Allow me to tell you a bit of my history with Phantom, because when I was rereading this, I realized that this story has repeatedly shown up in various forms for me. My very first introduction to the Phantom of the Opera properly (aside from various pop culture references) was a class trip to Toronto in 1998 to see the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. That was Baby’s First Musical Theater experience, and I received the OLCR that Christmas from my godmother, thus starting a few good years obsessing over musical theater. About a year or so later, said godmother also found a copy of the actual book and gave it to me. And I’ll be honest, it took me awhile, until one day, I sat down and read it all the way through…and fell in love with pulpy horror. When the film came out, an online friend pointed me toward a parody of it, which I automatically loved and had to follow Cleolinda Jones immediately. My very first Discworld book? Maskerade, because of the main parody. (And before anyone asks, no I haven’t seen/heard Love Never Dies aside from a few…choice clips. That’s all that I need to know.) Basically, for reasons I’ve yet to figure out since I’m not obsessed with it, this story has been looming in the background of my interests for a long time. But enough of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s overblown dramatics, let’s talk about LeRoux. This was also my intro into horror classics, especially when you take the Phantom as one of the major ‘monsters’. But it’s also more pulpy than say, Frankenstein or even Jekyll & Hyde—the short introduction of my copy points out LeRoux’s former career as a newspaper reporter and his flair for the dramatics. The story is very standard of the time: the young ingénue is seduced by the dark ‘other,’ while her valiant above-ground lover desperately tries to save her. But unlike say, Dracula wherein it’s made very clear that the ‘other’ is a monster, LeRoux does give us a measure of sympathy for Erik. No, none of the things he does is forgivable, but it makes him more human and sympathetic by the end. The book is far more focused on Erik’s human genius and trickery than ever playing up any otherworldly abilities. For example, Madame Giry’s involvement in protecting Erik—it’s because he promises that her daughter will one day become empress of France. Sure, it’s more a stretch in the book, but it really shows what Erik’s abilities are like and that he’s extremely charismatic. But at the end of the book, we get to see exactly why Erik has done the things he does. It is that wanting to belong and needing to be around people. There is a heart-breaking moment towards the end where he points out that he has a mask that would allow him to go outside and look normal. (Although the first time the mask shows up, it’s kind of funny to see Erik walk in with a bunch of parcels and telling Christine that he’s been out shopping. Sorry, just having the various versions in my head, I can’t help but laugh.) And there are some genuinely creepy scenes in the book. The grand finale of Raoul and the Persian going through the Phantom’s underground lair (which apparently he’s created a desert underneath the Paris Opera House. Yeah, LeRoux’s overly dramatic.) The room of mirrors and the iron tree still manages to creep me out to this day, specifically because it’s more of the anticipation of what could happen…especially when the Persian specifically describes the Punjab lasso and what it does. However, I can see if someone’s not as fairly with the writing style of the time, it does come off as overdramatic and narmish. Particularly once they move to the Persian’s part of the narrative, which can be confusing if this is your first time reading it.Much like Les Miserables earlier this year, I think this is easier to tackle if you’re familiar with the derivatives, mainly because you know what all the story beats are going in. Yes, there are differences between the book and musical, but you know the basic outline. And sometimes it’s more fun, because I really love the Persian’s story and what it adds to Erik’s character; it gives a more layered portrayal than the romanticized view of other people. (I am looking at you, Susan Kay.) But I’d also say that no, this isn’t for everyone—again, the writing style—but it’s still a fun little read to pick up and check out. Phantom has always been on my list of “Give it a shot, you might actually like it” classics, and I’ve always enjoyed it.