Monsieur Leroux, I have something I want to say to you. Although I’m quite sure–mostly–that you didn’t mean it, you’ve been a terrible influence on the reading public.
Let’s take a moment to stroll through my bookshelves, shall we? Why yes, it’s a fact that they’re bristling with books featuring hideous love triangles and deviant suitors–often both, actually. There’s some sort of obsession with men who lurk in the shadows, who tempt dull and interchangeable women into their icky webs, and who lure them away from, well, the world. There’s this preoccupation with stalkers, with lurkers, with abusive blokes whose definition of love is not so far from a criminal act, and which any normal person might describe as abusive, belittling behaviour. And, maybe worst of all, they have these saviour complexes going on. From both sides, actually: the women want to redeem the basest, most brutal of men through nothing other than the sheer power of lurve, while the guys want to rescue those poor little damsels. And keep them in a shack with no human contact.
Before you start protesting, I should say that I know that you’re not entirely to blame. Literature, I know, is filled with all sorts of love affairs that should have been hacked off at their weedy little roots the minute they started to slink out from the mud. And I know that this book was actually only a minimal success in your time–it wasn’t really until the various stage and film adaptations made from it that the voice of your phantom began to reach such a large audience–so it’s not like you ran about encouraging everyone to submit to a crazy chap with a hankerin’ for killin’.
I also know that you had no idea that a hundred thousand young adult paranormal romance writers would leap upon the relationship dynamics in your book and turn them into something–wait for it–appealing and desirable.
I mean, let’s take this Erik chap, shall we? Hearts have broken not just for your Erik but for all the Erik-inspired characters out there in the world. The broken man whose humanity has been denied him because of his disfigured visage. The love interest, really, of so many paranormal romances today. Never mind that your Erik gets about emotionally tormenting the woman with whom he’s apparently “in love”, cutting her off from her friends and, you know, kidnapping her and threatening to do away with a whole bunch of others if she doesn’t agree to marry him. No, of course it’s not stable behaviour, and of course you didn’t mean for him to be some sort of delicate flower who just needs a little bit of TLC. Yes, you meant Erik to be sympathetic in a way, to be lost and mad from the utter denial of his right to walk amongst other humans, but you didn’t mean for him to be actually a viable love interest, did you?
I mean, Christine, even if she is a little bit of a non-entity–what does she do, really, other than blink a lot and become beholden to any man who shows a modicum of interest in her, no matter how clearly sociopathic?–even Christine says no to your Erik in the end. Because, honestly, no matter how much weeping and sobbing and please-forgive-me business goes on, kidnapping and attempted murder is a bit of a deal-breaker, after all, isn’t it? Especially with that whole jumping the shark with the jungle in the mirror-room and the turning grasshopper thing. It seems self-evident, but you’d be surprised if you saw how many Eriks managed to get the girls in books these days. As Erik says, if people know how hideously deformed you are, just whack on that mask, and they’ll manage well enough. And who doesn’t want to live underneath a lake with a man with no face and a penchant for dropping chandeliers on people?
But let’s be honest here, you didn’t mean either Erik or Raoul to be decent romantic options, did you? Neither really seems to know anything at all about Christine, do they? After all, if you’d swapped out Christine for just about any girl (or possibly guy) Erik probably would have done the same thing–he just wants to be loved, after all, am I right? No matter how much brutality that takes. Because being shunned by society is entirely reason enough to go about seeking violent justice. I mean, Frankenstein’s monster took the same approach, and that wasn’t morally ambiguous at all.
And about that Raoul. I saw what you did there, don’t think I didn’t. He’s really just an Erik in miniature, isn’t he? Although better looking and not quite as murderous, admittedly. But he’s just got this whole thing in his head about Christine loving him because they were friends as kids, yes? Raoul, really, is just in love with the idea of being in love. He has this whole rescue narrative thing going on–he kind of loves that Christine is all damaged and crazy, because he can sweep her off her feet and show off how manly and heroic he is, right? I mean, he’s fixated on the fact that he rescued her scarf as a child. Really. That does not a relationship make, you know. (And it’s not a very impressive pick-up line at that, either, but that’s by the by.)
But I think you knew that when you wrote of Christine and Raoul’s depressing nuptials, and of Christine’s return to bury the heartbroken Erik. None of that sounds very pleasant: because, after all, choosing the slightly less rotten of two bad eggs is still far poorer an idea than simply saying no. You knew that, some hundred years or so ago, so what’s with all of these violent beasts who continue to beat their chests over these damsels in distress today?
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