Le Fantôme de l’Opéra (English: The Phantom of the Opera) is a novel by French writer Gaston Leroux. It was first published as a serialisation in “Le Gaulois” from September 23, 1909 to January 8, 1910. Initially, the story sold very poorly upon publication in book form and was even out of print several times during the twentieth century; it is overshadowed by the success of its various film and stage adaptations. The most notable of these were the 1925 film depiction, Ken Hill’s 1976 musical at the Theatre Royal Stratford East followed ten years later by Andrew Lloyd Webber‘s 1986 musical, and Lloyd Webber and Joel Schumacher’s 2004 film.
The novel opens with a prologue in which Gaston Leroux claims that Erik, the “Phantom of the Opera”, was a real person. We are then introduced to Christine Daaé. She and her father, a famous fiddler, traveled all over Sweden playing folk and religious music. Her father was known to be the best wedding fiddler in the land. When Christine is six, her mother dies and her father is brought to rural France by a patron, Professor Valerius.
During Christine’s childhood, which is described retrospectively in the early chapters of the book, her father tells her many stories featuring an ‘Angel of Music’, who, like a muse, is the personification of musical inspiration. Christine meets and befriends the young Raoul, Viscount of Chagny, who also enjoys her father’s many stories. One of Christine and Raoul’s favorite stories is one of Little Lotte, a girl with golden hair and blue eyes who is visited by the Angel of Music and possesses a heavenly voice.
On his deathbed, Christine’s father tells her that from Heaven, he will send the Angel of Music to her. Christine now lives with Mamma Valerius, the elderly widow of her father’s benefactor.
Christine is eventually given a position in the chorus at the Paris Opera House (Palais Garnier). Not long after she arrives there, she begins hearing a beautiful, unearthly voice which sings to her and speaks to her. She believes this must be the Angel of Music and asks him if he is. The Voice agrees and offers to teach her “a little bit of heaven’s music.” The Voice, however, belongs to Erik, a deformed genius who was one of the contractors who built the opera and who secretly built a home for himself in the cellars. He is the Opera ghost (“Fantôme” in French can be translated as both “ghost” and “phantom”) who has been extorting money from the Opera’s management for many years. Unknown to Christine, at least at first, he falls in love with her.
With the help of the Voice, Christine triumphs at the gala on the night of the old managers’ retirement. Her old childhood friend Raoul hears her and remembers his love for her. A time after the gala, the Paris Opera performs Faust, with the prima donna Carlotta playing the lead. In response to a refused surrender of Box Five to the Opera Ghost, Carlotta loses her voice and the chandelier overhead plummets into the audience.
After the chandelier crashes, Erik kidnaps Christine to his home in the cellars and reveals his true identity. He plans to keep her there only a few days, hoping she will come to love him, and Christine begins to find herself attracted to her abductor. But she causes Erik to change his plans when she unmasks him and, to the horror of both, beholds his face, which according to the book, resembles the face of a rotting corpse. Erik goes into a mad frenzy, stating she probably thinks his face is another mask, digging her fingers in to show it was really his face, and shouting, “I am Don Juan Triumphant!” and crawls away, crying. Fearing that she will leave him, he decides to keep her with him forever, but after two weeks, when Christine requests release, he agrees, on condition that she would wear his ring and be faithful to him.
Up on the roof of the Opera, Christine tells Raoul of Erik taking her to the cellars. Raoul promises to take Christine away where Erik can never find her and to take her even if she resists. Raoul tells Christine he shall act on his promise the following day, to which Christine agrees, but she pities Erik and will not go until she has sung for him one last time. Christine then realizes the ring has slipped off her finger and fallen into the streets somewhere, and begins to panic. The two leave. But neither is aware that Erik has been listening to their conversation or that it has driven him to jealous frenzy. During the week and that night Erik has been terrorizing anyone who stood in his way, or in the way of Christine’s career, including the managers.
The following night, Erik kidnaps Christine during a production of Faust. Back in the cellars, Erik tries to force Christine into marrying him. If she refuses he threatens to destroy the entire Opera using explosives he has planted in the cellars, killing everyone in it, including himself and Christine. Christine continues to refuse, until she realizes that Raoul and an old acquaintance of Erik’s known only as “The Persian,” in an attempt to rescue her, have been trapped in Erik’s torture chamber. To save them and the people above, Christine agrees to marry Erik. At first, Erik tries to drown Raoul and the Persian in the water used to douse the explosives, stating that Christine doesn’t need another. But Christine begs and offers to be his “living bride,” promising him not to kill herself after becoming his bride, as she had both contemplated and attempted earlier in the novel. Erik rescues the Persian and the young Raoul from his torture chamber thereafter. When Erik is alone with Christine, he lifts his mask a little to kiss her on the forehead, and Christine allows him to do this. Erik, who admits that he has never before in his life received or been allowed to give a kiss — not even from his own mother — is overcome with emotion. He rips off his mask and begins to cry. Christine also cries for him, and even gives him a kiss back. He lets Christine go and tells her “go and marry the boy whenever you wish,” explaining, “I know you love him.” They cry together, and then she leaves on the condition that when he dies she will come back and bury him. The Persian, being an old acquaintance, is told of all these secrets by Erik himself, and on his express request, the Persian advertises in the newspaper about Erik’s death three weeks later. The cause of death is revealed to be a broken heart. As she promised, Christine returns to bury Erik and give his ring back to him.