Since Gaston Leroux first wrote Le Fantôme de l'Opéra in 1911, there have been any number of spin-offs, sequels, prequels, and interpretations that have by now overshadowed the original book. For convenience's sake these can be arranged into books, musicals, and movies.

All are at least loosely based on Leroux's original, but aside from that it's very difficult to say what they all have in common, because they all differ so widely. Some take place in London or a fictional opera house rather than the Palais Garnier; in some, Raoul has his name and character changed or is relegated to a minor role; in one, the Phantom isn't even deformed. Nevertheless, here they are:


Most of these are really bad and read like the soppy romance fantasies of teenage girls. The exception would be Phantom, which is insanely popular among fans and only moderately bad.

  • The original. Was originally written in French as a sort of Gothic horror/mystery/romance sort of deal. As the whole thing is available above for your perusal, I won't say more, except that it's interesting to note that it's never been adapted with any shred of faithfulness besides the 1925 silent film. And even that changed the ending.
  • Phantom by Susan Kay is widely considered to be the best book aside from the original (and some might argue that it is better than the original, but I don't know what kind of crack they're smoking). It traces Erik's life from his birth in a small town near Rouen to his death in Paris. The book begins with a section told from the point of view of his mother, who is so horrified by his ugliness that she doesn't really act as much of a mother at all. From there it traces a wandering path, from a stint as a freak show exhibit in a Gypsy fair to apprenticeship under a master mason in Italy to the court of the Persian Shah. The familiar storyline doesn't kick in until the end, and Ms. Kay butchers it so badly that it ruins the rest of the book. Phantom is a fun enough read, but it tends to provoke love-or-hate reactions and the ending is a mockery of the original.
  • The Phantom of Manhattan by Frederick Forsyth was originally designed as a sequel to the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. I myself have never read it, but judging by the reactions of those who have it's a good thing this sequel was never put to stage. Erik survives, he and Christine journey to America, and everything goes downhill from there. From what I've heard, this one's only worth reading for the horrified-amusement factor.
  • Night Magic by Charlotte van Allen is a modern retelling of the story, combined in a way with the story of Beauty and the Beast. Think "teen romance novel."
  • Progeny by Becky Meadows is, like Night Magic, written rather like a fan fiction. It picks up where the story left off, and as the title might suggest, involves Christine bearing Erik's child. Aside from Phantom, it's considered the best of the fanfic-style books, although considering the laughable cliche that passes for a plot, the hacked-up bodice-ripper writing, and the utter lack of copy editing, I shudder to think what the others are like. Think "self-published."
  • Phantasy by Becky Meadows is the sequel to Progeny and generally agreed to be worthy of the trash heap. Christine is reincarnated into a 20th century ditz, Raoul is reincarnated into a whiny bastard, Erik's spirit follows them around, and the writing sucks. Everything I've heard about it is second-hand, but after reading Progeny I'm inclined to keep it that way. Think "utter shit."
  • Journey of the Mask by Nancy Hill Pettengill is another fanficcy-type sequel, which I have never read. If the others are anything to judge by, though, I'd skip it.


Yeah, musicals. Plural. There's more than one, believe it or not. In fact, there are probably more in existance than are listed here, but they're extremely hard to find information on--there are one or two independent German productions, one based directly on the Leroux novel that was staged shortly after the book's publication and disappeared, and God knows how many independent attempts that never got anywhere.

  • Ken Hill's Phantom of the Opera is the first Phantom musical on which there's any substantial information. It's not well known and rarely put on, but songs like While Floating High Above make you wonder why it's so obscure. More information is available at this URL:
  • Maury Yeston and Arthur Kopit also have a musical version. The music is good, if a bit gratuitously cheery (it reminded me at first of Disney's Beauty and the Beast for some reason), although great liberties have been taken with the plot and Erik's Oedipus complex is rather creepy. This musical was also made into a TV miniseries, which is listed under movies.
  • Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera... what is there to say? It's the big daddy. The famous one. The most profitable entertainment venture of all time, the second longest-running musical on Broadway. Good music, excellent design by the late Maria Bjornson, and some neat special effects. Quite a spectacle indeed. Go ahead, line Lord Webber's pocket and go pay the $100 or so to see this show if you haven't already. It'll be a well-spent $100. And if you're unwilling to shell that out, at least try out the cast recording.


