Saturday, February 24, 2007

Recent reading

I finished 'Lord of the Rings' some time ago - it took me about 2 weeks to read it all again. After that, I read Gaston Leroux's "The Phantom of the Opera". It's a very lurid, pulpy novel, but a surprisingly good read. The film versions I've seen don't do justice to the violence and insanity of the story; they tend to sentimentalize the Phantom, and what past we're given isn't anything like the horror story in the novel. (He constructed torture chambers for the amusement of Persian potentates, and was responsible for a lot of horrific deaths.) At the same time, the Phantom had quite a sense of humour, which tended to come out most in his sarcastic letters, and he was very adept at playing mind games with his opponents.

If I were to film this novel, I'd put more of an emphasis on Christine, because she could be made a much more interesting heroine than she typically is. Usually, she's just Pearl Pureheart, fainting and screaming and drooping about in a white gown. But in the book, she's more active, and becomes almost a sort of partner with the Phantom, though not a very willing partner. They understand each other very well, maybe because she also had an uprooted childhood, and had to fend for herself from an early age. Anyway, she's not a mere victim. I don't know just what I'd do with Raoul de Chagny, though; you can't do without him, but there's not much to him. Maybe the book was smart to just leave his and Christine's fate to surmise, because though she obviously can't end up with the Phantom, Raoul is so pallid in comparison, it's hard to think of the two of them equalling a "happy ending".

Now I'm reading the "Gormenghast" trilogy. I remember trying and failing to read it a long time ago; I think I was just too young. I've heard good things about these books, and hopefully I won't be repeating the Philip Pullman disappointment of last year.


Blogger Ellie M said...

I LOVE Phantom of the Opera! I don't care for gothic horror fiction at all, but "Phantom" reads more like a mystery novel with spooky overtones -- something along the lines of "Hound of the Baskervilles." The Phantom himself is, as you say, not at all romanticized by Leroux but I found him oddly sympathetic all the same, poor blighter.

The musical is actually the most faithful adaptation of Leroux's story to date.

And I adore Christine. NONE of the various adaptations has done justice to her. She's one of the most appealing heroines I've ever encountered, equal parts compassion and pluck. I could actually believe 2 men would fight to the death over her.

2:26 pm  
Blogger Dr. Mabuse said...

Well, as you recommend it, I went to Blockbuster this afternoon and rented the musical - I read a synopsis, and I can see that they included a lot of episodes from the book, though switched around somewhat. And I felt much sympathy for the Phantom too! When I read his last interview with the Persian, I was actually in tears! There was so much pathos in it - he knows he has only a short time to live and he's pouring his heart out, but he still can't let anyone see his face, and he has to ask the Persian to look out the window as he's sobbing. That was really moving. But he was still insane; when he was pleading with Christine to love him, and saying he'd be so good if only she'd love him, it sounded very chillingly like the voice of a modern psychopath. That's the way they talk, and they believe it as they're saying it, too. I did laugh, though, when at the moment when he's got her captive, and the time is passing until the deadline when she has to agree to marry him or else... For one thing, he KNOWS she's going to refuse, so they're going to die, along with everyone else in the Opera House when he blows it up. And at a moment like this, he says, "Shall I show you some card tricks? Just to pass the time." Really, who couldn't warm up a bit to a character like that?

5:04 pm  
Blogger Ellie M said...

Oh yes, the poor old Phantom was nutty as a fruitcake, but it's strongly hinted that this was in part due to his loneliness and inability to find acceptance in society at large. If everyone I met recoiled from me in horror and disgust -- including my own MOTHER -- I'd end up a bit batty, too!

There's a poignant line at the end where the narrator speculates that had Erik only been handsome, or at least normal-looking, he'd have had the whole world at his feet. As it was, he was forced to hide his talent as well as his face, which would also contribute to his anguish and derangement.

An oddly touching story, and not at all typical of its genre. I think that's why it has endured so long.

9:58 am  

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