When it comes to my book collection, my favorite book of all time is "The Phantom of the Opera" by Gaston Leroux. When I was younger, one of my fondest memories of one of my grandmothers was when she gave me a pile of books from when she was my age. One of these books was "The Phantom of the Opera." The book was an antique even at that time, but it was so cool to have a piece of my grandmother in that book. The binding was worn and the pages had a distinct smell, but in many ways that only added to "special-ness" of the novel. It even had pictures from various play performances! Along with the special factor the book offered when my grandma gave it to me, I also immediately fell in love with the characters and the overall complexity of the story. My friends make fun of me because I root for the phantom whenever we watch the movie, but in some aspects I understand him much more than Christine or the Raoul.
Not many people understand the motivating drives behind the Phantom's actions. Although these are completely my own theories of the character, I should also mention that it has been a while since I've gotten the chance to reread the novel, most of these insights are based on the movie's interpretation. So without further ado, here are my views on why the Phantom (Erik) should be seen as the hero in the story.
Starting from the beginning, Erik was brought up in a troubled environment. Due to his disfigured face, he was brought up by a travelling circus and was surrounded by people who called him the spawn of Satan. The only way he was ever treated like a normal person was when he covered his face from the world. After a long period of time in this environment, he finally had enough and decided to take actions into his own hands and escape the prison he was in. Once he escaped, he hid in the sewers of the opera house and quickly learned the ins and outs of the building without being caught. To his surprise, he sees Christine as a child who has recently lost both of her parents and believes her father will send her an angel to help guide her. Erik quickly empathizes with her because he too is sad and alone. In order to keep this relationship alive and have someone who can understand him, he hides himself away as to not jeopardize this relationship and indirectly becomes Christine's guardian angel, the angel of music.
Erik then finds himself in a role where he must learn the trade and skills offered in the opera house in order to keep Christine as a friend. I use the word "friend" loosely, but when you've never really had a positive relationship in your life, you make do with what you have available. When Erik devotes his life to Christine's interests, he learns all that he can to help her along the way. He quickly realizes that the more praise she receives from his teaching efforts, the more often she reports to him and wants to be around him. Although most people would call it an obsession, he falls in love with her after some time and rightfully so. He had spent every waking minute helping her and in many ways they become one person. This is where he can "place her under a trance" because he knows her so well because he has been watching her for the majority of his life. With this being said however, whereas the Phantom began seeing Christine as a friend who eventually matured into a romantic desire, Christine began seeing Erik as a guardian angel who eventually matured into becoming the spirit of her father. Although there are very deep connections she has with the phantom, they will never be in a sexual manner, simply the manner you would have with a father figure.
As time goes by, Christine begins to get more attention from admirers including an old childhood friend, Raoul who was a part of Christine's life before Erik was in the picture. Raoul falls for Christine's talent and it breaks Erik's heart to see her go toward a "complete stranger" who was only interested in Christine because of her talents, the talents that Erik had invested in her. As she gets more and more distant, Erik reaches a level of desperation. If Christine is no longer in his life, what has his life added up to? A lot of people think it is because he is some super jealous guy who hates seeing her with another man and although that is partially true, I believe it is also due to him realizing that he might lose the only friend he has every had in his life and she has made him who he is today. If she is not there anymore, what is left but a child who was abused by many people and was forced to wear a mask to the world, further drawing himself away from everyone else. You would become desperate too if it meant keeping your best friend instead of traveling through the world alone, being hated by everyone.
I think it is also important to mention the phantom's unbelievable levels of mental thinking. He had managed to live in an opera house for more than 20 years without being noticed and even had the managers paying him a salary for basically not doing anything. He was able to create a palace in the sewers and made secret passage ways going throughout the entire building. Multiple times people tried to follow him through these passages, but only came up short in a dead end or a booby trap. In the book Raoul tries to follow Erik into the sewers and finds him in the room full of mirrors. Whereas this could be mind numbing to begin with because it was impossible to find a way out, the Phantom added an additional psychological element and placed a tree with a noose in the center of the room so the mirrors would reflect it and create a forest of nooses. I don't know about you, but that would terrify me! To finalize the statement of his brilliance, he was able to construct his own play, Don Juan Triumphant. In the book, it says Erik plays a section of his opera following his unmasking at the hands of Christine Daaé, who is stunned by the power of the music. As she describes it, the music takes the listener through every detail of suffering of "the ugly man," taking her into the abyss of the wretched torment and misery Erik has experienced in his life. The piece makes Pain divine. At the end, the piece takes a rapid ascent out of misery whirling up into a triumphant and victorious flight... as Ugliness, lifted on the wings of love, dared to look Beauty in the face. (Thank you Wikipedia for that reference).
Just by being able to take his terrible life and then strike up the courage to show his real face to Christine is a symbol of bravery. All he has ever known in his life has been hate and yet he still lets Christine leave with Raoul so that he can face the world on his own stage. It never says what happened to the Phantom after Christine left him, but we know that he always loved her for helping him see the good in the world and helped form him into the man he became. The movie version even ends where he escapes into the world without his mask and still lays a rose on Christine's grave after she is long gone. That is pure love. Ladies and gentleman, I give you the REAL unsung hero!
By no means am I saying that killing people with nooses is alright in any world, but it can be understood by seeing the world that he came from. The noose was actually the only thing in his life that freed him from the traveling circus in the first place. And that is my super long post of the week :) I still feel like I did not serve the Phantom enough justice, but maybe I began to shed some light on one of the most misunderstood book characters of all time. It is truly amazing what a book can do and I look forward to reading more soon!