|Created by Gaston Leroux|
Creator Gaston Leroux
|Portrayed by See "Performers"|
Significant other Christine Daaé
|Aliases The Phantom of the Opera
The Angel of Music
the Red Death
The Trapdoor Lover
The Man's Voice
Le Mort Vivant
Occupation Maestro impresario architect illusionist ventriloquist contractor
First appearance Le Fantôme De L'Opéra (The Phantom of the Opera)
Movies The Phantom of the Opera
Played by Gerard Butler, Ramin Karimloo, Michael Crawford, Lon Chaney, Peter Jöback
Similar Christine Daaé, Viscount Raoul de Chagny, Madame Giry, Carlotta, Meg Giry
Erik (also known as The Phantom of the Opera, commonly referred to as The Phantom) is the title character from Gaston Leroux's novel Le Fantôme de l'Opéra (1910), best known to English speakers as The Phantom of the Opera. He is also the protagonist and antagonist of many film adaptations of the novel, including the 1925 film adaptation starring Lon Chaney, Sr., and Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical.
- Character history
- Yeston and Kopit
- The Canary Trainer
- The Angel of the Opera
- Eriks deformity
- Andrew Lloyd Webber musical
- Popular culture
In the original novel, few details are given regarding Erik's past, although there is no shortage of hints and implications throughout the book. Erik himself laments the fact that his mother was horrified by his appearance (causing him to run away from home at a young age), and that his father, a true master mason, never even saw him. The text also reveals that "Erik" was not, in fact, his birth name, but one that was given or found "by accident", as Erik himself says within the work. Leroux sometimes calls him "the man's voice". Erik refers to himself as "The Opera Ghost", "The Angel of Music", and attends a masquerade as the "Red Death" (evidently Erik is familiar with Edgar Allan Poe's short story "The Masque of the Red Death" (1842). Most of the character's history is revealed by a mysterious figure, known through most of the novel as The Persian or the Daroga, who had been a local police chief in Persia, following Erik to Paris; other details are discussed in the novel's epilogue (e.g., his birthplace is given as a small town outside of Rouen, France).
Born hideously deformed, he is a "subject of horror" for his family and as a result he runs away as a young boy and falls in with a band of gypsies, making his living as an attraction in freak shows, where he is known as "le mort vivant" ("the living dead"). During his time with the group Erik becomes a great illusionist, magician, and ventriloquist. His reputation for these skills and his unearthly singing voice spreads quickly, and one day a fur trader mentions him to the Shah of Persia.
The Shah orders the Persian to fetch Erik and bring him to the palace. The Shah-in-Shah commissions Erik, who proves himself a gifted architect, to construct an elaborate palace in Mazenderan. This is designed with so many trap doors and secret rooms that not even the slightest whisper would be considered private. The design itself carries sound to myriad hidden locations, so that one never knew who might be listening. At some point under the Shah's employment Erik is also a political assassin, using a unique noose referred to as the Punjab Lasso. The Persian dwells on the vague horrors that existed at Mazenderan rather than going in depth into the actual circumstances involved.
The Shah, pleased with Erik's work and determined that no one else should have such a palace, orders Erik blinded. Thinking that Erik could still make another palace even without his eyesight, the Shah orders Erik's execution. It is only by the intervention of the daroga (the Persian) that Erik escapes. Erik then goes to Constantinople and is employed by its ruler, helping build certain buildings in the Yildiz-Kiosk, among others. However, he has to leave the city for the same reason he left Mazenderan: he knows too much. He also seems to have traveled to Southeast Asia, since he claims to have learned to breathe underwater using a hollow reed from the "Tonkin pirates". By this time Erik is tired of his nomadic life and wants to "live like everybody else". For a time he works as a contractor, building "ordinary houses with ordinary bricks". He eventually bids on a contract to help with the construction of the Palais Garnier, commonly known as the Paris Opéra.
During the construction, Erik is able to make a sort of playground for himself within the Opera House, creating trapdoors and secret passageways throughout the theatre. He even builds himself a house in the cellars of the Opera where he could live far from man's cruelty. Erik has spent twenty years composing a piece entitled Don Juan Triumphant. In one chapter, after he takes Christine to his lair, she asks him to play her a piece from his masterwork. He refuses and says: "I will play you Mozart, if you like, which will only make you weep; but my Don Juan, Christine, burns." Eventually, after she has wrenched off his mask and seen his deformed face, he begins to play it. Christine says that at first it seems to be "one great awful sob", but then becomes alert to its nuances and power, as the music is able to convey to her the misery he has endured throughout his life and the hope he finally felt for love.
