Friday, August 20, 2010

The Many Faces of Erik

Recently, I answered a series of questions during an interview with The Malta Times regarding my book The Phantom of Valletta. One question posed to me was quite interesting:

"As an adaptation of a popular story, which has been retold in film, musical and literary form, even in children’s literature, how far did you think The Phantom of Valletta should be faithful to Leroux’s work?"

My answer:

"I don’t think there is any absolute that one must be totally faithful to every aspect of the original story. Otherwise, it would hamper the creativity to take the story to new places."

I could possibly be shot for that statement, but I think it's quite obvious that the multiple adaptations have not stayed one hundred percent true to Leroux's original work in every aspect. On the contrary, the story has changed and morphed quite a bit in various directions at the hand of many creative artists. However, the central premise of the story remains basically the same:

A disfigured musical genius living underneath the opera house, known as the Opera Ghost or Phantom, hiding his deformity behind a mask, loving a woman, and wanting to be loved in return.

In the past 100 years, how the Phantom has been portrayed in appearance and personality varies greatly from work to work.

You might wonder why I have posted all these pictures in this post. Well, I'm here to make a point: Erik has many faces. We all perceive him in different ways. I think it is fair to say that even stage artists, who have worn the mask in the various productions, have all given the Phantom their own interpretation. Sure, they sing the same songs, perform many of the same stage movements, but are they really the same? No doubt each actor has thoughtfully considered who Erik is as a man and infused into their performances their own interpretation of the man they portray.

Is Ramin Karimloo's performance like that of Brad Little? Is Tim Gleason's performance like Anthony Crivello? Does every actor on stage mirror Michael Crawford? Of course not, and I'm sure we could spend hours analyzing every performer and their interpretation of the Phantom on stage and note varying differences. (Not a bad project actually, when you think about it.)

What about the movie versions? How different do you see such actors as Charles Dance, Lon Chaney, Claude Rains, and Gerard Butler portray Erik?

Of course, as fans we do the same, don't we? Each of us have embraced Erik as we relate to him. We have our own interpretations of the man behind the mask, and I believe how we see him depends quite a bit on how we relate to his plight personally. Our tendency is to weave his personality into one that fits us the best and gives us the most comfort.

It's no different with authors either. Each of us have our own interpretations of the Opera Ghost. I portrayed him the way I envisioned him. Erik's personality, likes and dislikes, were my creation woven from my imagination, just as many of my author friends have done as well.

To prove that point, I've listed below some comments from other authors who have written Phantom books. Each of these individuals were interviewed on All Things Phantom on Just as unique as each of these pictures are on this page, so are the novels that pen Phantom stories.

I have noticed, that many fans seem to be digging for that golden nugget in each book, play or movie that portrays Erik. Have you ever read a review that said, "that's MY Erik" or "that's NOT my Erik." The Erik you like is the one you relate to the most. Is it the murdering madman that attracts you? Perhaps it's the vulnerable sexy broken man you want to love; or perhaps it's the brooding, depressed, and despairing Opera Ghost you wish to fix.

As you read the comments below from these sample of authors, think about who Erik is to you. Does he absolutely need to be like Leroux's version or can he still possess the same background story, but have a different flavor in personality and quirks?

Like the mirror shattered in the movie, Erik comes to each of us in many pieces; and each of us have an overwhelming drive to put him back together again.

How we pick up the pieces of that shattered mirror and rebuild it into the reflection of who we think he should be, is our personal choice. It's also called the freedom of creativity, which no one should stifle in authors, playwrights, or movie producers. If their final portrait doesn't suit you, there are plenty of other reflections on the market that may be more pleasing to your eyes.

Enjoy the comments below, and if you find your Erik among them, feel free to order the book by clicking on the link embedded in the author's name. Have fun and immerse yourself into another variation of your favorite masked man.

The Creative Faces and Personality of the Phantom of the Opera

Sharon Cathcart, Author - In the Eye of the Beholder

"My Erik is someone who wants to have a full range of human emotions, but has never learned how. Having been hidden away, he lacks a nuanced understanding of caring behavior and love.

I think everyone has their own idea of who he is, and what he looks like. For me, he's very much Jung's Wounded Healer archetype."