This is where there are the most versions, and the most variations. From the 1925 silent film to the upcoming 2004 movie version of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, from good to bad to uglier than Erik's face, from the 1880s to the 1970s to weird time travel plots. Chronological order.

  • Lon Chaney, the master of faces, took on the role of the Phantom in 1925. If you detest silent films, skip it, but otherwise it's worth watching even if you have no interest in Phantom and are only reading this node as an idle distraction. Chaney's makeup is superb--rumor has it that women fainted in the theaters when it was first shown--and aside from a tacked-on, disappointing ending, it follows Leroux's original book closely. Widely considered a masterpiece of gothic horror.
  • The 1943 movie starring Claude Raines won an Oscar for cinematography, as it was filmed in lush Technicolor. The focus was more on the look and sound than on plot, however--not only does the Phantom play second violin to Christine and Raoul, but apparently he got his disfigurement through acid scarring instead of deformity-from-birth as in other versions. A big round of WTF, but worth watching for the cinematography.
  • The Phantom of the Paradise, a 1970s disco version, is absolutely laughable if looked at as a Phantom story, and could possibly be intriguing if viewed as a satire of '70s glitter-rock culture. William Finley plays a Phantom who haunts the disco of a smarmy music producer, in what's probably closer to the Rocky Horror Picture Show than the Phantom of the Opera.
  • In 1988, possibly as an attempt to ride on the publicity of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, Robert Englund played Erik in this movie. What do you expect from the guy who played Freddy Krueger--it's a gory, low-budget slasher movie, but there are some truly beautiful moments like the graveyard scene, and the movie doesn't really deserve the bad reputation it's earned. Plus the score is beautiful, and the movie itself is a whole lot of fun for fans of cheap slasher fare. My favorite Phantom movie to date.
  • 1990 brought a TV miniseries based on the Yeston-Kopit musical, with Charles Dance as the Phantom and Teri Polo as Christine. Erik in this one is a bit too kind and gentle, perhaps to counteract the gratuitous violence of Englund's version, and the plot is altered significantly, but Teri Polo plays a good Christine and one big bonus is that it was filmed at the actual Paris Opera House of the time, the Palais Garnier. So of course the sets are gorgeous. It also employs the music of Gounoud's opera Faust to great effect.
  • In 1998 Dario Argento directed an ill-fated hack-up of the Phantom plot starring Julian Sands, with his daughter Asia Argento as Christine. This time the Phantom is not deformed--and what's more, he was raised by telepathic rats and likes them a little bit too much. More slasher fare, with gratuitous sex thrown in, but this time without much redeeming value except to fans of Argento and his in-jokes.
  • In late 2004 Andrew Lloyd Webber put out a movie version of his Phantom musical. Unfortunately, a lot of what makes the musical great was undermined by a "young and sexy" aesthetic: Bjornson's design was trashed in favor of glitzy (and historically inaccurate) costumes, and the cast are all indeed young and sexy, but they can't sing. The sets are gorgeous though, and the music's the same, just not performed very well.

The Gaston Leroux book, Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical, Phantom by Susan Kay, the Lon Chaney movie, the Robert Englund movie, the Charles Dance TV miniseries

Not Recommended: (read: avoid if at all possible)
The Phantom of Manhattan, Phantom of the Paradise, the Dario Argento movie

edit 30 November 2004, to update some information, esp. on Progeny and the silent movie.
second edit 1 March 2005, mostly for the new movie.

The Phantom Story

Some stories people can't seem to leave alone. They're returned to time after time. They're read. They're written about. Murals are created based on their ideas. Songs are sung based on their emotions. Then the stories are dived into again, people's hunger never being satiated.

One of these stories is The Phantom of the Opera (originally Le Fantôme de l'Opéra) by Gaston Leroux. Phantom has been adapted many times. A simple search yields approximately 150 books, 25 movies, and cast recordings of two stage musicals. Many of these adaptations are good, and well worth the time it takes to read, watch, or listen to them.

