This weekend I started reading The Phantom of the Opera, the classic mystery/horror novel by French author Gaston Leroux. Having grown up in the 80s and 90s, I am of course familiar with the hit musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber and have been singing it for days in anticipation of reading the novel for Irmo’s Multimedia Book Club. Almost immediately upon beginning my read of the classic novel, I was struck by a distinct impression: Ya’ll, this is going to be GOOD.
It shouldn’t surprise me — this novel has inspired adaptations and garnered fans for more than a century since its publication in 1910. Lon Chaney’s 1925 film is known as a horror classic, and the story again hit theaters in 2004 with Joel Schumacher’s directorial take on the musical adaptation. What I sometimes forget about classic novels, however, is that they were the blockbuster entertainment of their own eras.
The Victorian era saw the rise of the popularity of serialized novels. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle introduced his character Sherlock Holmes through serial publication in The Strand magazine. Charles Dickens and George Elliot also published masterworks in serial form. Early readers of James Joyce got to take in Ulysses in installments, and modern writers like Truman Capote used the format to publish his gripping true crime novel In Cold Blood. If you’re interested in discovering more about the extensive history of serialization, check out this blog at Books on the Wall.
Just imagine … earlier readers awaited these installments the same way I’m anticipating the next new episode of my favorite television show. The plots were written in such a way as to entice readers to come back again and again for more — hooking readers with unresolved plot twists and mounting tension that carried them through the wait for the next chapter. Our reading style today tends to be more like how our viewing habits have evolved — we binge-read chapter after chapter, all the story available at once, the way we might watch a show on a streaming service. I’ll be keeping this in mind as I read The Phantom of the Opera, which I can already tell is going to be a page-turner. Occasionally, maybe I’ll try to save the next chapter for tomorrow, just to let the suspense build up the way the author intended.
If you’re interested in reading The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux, you can find this (and many other classic ghost stories) on Hoopla. Right now, the Lon Chaney 1925 film is also available on the platform, along with soundtracks of the 1986 musical and a movie of the 25th Anniversary of The Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall (2011). We’ll be discussing these in the month of October on Goodreads and all are welcome to join the conversation.