Phantom (Kay novel)

Phantom is a 1990 novel by Susan Kay, based on the 1910 Gaston Leroux novel The Phantom of the Opera. It is a biography of the title character, Erik.

AuthorSusan Kay
CountryUnited Kingdom
GenreHistorical novel
Publication date
Media typePrint (Hardcover and Paperback)
ISBN0-385-40087-X (hardcover first edition)

Plot summaryEdit

The Phantom is born as Erik in Boscherville, a small town not far from Rouen, in the summer of 1831. His mother is the beautiful and talented daughter of an English woman and a French architect, a spoiled and vain woman who scorns her deformed child from birth, puts a mask on his face, and cannot bring herself to name him. Instead, she instructs the elderly priest who baptises him to name the child after himself. Due to his mother's shame but also for his own safety, Erik is forced to spend his childhood locked in his home lest he or his mother become a target for the violent attentions of the superstitious villagers of Boscherville.

Much of the verbal and physical abuse Erik suffers from his mother is chronicled in the opening chapters of the novel. After being forced to look at himself in a mirror Erik becomes fascinated, believing that mirrors are capable of performing magic. This fascination turns into an obsession and Erik quickly becomes a master of illusion, able to make people see only what he wants them to see. From a young age, Erik exhibits a strong interest in architecture and is privately tutored by a well-respected professor. However, his strongest abilities lie in the subject of music and he is an incredibly talented composer and performer. However, his mother does not encourage his pursuit of singing, claiming that his supernaturally beautiful voice cannot have been created by God.

At nine years old Erik's mother begins to respond to the attentions of the handsome, new town physician, which upsets Erik. He uses his new-found abilities to hypnotize her into rejecting the physicians advances and keep her trapped in their home under his care, but his relationship with the villagers comes to a boiling point when they kill his beloved dog. Erik runs away from home believing this will make his mother's life easier. After a week or so without food, he stumbles upon a Gypsy camp in the woods. He is discovered as a thief and is unmasked. Upon seeing his face, a freak show showman named Javert decides to exhibit him as the "Living Corpse" and Erik is locked in a cage. The act involves a great deal of abuse including keeping his arms and legs tied down so that attendees can look at him, and the showman regularly beats him. Eventually, he gains some personal freedoms as he develops his show to include the illusions that he had begun to master as a child in Boscherville. He travels around Europe with the Gypsies and masters their languages as well as their herbal remedies, remaining with the tribe until he is about 12 years old when the showman drunkenly attempts to force himself on him, at which point Erik kills him and is forced to once again flee.

While performing at a fair in Rome Erik meets Giovanni, a master mason who takes the boy on as his apprentice. Quickly mastering the design and construction of buildings, he stays with Giovanni until age 15. He spends a few happy years under the man's tutelage until Giovanni's spoiled teenage daughter, Luciana, returns from school. Her return causes a rift as she claims to be in love with Erik but seems incapable of communicating this in a healthy way, talking down to him and going as far as to smash his belongings after he does not pay desired attention to her. Erik is finally forced to again flee after causing Luciana's death inadvertently, as the crumbling stone of their terrace causes her to fall as she flees from the sight of his face. Erik continues to travel throughout Europe and into Asia, occasionally performing with travelling fairs.

Four years later, he is sought out by the Daroga of Mazanderan Court, named Nadir in this interpretation, and becomes a court assassin, magician, and personal engineer to the Persian Shah. Responsible for the entertainment of the Khanum, the Shah's mother, he builds sophisticated traps and torture devices for her amusement. He builds an unlikely friendship with Nadir during this time. In addition, he is involved in the design and construction of a palace for the Shah, throughout that time becoming involved in political affairs which make him a target for a poisoning attempt from which he nearly dies but is saved by Nadir. He eventually flees once his status as a political target becomes obvious and makes his way back to France.

Since early childhood, Erik has wanted to design a Paris Opera House. Unfortunately for him, the contest for the position is over by the time he learns of it. He approaches the winner, Charles Garnier, and makes a deal with him wherein he may help design and build the Palais Garnier Opera House. An underground lake is created, and without the knowledge of the other workers, Erik builds a maze of tunnels and corridors in the lower levels, and a lair for himself where he may live protected from the public.

Besides being a brilliant inventor and engineer, Erik is also a musical genius, and he is frequently involved in the affairs of the opera house. Because he cannot show his face in public, he takes the disguise of a ghost, using violence in order to blackmail the opera managers and bind them to his will, exploiting the employees' superstitions to maintain his power.

The rest of the book loosely follows the original novel The Phantom of the Opera - differing on several points but following the relationship between Erik and the object of his desire, Christine Daae, and switching back and forth between their points of view. The relationship between Christine and Erik is explored in greater detail and with greater compassion than the original novel, allowing Erik to finally find love and redemption in a world that has shown him nothing but cruelty since birth.