After having read, seen, and listened to many things based on Phantom I have decided that the first two I ever became acquainted with are still my favorites: the original novel and the musical that is by far the most popular telling of the story, more successful than all of the others combined.

I am referring of course to the musical The Phantom of the Opera, written by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Richard Stilgoe, and Charles Hart. Lloyd Webber first conceived the notion of adapting the story after running across a copy of the novel in a secondhand bookstore. He read it and decided that it would make a perfect premise for the romantic show he'd been wanting to write. He was not the first to think that it would make a great musical (there were at least two other musicals based on Phantom at the time Lloyd Webber's version opened), but he was the one who made it into the story it is now.

Although Lloyd Webber's Phantom took many liberties with the original book, many facets of the story are still in place. Some parts of the show are even an improvement over the novel. Over the course of this essay we will take a look at the two versions and compare some aspects that are key to both versions: point of view, the characterization of the Phantom, and the role music plays in the storytelling. Hopefully when we are finished, a clearer picture will be formed as to which is the greater version of The Phantom of the Opera.

The Opera Ghost Really Existed: The Use of Realism in the Novel and Musical

The novel opens with Gaston Leroux assuring us that the Opera Ghost (the Phantom) was, indeed, real. He spends the prologue explaining that, after exhaustive research, he wrote The Phantom of the Opera, a history of actual events. The book is in fact heavily based on real occurrences. The character of the mysterious Phantom was inspired by a tale, told among the actual ballet girls of the opera about a ghost that roamed the corridors of the opera house. Leroux took this idea and developed it into Erik. Another instance in the book, the Phantom making the chandelier fall, almost really happened.

In 1896 a counterweight from the chandelier in the actual Paris opera house fell into the auditorium resulting in a death. It was caused by a fire in the attic that melted through the steel cable holding down the weight. While writing Phantom Leroux remembered this, and wondered what would have happened if the entire chandelier had fallen. In his book we find out, as the Phantom sends the chandelier plummeting, killing one person and injuring numerous others.

Another example of the realism of the book is highlighted by the Palais Garnier, the opera house where the book (and every adaptation that I know of except the Lloyd Webber musical) takes place. Box five, the box Leroux chose as the Phantom's private box, is large and remote, stuck away in the corner with a very good view of the stage, making it a logical choice as Erik's box. It is also near stairs going both up and down so that the Phantom can quickly disappear from the box at a moment's notice. Leroux clearly did his research.

The musical tries to emulate the book by sending us back in time after a short prologue, much like we are sent back in time at the beginning of the novel. The show opens with an auction that takes place many years after the opera house has fallen into disrepair. Several items from the opera house are auctioned off, including a monkey-shaped music box sold to Raoul, the empty-headed love interest of the story. He reminisces about it as something "she" has often spoken of. We later learn that he is referring to Christine, the singer with whom both he and Erik (the Phantom) were in love.

The next item is a broken chandelier. The auctioneer explains that the chandelier is somehow related to the Phantom. The chandelier is lit, and with a flash of light it rises to the ceiling and the stage is turned into the splendid Opera Populair of old, where the show takes place.

Leroux continues to try to make his novel seem less like a novel and more like a history book by turning the narrative over to other people several times over the course of the book.

There is a character in the novel who is not in the show who plays an important part in storytelling. The Persian is an old acquaintance of Erik's who goes down into the Phantom's lair with Raoul at the end of the story. The Persian takes over the narrative for approximately 45 pages of the book.

This character was replaced in the show by Madame Giry, a box keeper in the book, who in the show has been transformed into the ballet mistress. She has a mysterious past connection with Erik that is never fully explained. It is she who tells Raoul how to get into the Phantom's lair.

Because of the use of such tools as these, the book maintains a more realistic feel. The musical, however, still does enough to maintain the audience's interest and attention.

The Man Behind the Mask: The Character of Erik, the Phantom of the Opera

Another interesting difference between the two versions is how the character of Erik is portrayed. In both he starts out as a mysterious specter, a mischievous ghost. As we begin to learn more about him, he is revealed as a genius disfigured at birth, living a tormented life of seclusion. There are, however, very distinct differences, the most evident being the level of cruelty displayed by the character.