"I have written my Erik as an emotionally damaged and complex man, torn between his two conflicting natures. He is a musical prodigy and gifted magician who desires romantic love and the praise of his peers, but has separated himself so completely from other human beings that he can no longer relate to to them. He is incapable of feeling compassion or empathy…until he hears the voice of 10 year old Christine Daae."

"I based my Phantom on Gerard Butler's performance which impressed me so deeply. When Christine left him, I cried for him and my main desire was for him to find someone who would love him in spite of his face and his past. I also wanted him to find faith, which he did in my book, and realize his potential as a composer. I made him kinder as he learned these things, which some Phans did not like, but that is as I saw him - a man worth redemption, a man worth love, and a man needing support of people who cared about him."

Sadie Montgomery, Author - Phoenix of the Opera Series

"Inspired by the more romantic touch given to the Phantom in the 2004 movie, I describe Erik as a tortured soul who seeks to create beauty because it has been denied to him. The Phantom is a mask. The man who hides behind it has been told that he is a monster. Lonely and outcast, he lives under the burden of his violent past but longs for beauty and love. Although disfigured, he is in every other way handsome and whole, a man with powerful desires who resents his exile from the normal life of those around him. In order to survive, he has developed great resources of strength. The one light in his life has been his music. But as a man, he has all the desires any man might have. His passions are deep and at times strip him of reason, bringing him close to the edge of madness. It is his gift for passion, too, that makes him a great artist and inspires the love of two women—Christine and Meg."

Kathy H.D. Kingsbury, Author - Phantom Variations

"My favorite version of Phantom is the original, but Leroux's Erik is a very troubled, and troubling person; and I find the prospect of writing a story about him a daunting task. It's one I have yet to tackle, but would like to try one of these days. Of course, it would be a darker story because he is a much darker character than the one many of us are used to.

When I write, I am drawn to a kind of hybrid Erik -- one that is part Leroux and part Andrew Lloyd Webber. I think of this as the kinder, gentler Erik, one who under the right circumstances can not just atone for his past sins, but eventually find acceptance and love."

Anne Burnside, Author - The Sultan's Favorite

"When I wrote The Sultan's Favorite, I portrayed Erik as a character who only experienced the loss of love. He tries to protect his heart by keeping others away, using his temper as a tool to instill fear. But what always draws us to him is his vulnerability, his hidden hope to find love, and a man who has by far more heart than anyone could imagine."

Theodora Bruns, Author- Through Phantom Eyes (Series)

"My Erik began his life with a heart full of love for life and his music and innocent of his deformity and the impact it will have on his journey through his life. But he soon discovered the cruelties of the world and just as quickly learned how to control that world and to have it doing his bidding. However, it was much easier for Erik to control the men around him than to control himself and his desires. In the end, it was his original love for life and his music that wins out and captures the hearts of many, allowing his own heart the peace and happiness it deserved."

"My portrayal of Erik leaned more toward the brooding man convinced his existence upon earth is cursed. Leroux's words of 'poor unhappy Erik' resonate throughout my book. He is a man haunted by his past, remorseful over his losses, and obsessed with the one love that remains - music. He is driven by purpose, consumed with the need for perfection and beauty, and insistent on controlling his surroundings and others. He is a man who cannot learn the capacity to love, until he understands that real beauty is contained in the gift of unconditional love."

I hope you enjoyed this post.
Take a moment and lean back in his arms, lift up your hand and touch his mask.
What do you feel? What type of man is he that makes you say, "that's my Erik!"

Your obedient servant,
Vicki Hopkins aka The Phantom's Student


Unknown said...

Thank you for this post, Vicki. I will be adding these books to my wishlist. :)

rhapsody said...

Please include Shirley Yoshinaka's, Deception: A Phantom of the Opera Novel on your list...

You won't be disappointed!

E. Studnicka said...

I have always loved the phantom because it has only gotten better through the years. What sets it apart from most over-reproduced stories is not only the timelessness of its many undertones, but also the timelessness of entertainment. Of melodrama, romance, horror, obsession, but ironically, not love...infatuation, maybe. This is a story that was meant to be told over and over and over again, and enhanced every time. Perhaps one of the most adaptable tales of all time.