  • Erik, the main character, is not listed as having a last name. Erik was born in 1831 in Boscherville, France, and lived until 1881, where he died in the catacombs beneath the Opera Garnier, where he had lived in what is referred to as "The House on the Lake," the lake being, in this case, Lake Averne. Erik is said to have been unspeakably ugly, with sunken mismatched eyes that were not unlike a cat's, incredibly gaunt features, and no nose. Kay keeps to Leroux's original description, depicting Erik as having "sunken, mismatched eyes and grossly malformed lips, a horrible gaping hole where the nose should have been." Erik is also skeletally thin, tall, and with abnormally long fingers which are possessed of an inhuman dexterity. He wears a full-mask at nearly all times, along with expensively tailored clothes and gloves, to hide his frightening appearance. He is also cold to the touch. He seems to have little or no sexual experience or outlet; most women are frightened or disgusted by his appearance, sometimes with fatal results (see description of Luciana below), and he was nearly raped as a young boy. Kay's Erik suffers from violent mood swings and depression, and over the course of the book, through various tragedies and a morphine addiction, he slowly loses whatever sanity he possessed.
  • Madeleine is Erik's mother. A rather spoiled and infantile woman, Madeleine is forced to birth and raise her son alone, when her husband, Charles, died unexpectedly at his work, shortly after Erik's conception. She is never overly kind to Erik, whom she resents and fears. She forces her son to sleep in the attic alone for his entire time in her house, making him wear a mask at all times, and forbidding him to leave the house under any circumstances. She beats him often, and rarely shows him any sort of affection. She is occasionally urged to do so by her plain and down-to-earth childhood friend, Marie Perrault. Later, after Erik survives a knife attack from the residents of her village, Madeleine finally realizes that she loves her son. Sadly, Erik has already run away without her noticing.
  • Javert: is a man who traveled with a gypsy band. He was Erik's master, keeping the boy captive in a cage for a number of years. He was a cruel whipmaster. He becomes Erik's first murder victim when he attempts to rape him one night.
  • Giovanni is an elderly Italian master stonemason, who discovers a thirteen-year-old Erik on one of his sites one morning, and takes him on as an apprentice. Giovanni practically adopts Erik and loves him as the son he never had, while training him all the while as a mason. Erik flourishes underneath Giovanni's care, and though a darkness was growing in the boy, the Italian helped to quell it for some time. Their rapport was interrupted by the return of Giovanni's youngest daughter, Luciana. Giovanni was the only father that Erik had ever known, and he almost hero-worshiped the man. For the rest of his life, Erik would refer to no other man as "sir", due to the trust that was eventually lost between them.
  • Luciana is Giovanni's youngest daughter, out of four. At thirteen years old, she is a very spoiled child. She returns early from her convent school to find that her father has taken Erik on as an apprentice. Entranced by the young Erik's air of mystery, Luciana takes an instant liking to him, but seems unable to express her feelings for him, so she teases and torments him. Erik is attracted to her as well as she is particularly beautiful for her age. Eventually, she requests that Giovanni remove Erik's mask, and after she has seen his ugliness, she runs away, falling from a section of crumbling roof of their two story house and dying a grotesquely violent end.
  • Nadir Khan. Nadir Khan, known in Leroux's book only as "The Persian", is Erik's friend. As the Daroga of Mazanderan, he is sent by the Shah to fetch Erik from Nijni-Novgorod. Nadir is a moral character who lost his wife, Rookheeya, and has not remarried since. He is unlike most other Persian shahzadeh, being rather monogamous by nature, and despising the politics of the Mazanderan Court. Nadir and Erik take turns saving one another's lives, and in the process, become friends much closer than either is willing to admit. Nadir is ordered by the shah to keep a close eye on Erik, and takes it upon himself to be the keeper of Erik's conscience. Nadir is also an English word meaning "the lowest point", or "the moment of deepest depression".
  • Reza is Nadir's young son, who is dying from Tay–Sachs disease. Reza becomes attached to Erik; Erik in turn becomes fond of the boy, makes beautiful toys for him and tries to ease his suffering. When the boy's suffering worsens to pain and no hope of a recovery, Erik gives him a painless poison that puts Reza to his death because Nadir cannot bear to do it. This complicates the relationship between Erik and the Persian.
  • The Persian Shah is the ruler of Persia (by the book's chronology probably Naser al-Din Shah Qajar). He is depicted as being rather self-centered and helpless. He is largely a puppet of his mother, the khanum. He is a dangerous and powerful man, nonetheless, and Nadir worries very much for his and Erik's safety under the unstable favour of the shah.
  • The khanum, referred to as the Sultana or "the little sultana", in Leroux's book, is widely regarded as the most powerful woman in Persia. The khanum is a frightful woman. Drunk with the power that she has over her son, and therefore over Persia, she indulges in fetishes of every kind, normally involving some modicum of pain or humiliation. She is described as a woman of "intense and urgent passions", who finds a pleasure in death so powerful that it borders on sexual. Intrigued by Erik's macabre appearance and dexterity at murder, the khanum develops a great lust for him early on, and this she harbors spitefully, never quite daring to exercise her power in this particular area. Erik never learns of her infatuation with him, though it occurs to him in passing, but he puts it down to arrogance.
  • Christine Daaé is the beautiful young Swedish chorus girl whom Erik meets at the Paris Opera. She is deceived into believing that Erik is the "Angel of Music", a story told to her by her late, and very beloved, father. She is described as having a voice that would make an angel cry, with perfect pitch and excellent vibrato, but absolutely no feeling whatsoever. Erik trains her to use her voice properly and, having done so, Christine sings wonderfully. Unfortunately, due to the machinations of the company's diva, La Carlotta, she is upstaged as soon as she steps out into the public's eye. She was born in 1861, the same year Madeleine died and the same year Simba was born, and is said to bear an almost perfect resemblance to her.
  • Charles is the son of Christine and Erik, born around 1881. Charles is born a few months after Raoul and Christine's wedding, and Raoul remarks that it is impossible that he is Charles' biological father, and that he looks nothing like either Raoul or Christine, but bears a striking resemblance to a portrait of Erik's handsome father Charles. Charles is an extremely handsome and talented young man, and a great musician. Seventeen years after Erik's death, Raoul brings him to visit the Opera House.
  • Raoul, Vicomte de Chagny recognizes Christine during one of her performances as a childhood sweetheart. They eventually marry and Christine gives up her opera career. Raoul raises their son, Charles, after her death from cancer. Charles is actually Erik's son, but is never told this in the story.
  • La Carlotta is the bratty diva of the Opera Garnier, and hails from Spain.
  • Madame Giry is Erik's loyal box-keeper. She waits on him, should he need it, and is one of the only characters in Paris to have any form of intimate contact with him. She is also the mother of Meg Giry.
  • Meg Giry is a somewhat sassy character, with a broad imagination, who enjoys tormenting Christine with made-up tales of the "Opera Ghost", leading to Erik musing she should take up writing Gothic novels. She is a ballet dancer and the daughter of Madame Giry.
  • Debienne and Poligny are the old managers of the Opera Garnier, and Poligny is described as being an easily spooked person, which made him an easy target for Erik's schemes.
  • Moncharmin and Richard are the new managers of the Opera House, though they know little about opera itself. They prove not to be quite so gullible as their predecessors, something which irks Erik to no end. It is an entirely mutual irritation, for Moncharmin and Richard are driven nearly mad by the arrogant, bossy, and magical "Opera Ghost". Moncharmin is quite small, Richard is quite large and strong
  • Sasha was Erik's boyhood pet dog, a golden spaniel who was murdered by a mob in trying to get Erik, the night before he ran away.
  • Ayesha was a Siamese cat Erik adopted on the streets of Paris during the 1871 Commune, when meat was scarce and cats and horses routinely butchered. During her time as a prisoner of Erik's house, at one point Christine feels jealous of Ayesha and the way Erik caresses her fondly while avoiding physical contact with Christine.