Near the end of the novel Erik forces Christine to make a decision. She has to choose between marrying him and blowing up the entire opera house with everyone inside. In order to save all of the others, Christine chooses the Phantom. Erik, however, still refuses to release Raoul and the Persian, both of whom he has imprisoned.

The musical contains a similar situation. Raoul has just arrived at the Phantom's lair, and begs Erik to let him in. Erik obliges and as soon as Raoul enters, the Phantom ensnares him with a lasso. Christine has to choose between marrying Erik and letting Raoul die.

They are very similar situations, but the book's Erik goes farther, exhibiting far more cruelty. The room in which Raoul and the Persian were imprisoned, a torture chamber that Erik designed, also displays this ruthlessness. The chamber is essentially a hall of mirrors that can be heated to excessive temperatures. The heat drives the occupants of the room mad as they hallucinate. There is also a window in the ceiling so that the torture can be watched by the Phantom.

The Phantom of the book is very like the Phantom of the show, only taken to another emotional level. The musical's Phantom's lower degree of mercilessness makes him a much more human character. This is one of the main reasons for the show's success. We can relate to Lloyd Webber's Erik, and we feel sorry for him. The unappreciated genius. The slave to love. Leroux's Phantom's cruelty makes him hard to identify with. Nobody wants to admit to possessing the darker side that comes out so vividly in the novel's man behind the mask.

The Music of the Night: The Role of Music in the Story of the Phantom

It is true that the book is over-the-top emotionally. One might even call it a little bit cheesy. So why is the show so successful? The answer lies in the music. Music, when harnessed the right way, is the most emotional art form. A simple 2-5-1 chord progression, possibly the most-used chord progression in jazz, creates many emotions. The two chord, being minor, creates a dark feeling of anticipation. You know something good is coming. Moving to the five chord produces a feeling of longing for the resolution that is created when we move to the one chord. The anticipation, hunger, and relief created by this very simple chord progression is very powerful. The emotion created by the soaring strings and pounding organ of Andrew Lloyd Webber's score many times exceeds that of the simple jazz chords.

Because it is the story of an opera house, music plays an important role in The Phantom of the Opera. Making the stage show a musical gave Andrew Lloyd Webber a chance to write some of the music that is pivotal to the plot of book, specifically Don Juan Triumphant, the Phantom's opera. This gives us more insight into the character of Erik. However powerful books are, they can never successfully convey the raw power of music, which is at the heart of the Phantom's character.

<corny>If one ventures to the theater to see Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical, one only has to look around during the final scene to see the effect of the music. The eyes of audience members glisten with silent tears as the Phantom onstage sobs at the loss of Christine, the strings rising up to meet Erik's voice in one last despairing effort.</corny>

The book tries for this emotional effect but grossly overshoots, going past being touching, and into the realm of melodrama. Instead of being touching, it is tiresome. And thus is the power of the Angel of Music.

Because of the musical's powerful use of music and its very human Erik, the show is a more profound experience. You come away from it having felt true compassion for its main characters. The book, while accomplishing a very deep sense of realism, leaves you completely overwhelmed by its onslaught of heavy emotion. In an age in which subtlety is a virtue, the show reaches the modern day audience far better.

But see what you think. Read the book. See the show. (It's running on Broadway and London's West End, plus there's currently a national tour of the United States.) But don't stop there. Check out the other adaptations, because it's been adapted enough that there will always be one more book to read. One more movie to watch. One more play to see. One more chance to relive the Phantom story.

Works Cited

  • Charles Hart and Richard Stilgoe, The Phantom of the Opera (Libretto)
  • Gaston Leroux, The Phantom of the Opera, published by Signet Classic, 1987
  • Josefine Sjöqvist, "…and chandeliers" (, Opera Ghost
  • Michael Walsh, Andrew Lloyd Webber: His life and works, 1989

If I am the Phantom, it is because man's hatred has made me so... If I shall be saved, it will be because your love redeems me.