Upon its completion, Erik originally plans to go to his bed (which is a coffin) and "never wake up", but by the final chapters of the novel, during which Erik kidnaps Christine right from the stage during a performance, Erik expresses his wish to marry Christine and live a comfortable bourgeois life after his work has been completed. He has stored a massive amount of gunpowder under the Opera, and, should she refuse his offer, plans to detonate it. When she acquiesces to his desires in order to save herself, her lover Raoul (who, aided by the Persian, went looking for Christine and fell into Erik's torture chamber), and the denizens of the Opera, we find out that his part of the bargain was to take the Persian and Raoul above ground.
Erik does so with the Persian, but Raoul was kept "a hostage" and was "locked up comfortably, properly chained" in the dungeon under the opera. When he returns, he finds Christine waiting for him, like "a real living wife" and he swore she tilted her forehead toward him, and he kissed it. Then he says he was so happy that he fell at her feet, crying, and she cries with him, calling him "poor, unhappy Erik" and taking his hand. At this point, he is "just a poor dog ready to die for her" and he returns to her the ring she had lost and said that she was free to go and marry Raoul.
Erik frees Raoul who then leaves with Christine. But before they do, Erik makes Christine promise that when he dies she will come back and bury him. Then she kisses Erik's forehead. Erik dies three weeks later, but not before he goes to visit the Persian and tells him everything, and promises to send him Erik's dearest possessions: the papers that Christine wrote about everything that had happened with her "Angel of Music" and some things that had belonged to her. Christine keeps her promise and returns to the Opera to bury Erik and place the plain gold band he had given her on his finger. Leroux claims that a skeleton bearing such a ring was later unearthed in the Opera cellars.
Many different versions of Erik's life are told through other adaptations such as films, television shows, books, and musicals. One such popular literary adaptation is the Susan Kay novel Phantom (1990), a fictional in-depth story of Erik from the time of his birth to the end of his life at the Paris Opera House.
For the most part, Kay's novel stays in context with Erik's life history as laid down by Leroux, however Kay (as explained in her Author's Note) changes and shapes the character to match her own vision, influenced by other adaptations besides the original. In addition, the ending/resolution is quite different from Leroux's. The story follows Erik through his entire life, starting with the night of his birth, and is told from different viewpoints throughout the novel (Erik's mother, Erik, Nadir/the Persian, Christine, and Raoul). Kay places the highest priority on portraying romantic aspects of Erik's life. He falls in love twice throughout the novel, but neither of these occasions truly end happily.
Yeston and Kopit
The theatrical songwriting team of Maury Yeston and Arthur Kopit created a musical based on the story which investors backed out of after Webber's version became a huge hit. Erik is portrayed as much kinder and more sympathetic, and also with more of a sense of humor. His mother was a singer in the Opera and, having discovered that she was pregnant with an illegitimate child, swallowed poison. This is the reason for his disfigurement. He was born within the catacombs of the opera house and lived there his entire life. His mother died when he was a young child. His father, Gerard Carriere, was the manager and kept him safe all that time. Over the years, Erik became the creative driving force for the opera company. No artistic decision was made without Carriere seeking his approval.
It is implied that the main reason for Erik's attraction to Christine is that her astonishing voice and beauty remind him of his mother, the only person who was ever able to look at him with happiness. Yet when he finally brings himself to show Christine his face, she runs away. Christine feels intensely remorseful afterwards and when he is eventually cornered by the police, at the end of the play, she takes off his mask and smiles.
This storyline was also the basis for the 1990 miniseries starring Charles Dance, Teri Polo, and Burt Lancaster as Carriere.
The Canary Trainer
In Nicholas Meyer's novel The Canary Trainer, Sherlock Holmes develops several theories as to the Phantom's identity. His first idea is that he is an employee of the Opera; however, when the Phantom's knowledge of the Opera becomes evident, Holmes then believes that he is Charles Garnier, having faked his own death. When Garnier's corpse is identified, Holmes then theorizes that the Phantom was Edouard LaFosse, the (fictional) assistant of Garnier who designed much of the Opera's interior and who allegedly died after a building collapse. Holmes theorizes that he did not die, but was merely disfigured and therefore took to hiding in the Opera. However, when Holmes finally confronts the Phantom, he claims that he cannot speak without his mask, as his mother forced him to wear it whenever he wished to speak as a child, and he is not Edouard LaFosse. Holmes therefore admits that he is not sure how true any of the theories or claims of the Phantom's identity are. The Phantom never provides a given name in the novel; he only tells Christine that his name is "Nobody" (a reference to the name Odysseus gave Polyphemus in the Odyssey).