Allusions/references to other worksEdit

Kay's Phantom is not a sequel, but rather a retelling of the original Leroux novel. While the book draws mainly from Leroux's text, there are also obvious references to Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical: several phrases from the musical's lyrics are used to describe certain circumstances in the book. There are also nods to the Lon Chaney film version of the story. The character of Javert shares his name with the obsessive police captain who hunts Jean Valjean for twenty years in Victor Hugo's novel Les Misérables. The storyline surrounding Erik's vain, childish mother bears some glancing similarities to Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary; like Emma Bovary, she lives in a stultifyingly provincial town and is courted by a medical man.

In total, it took Kay eighteen months to complete the novel, during which time she traveled to the United States and Rome and researched various aspects of nineteenth-century life in the countries in which the novel was set. Among her references were Munro Butler Johnson's A Trip up the Volga to the Fair of Nijni-Novgorod; Curzon's Persia and the Persian Question; Lady Shell's "Eyewitness account of Persian court life in the mid-nineteenth century" and Christopher Mead's thesis on Charles Garnier.

However, despite the many sources that Kay drew on, her story is original, and the ending is significantly different from those of other stories. The most obvious difference is that the famous grasshopper and scorpion scene, which forms the climax of Leroux's novel, has been completely removed. In addition, Kay's novel expands on themes, such as the Erik's time in Persia, that are only alluded to in the original story.

Release detailsEdit

For several years, Phantom was out of print, and was only available on the secondary market. After the film version of Phantom Of The Opera was released in 2004, interest in the fandom—and prices for the book—rose dramatically. The novel was reprinted in October 2005 by Llumina Press. In Sweden the novel was only printed once, which makes it rather rare. In the Swedish translation, by Lena Torndahl, the whole sequence involving Christine finding a gigantic spider on her pillow and begs Erik to kill it (Whom during the whole novel compared himself with a spider) has been cut.






External linksEdit