imagination is fine to a point, but once and a while, explain something for heaven's sake.

Don't get me wrong. I love the musical. It's a fine story in its own right. But it's not really Leroux's phantom. If you love the musical, do yourself a favor and read the book.

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