The Fascinating Phantom: His Power Over Us Grows Stronger Yet

Have you ever noticed that no one wants to write about Raoul, the Vicomte deChagny?  We can find a plethora of websites, fan fiction and information about the notorious ‘Opera Ghost’ of Phantom of the Opera fame, if we Google him.  But Raoul?  Not so much.  And it isn’t hard to see why.  Young, blond, white-bread handsome Raoul is a one-dimensional character.  He can beat Erik in a sword fight, but he could never out-maneuver him, and he certainly cannot hold our interest in the way Erik can, and always has.

What is it about him, anyway?  Most of his devoted fans are female, which makes sense because we all have a soft spot for a good anti-hero.  Gaston_Leroux_-_Le_Fantôme_de_l'OpéraI have to admit to finding him endlessly fascinating once I had seen the 2004 movie, featuring Gerard Butler as the Phantom.  And how could you not?

In truth, the Phantom is a very complex anti-hero, a character type that has appealed to women for generations.  He is both mesmerizing and dangerous, like a young Marlon Brando in a cape instead of a leather jacket. We like to imagine that we can tame him, we can give him the happiness he is seeking in order to become a better man.  One minute kind and tender, the next a raving maniac; brilliant and base, beautiful and ugly: it was these opposites in his nature that made me think of using a yin-yang symbol to close each chapter of my book, ‘Disfigured’.  It’s simplistic, admittedly, and yet very applicable.  Eventually I ended up actually writing in a real yin-yang symbol into the book, in the form of a little box where Erik keeps his pen nibs.

One particular Phantom fan site I have found, called Erik’s Dominion, sums all this up very nicely in the introduction.  This is, by the way, a clever and attractive site, so check it out if you are a Phantom fan or just curious about him.  Here is what she says about Erik, and which explains his appeal much better than I can do:

‘With Erik, his only crime is to be born different in ways that both mesmerize and horrify.  He can be at one moment both angelic and demonic.  With or without true love, Erik still remains Erik.  He is a prodigy repeatedly struggling against societies that boast of enlightenment yet still wallow in conformity and superstition.  Time and time again, he encounters cultures that pride themselves in being civilized while creating outcasts from their own intolerance for those who are different.  Oftentimes his abilities are exploited by those in power; he then becomes their convenient scapegoat and is condemned….  His story is about a yearning for love in spite of his differences.  By this, I do not mean only his physical differences but also his psychological, spiritual, and intellectual differences as well.

            ‘…Erik is an extremely gifted person whose abilities are almost godlike.  Yet in countless ways he is still all too human, a “mere mortal”.  He can be both frightening and vulnerable, macabre yet pathetically romantic.’

She definitely ‘gets’ Erik.  Of particular importance, I think, is taking the whole man into consideration, not just his physical self.  In my attempt to make Erik a three dimensional character in my book, I tried to do so.  For example, Erik is not in the least civilized.  He merely apes the behavior of the gentlemen he observes without their knowledge.  He knows how to dress like a gentleman, how to speak and write like a gentleman, but in fact, it is a façade, behind which exists a feral being.  And it never takes much provocation for the feral beast in him to emerge with a snarl.

Because of my affection for the ‘O.G.’, I gave him a happy ending in my book.  I don’t like the way he ends up in the original book by Gaston Leroux, and so I used the end of the Phantom movie to create a new beginning for him, with the help of my heroine, Sylvie.  In a way, Sylvie represents all the rest of us who find the Phantom irresistible.  She isn’t drawn to him in spite of herself, she is drawn to him because she sees beyond the mask to the man beneath.  The Phantom’s appeal will live on for years to come, and we will continue to enjoy the endless possibilities of his story and his life.