Tuesday, February 6, 2018

The Phantom of the Opera: Second Reading

Some books must surely be read more than once to get into all the layers it contains! On my first reading of Phantom about seven years ago, I was fascinated more by its gothic theme than by the grotesqueness of its back story. Only now on this second reading did I fully grasp the scary reality underneath the fantastic story; even more because it’s so relevant with the world we live now.

I don’t know if you are familiar with the story, but in short it was believed that a famous Opera House in Paris was haunted by a ghost. Not only demanding to be paid on regular basis, the Opera Ghost (OG) often created inexplicable accidents when the directors didn’t give him what he wanted. Many of the theatre crews have seen scary apparitions. One night a mediocre female singer suddenly became an angelic diva after receiving lessons from an angel of music. These incidents, in the age when superstitious was quite strong, only made the phantom of the opera more sensational.

However, does the phantom really exist? Or is it just a tasteless joke thrown by the resigned managers to prank their successors? We, readers, have actually been warned from the first through the prologue:

“The Opera ghost really existed. He was not, as was long believed, a creature of the imagination of the artists, the superstition of the managers, or a product of the absurd and impressionable brains of the young ladies of the ballet, their mothers,  the box-keepers, the cloak-room attendants or the concierge. Yes, he existed in flesh and blood, although he assumed the complete appearance of a real phantom; that is to say, of a spectral shade.”

Because the opera ghost was indeed a real person called Erik. He was born deformed with corpse-like appearance and—as Christine Daaé put it—smelled like death. It saddened me to read how his mother rejected him because of that. I could not imagine growing up deprived of love. Add to it degradation and humility Erik must have experienced from his youth; and in the place of a supposedly loving and genius man, stands a really hideous monster. So, whose fault is it, if many years later what that man thinks is only revenge? It is inevitable.

My thought when I finished this second reading was: what would have happened if Erik was accepted by the society? He might have built grand architecture and brought brilliant innovations to the opera house for its good. But look now what it gets? Almost a major destruction if an innocent young girl had not bravely and lovingly accepted him as a human being. How just a tiny gesture of affection could make such huge change!

Not just about Erik, I think the phantom of the opera also refers to the marginalized people who worked as fireman or other (seemingly) insignificant jobs at the theater. When Christine Daaé showed the bowels of the opera house to Raoul, she pointed to these firemen as “ghosts”. It seems to me that to the glorious upper world, those underground workers are ghosts—nonexistent and insignificant; ugly things that must be kept hidden and forgotten. How relatable it is with our real world!

5 of 5!


  1. Interesting...I missed those references to the firemen at the theater. I've been meaning to re-read this one, hopefully soon. Good review!

    1. Thanks Marian. I missed that too on first reading. Maybe because at that time I was still thrilled by the suspense.


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