Classic silent horror movie, released in 1925. It was directed by Rupert Julian and produced by Carl Laemmle. The screenwriters included Elliott J. Clawson, Raymond L. Schrock, Bernard McConville, Jasper Spearing, Richard Wallace, Walter Anthony, Tom Reed, and Frank M. McCormack; the story is based on Gaston Leroux's celebrated novel. The stars included Lon Chaney as Erik, The Phantom, Mary Philbin as Christine Daaé, the magnificently mustachioed Norman Kerry as Vicomte Raoul de Chagny, and Arthur Edmund Carewe as Ledoux. 

The plot involves the terrible deeds of the infamous Phantom of the Paris Opera. He demands that only he can sit in Box 5 during performances, he lurks in the shadows and terrifies performers and stagehands at the opera, and he makes demands about who should be performing -- and if his whims aren't carried out, he's very likely to kill people. In fact, when the diva Carlotta is chosen to sing the female lead, over his preferred choice of the up-and-coming Christine, during the performance of "Faust," Erik actually cuts down the chandelier, which falls into the audience. And what of Christine? Her lightning-fast rise at the opera has been fueled by a being she calls an angel, who has been training her in her career. Her beau Raoul wants her to get married, but Christine is focused on her career and her precious angel -- who is, of course, the Phantom. After the disaster of the falling chandelier, Christine is entranced by the Phantom, and she follows him to his hidden lair deep below the opera house. Deeply put off by the mask he wears over his face, Christine is frightened of the Phantom, and he cautions her that she is never to touch the mask. Of course, her curiosity gets the better of her, and when she unmasks him, her would-be suitor is revealed as a skull-faced madman. Though furious with her, Erik allows her to return to the opera, but warns her she is never to see Raoul again.

But that ain't how True Love or horror movies work. Christine meets Raoul again at the Paris Opera's grand masquerade ball -- and the Phantom appears, too, costumed gloriously as the Red Death. They flee to the roof, where Christine confides what she knows about the Phantom, and Raoul makes plans for the two of them to escape to England, both unaware that the Phantom is eavesdropping. At the next performance, Erik kidnaps Christine from the stage, and Raoul and Ledoux, a member of the secret police, pursue them. They are tortured in Erik's secret dungeons, while Christine must face the deranged Phantom alone. Will anyone survive the mad rampage of the Phantom of the Opera?

She is singing to bring down the chandelier!

This film is best known -- quite justifiably so -- for its amazing makeup effects, created entirely by Chaney himself. The Man of 1000 Faces painted his eye sockets black, jammed a set of jagged fake teeth into his mouth, and used wires to pull his nose up and flatten it against his face, giving himself a distinctly skull-like appearance. The resulting makeup was painful for Chaney and genuinely horrifying for audiences in the '20s. It was said that moviegoers screamed, fainted, or fled the theater when Erik's face was revealed. In fact, it's likely that even his fellow castmates were surprised by how scary he looked -- he'd worked on the makeup design in private, and didn't debut it until the first day it was to be filmed.

But the film is also a great deal of fun to watch for reasons beyond Chaney's makeup. Early in the movie, there's a scene where some of the ballerinas are sharing gossip about the Opera Ghost, and the actresses are constantly on the move -- rushing up and down stairs in small groups, nervously spinning in place, dragging a hapless stagehand around with them. It was one of the funniest things I'd seen on film in a while -- a perfect piece of physical comedy and characterization enacted by an entire group of people. 

Even better is the masquerade ball. Up to this point, the movie had been in black-and-white, with various tints added to the screen for mood -- blue for nighttime, yellow for daytime, etc. But with the masquerade, the film switches to an early form of Technicolor, adding even more shock to the Phantom's appearance in his garish red costume. The later scene where he eavesdrops on Christine and Raoul on the roof was colored using a different process, with only his costume colored. The glorious horror of the Phantom's blood-red cape flapping in the wind over Paris is an awe-inspiring sight, and definitely not something you'll ever forget. 

My favorite piece of trivia about this movie: Producer Carl Laemmle took a vacation to France and actually met Gaston Leroux, who was working in the French film industry at the time. Leroux gave him a copy of his novel, and Laemmle read it in a single night and immediately bought the film rights to the book. 

Feast your eyes! Glut your soul on my accursed ugliness!

Watching the film


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