“The Opera ghost really existed” claims Gaston Leroux in the prologue to his Gothic mystery novel, The Phantom of the Opera, published between September 23, 1909 to January 8, 1910.
The novel takes the reader through the lives of Christine Daaé and the tormented Palais Garnier by the faceless Phantom. The Opera Ghost’s tragic tale lies in the fact that he was born with a disfigured skeletal face which not even his mother could bear. She gives him away to a travelling circus, thus, after a lonely life Erik ends up living in the lairs of the Opera. Erik, beguiles the virginal Christine through his gift of music while connivingly sabotaging the prima donna, Carlotta. Christine enraptured by her Angel of Music, is kidnapped and held hostage by him into the deep lair of the Paris Opera House. Because of the lack of any affection all through his life, the masked Phantom is immediately drawn to the young singer. The macabre tale in the end tells the readers about the death of the Phantom due to a broken heart.
Like most novels in the Romantic and Victorian era were serially published in periodicals, The Phantom of the Opera too was introduced in this manner. Roman Noir, or black novels were popular in the continent much before the sheltered English society was introduced to Gothic literature. The widespread popularity of this story is perhaps best credited to Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, who turned it into one of the most beloved musicals of this generation. Later, Webber’s musical took to the silver screen starring the Gerard Butler as the enigmatic Phantom and Emmy Rossum as Christine.
The story shares similarities with Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame(1831), wherein Quasimodo, the isolated hunched-back bell tower ringer falls in love with the youthful gypsy Esmeralda. While the Phantom lives in solitude, deep in the lairs of the Palais Garnier in Paris, Quasimodo lives in isolation in the bell towers of the Notre Dame de Paris. Perhaps it would be right to say that even J.R.R. Tolkien’s Gollum is once such character, minus the lady love.
What perhaps makes the Phantom’s story of unrequited love more plausible than ever is the fact that the universe stories take place in legitimate locations which exist even today. It is impossible for anyone who has read The Phantom of the Opera to take a stroll down Paris and disbelieve whatever they read. The Phantom does exist.