Regardless of his identity, the Phantom in The Canary Trainer is much more unhinged and bloodthirsty than in the original novel or play. For example, when killing Madame Giry's replacement with the chandelier, he kills "almost thirty men and women in the twinkling of an eye", just to ensure that he kills his main target.
The Angel of the Opera
In Sam Siciliano's novel The Angel of the Opera, Sherlock Holmes is brought in to solve the case of the Opera Ghost, and both Erik's and Holmes's stories unfold through the eyes of Holmes's assistant, Henri Vernier. Siciliano places Holmes and Vernier at several of the crucial scenes in Erik and Christine's relationship, and draws parallels between Erik and Holmes. Holmes sympathizes with Erik so much that after Christine leaves him, Holmes brings him back to England. One of the first people that Erik meets on his arrival is a blind girl with a fondness for music.
In the original novel, Erik is described as corpse-like and is referred to as having a "death's-head" (human skull) throughout the story. He has no nose; eyes that are sunken so deep that all is seen are two skull-like eye sockets except when his golden eyes glow in the dark; skin that is yellow and tightly stretched across his bones; and only a few wisps of ink-black hair behind his ears and on his forehead. (His mouth is never described in as much detail, but is referred to as a 'lipless' 'dead mouth' by Christine, and Erik acknowledges that his mouth is abnormal when lifting up his mask to display ventriloquism.) He is described as extremely thin, so much so that he resembles a skeleton. Christine graphically describes his cold, bony hands, which also smell of death. Erik woefully describes himself to Christine as a corpse who is "built up with death from head to foot." According to the Persian, Erik was born with this deformity, and was exhibited as 'le mort vivant' in freak shows earlier in his life. Erik sometimes plays up his macabre appearance, such as sleeping in a coffin and dressing up as the Red Death for the masked ball.
Lon Chaney, Sr.'s characterization of Erik in the silent film The Phantom of the Opera (1925) remains closest to the book in content, in that Erik's face resembles a skull with an elongated nose slit and protruding, crooked teeth. In this version, Erik is said to have been deformed from birth. Chaney was a master make-up artist and was considered avant garde for creating and applying Erik's facial makeup design himself. It is said he kept it secret until the first day of filming. The result was allegedly so frightening to the women of the time that theaters showing the movie were cautioned to keep smelling salts on hand.
Several movies based on the novel vary the deformities (or in the case of Dario Argento's 1998 film, the lack thereof). In Universal's 1943 adaptation, a poor musician tries to publish his music, and then wrongly accuses the publisher Maurice Pleyel of trying to plagiarize his work. He then strangles the publisher and tries to retrieve his music, only to be disfigured when the publisher's assistant throws etching acid in his face. In the musical horror film Phantom of the Paradise (1974), Winslow (the Phantom character) gets his head caught in a record-press, while Robert Englund's horror-version has him selling his soul to Satan and having his face mutilated as a result. This version also has a gruesome variation on the mask, in which Erik is sewing flesh to his face.
In Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical adaptation, only half of Erik's face is deformed (thus the famous half-mask often associated with Erik's appearance.) His show was originally planned to have a full mask and full facial disfigurement, but when the director, Hal Prince, realized that it would make expression onstage very difficult, they halved the mask. The logo featuring a full mask was publicized before the change. The deformity in the musical includes a gash on the right side of his partially balding head with exposed skull tissue, an elongated right nostril, a missing right eyebrow, swollen lips, different colored eyes, and a wrinkled, warped right cheek. It is covered by a white half mask and wig. It originally took roughly four hours per performance to put the prosthetics on in the original London productions. On Broadway, it was cut to roughly three, and over the years has been reduced to 45 minutes. More than one Phantom has described make-up disasters onstage. Michael Crawford recounts a story where he pulled away from the kiss at the end only to see that "[his] lower lip was now hanging off Sarah [Brightman]'s face!". To cover the flub, he pulled her back for another kiss and "took back the lips" and kept that side of his head turned away from the audience.
In the 2004 film adaptation of the musical, Erik's makeup was made to look much less gruesome than previous adaptations of the story. Instead of a skull-like face, his disfigurement resembles that of a mildly malformed face, which he covers with the mask. Film critic Roger Ebert noted that Butler was more "conventionally handsome" than his predecessors "in a GQ kind of way".
Onscreen, Erik has often been cast as a tragic hero but also a tragic villain, depending on the film's point of view.
Andrew Lloyd Webber musical
See main list: The Phantom of the Opera