The Phantom of the Opera – a New Look at an Old Story

When I arrived at the idea of writing ‘Disfigured’, my book about the relationship between Sylvie, a private cook, and  Erik, AKA the Phantom, I had three important premises that I felt strongly about.  First, I knew I did not want to write about any male character that was, shall we say, not exactly human.  So no vampires, no werewolves, no time-traveling from the past or future, no ghosts, no superpowers.  I just wanted my good bad guy (or bad good guy) to be a man.  Albeit a very clever, even brilliant, man.

At the time I was writing my book, I happened to stop in to a large bookstore, and while browsing the aisles, was startled to see that an entire long row of book shelves, hundreds of books, in fact, were dedicated to what the store called “Supernatural Romance”.  I’m certain she had no idea what Pandora’s Box she was opening when Stephenie Meyer wrote ‘Twilight’, but we sure know now!  It made me feel even more strongly that I wanted to go against that grain.  And after all, Erik spends a lot of time and effort in the Phantom of the Opera story trying to convince people that he is, in fact, supernatural.

The second thing I felt, and still feel, strongly about is that Erik and Christine do not belong together; they are completely wrong for each other, and when Christine marries Raoul, she is making the right choice for her age and nature.  I realize that there are many phans out there who feel otherwise, but if you take away the romance of the story, and look at what you actually have, they would never have been happy together.  Would Erik really be able to trust a girl who sneaked up on him and pulled off his mask without asking permission?  Who gave him away in front of an entire theatre audience?  Even more difficult to imagine going well would be their wedding night.  Non, non, non!

So who would be right for Erik?  What would she be like?  Thinking about this, I created Sylvie Bessette, cook.  Her insatiable curiosity makes it impossible for her to stay away from Erik, and by forcing herself into his reclusive life, they become friends.  I really wanted Sylvie to be a heroine, to be strong in her own right, and brave enough to rescue the man she loves from certain disaster.  I also thought it would be interesting for Sylvie, in her unwitting part of the love triangle, to be a little obsessed, not quite so violently as Erik becomes in his obsession with Christine, but obsessed nevertheless.  It helps her to understand him.

The third thing was not to have explicit scenes of sex.  I wanted my book to be read by anyone, and not everyone wants to read a book with explicit sex.  I took for my model a series of mysteries that I am enormously fond of, the Amelia Peabody series by the late writer, Elizabeth Peters.  I love that series, and a few of my paperback volumes are literally falling apart (I suppose that could partly be blamed on my tendency to read them while in the bath).  Peters’ heroine and her husband, Amelia Peabody Emerson and Professor Radcliffe Emerson (he hates his first name, by the way) have a passionate marriage, with plenty of great sex, but it is only hinted at, never detailed.  I liked that approach – you never become sidetracked from the detective activities going on, and there is nothing wrong with a bit of modesty now and then.  It is refreshing.  If you have not read this series, I recommend it.  It is a long one; perhaps 20 books in total, following the Emersons through the years as they excavate in Egypt of the 1800s and solve murders as they go along.  You will learn quite a bit about Egyptology while you are at it!