WHAT IS CLASSIC REMARKS?
Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.
HOW CAN I PARTICIPATE?
Leave your link to your post on your own blog in the comments below. And feel free to comment with your thoughts even if you are not officially participating with a full post!
(Readers who like past prompts but missed them have also answered them on their blog later and linked back to us at Pages Unbound, so feel free to do that, too!)
THIS WEEK’S PROMPT:
Recommend a Spooky Classic
This post assumes some basic knowledge of The Phantom of the Opera and so contains minor spoilers if you have not seen the movie/musical or read the book.
I don’t read many “spooky” books because I don’t actually like being scared, but a few of the obvious ones came to mind for this post: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, Dracula by Bram Stoker, The Vampyre by John Polidori, anything by Edgar Allan Poe, maybe an Agatha Christie mystery. However, some of these choices, so common to “scary classics” list, are not very scary in my opinion (and, remember, I’m scared of everything). Frankenstein, for instance, is more a musing on life and death and the ethics of science and a variety of other philosophical questions than a frightening monster story. Thus, when I saw this prompt, I knew I had to pick a book that truly had me on the edge of my seat, frightening for the characters and chilled by the story:
The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux.
If you’ve only seen the movie/musical, you likely think the story is a bit dark but not necessary scary (hence, a previous Classic Remarks prompt about whether the story is romantic). The novel is really much more frightening, and I give it a lot of credit for keeping me variously enthralled/appalled even though I already knew the general plot from having seen the movie!
Leroux’s Phantom (or Opera Ghost) is a terrifying presence only looking out for himself and his own desires. He knows the Opera like the back of his hand and can move, unseen, at will, spying, taking things, leaving things, etc. There are scenes where Christine is constantly looking around, turning to watch behind her, certain every shadow is the Opera Ghost coming for her, and it’s incredibly tense. The Opera Ghost also has power over the managers of the Opera, who bend to his will; otherwise, terrible things happen.
And it’s those terrible things that largely contribute to the scare factor here. People who displease the Opera Ghost or get too close his secrets have terrible accidents; sometimes they die. I think the movie/musical really glosses over this, how cold the Opera Ghost is and how murdering a few people here and there means nothing to him. He also has a literal torture room installed near his rooms under the Opera, which the movie conveniently leaves out.
Most chilling, I think, however, is the scene where Raoul and the Persian go to rescue Christine, and in the dark places under the Opera, the Persian instructs Raoul to keep his arm up near eye level, bent as though he were holding a pistol. Holding his arm like this is, the Persian insists, a matter of life or death. It isn’t for a while that the readers (and Raoul) come to realize this is to keep the Opera Ghost from sneaking up on them and tossing nooses around their necks. Imagining Raoul and the Persian hunting about in the dark, waiting for someone to murder them, knowing they might breathe their last if they lowered their arms for just a second had me cold.
So if you want a dark, chilling story that will keep you turning the pages this Halloween season (or any season), I highly recommend The Phantom of the Opera.