library phantom


The Many Faces (and Book Covers)
of The Phantom of the Opera

It is probably safe to assume that Gaston Leroux never envisioned the enormous and enduring success his potboiler thriller The Phantom of the Opera would go on to achieve. He lived long enough to see the release of the 1925 Universal Pictures silent-film adaptation starring Lon Chaney. Other adaptations for both stage and screen followed, but it was Andrew Lloyd Webber’s blockbuster musical that turned the novel and its eponymous character into a pop culture phenomenon; the musical is now the longest-running show in Broadway history. The novel and its narrative have become one of those stories that everyone thinks they know, probably due to a number of spectacular scenes and set-pieces—the phantom’s unmaksing, the chadelier drop, etc—used in nearly every adaptation. However, those scenes are surprisingly different when encountered on the pages collected between the covers presented here.

Top row: Gaston Leroux; an early French edition (1920) of the novel, the artwork of which has been repurposed for the current Penguin Classics edition.

Second row: Three vintage French published paperbacks with the one on the right using what appears to be an artistic rendering of the mask worn by Claude Raines in the 1943 motion picture adaptation, which bring us to…

Third row: Media tie-in editions!!!, Lon Chaney, the cinema’s most famous iteration of the phantom, graces the cover of this paperback edition (left); a paperback using the promotional artwork from the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical and its feature film adaptation (middle); a French paperback (right) for an unknown-to-me adaptation, then again, it might just be a photo cover meant to evoke one of the countless cinematic, theatrical, or television versions.

Fourth row: Three covers in plush red-velvet hues, including the only one here to make reference to the infamous chandelier scene (left) and the current French paperback edition (right). 

Fifth row: The  Greg Hildebrandt-illustrated edition published in the mid-1980s, featuring the masquerade ball scene on its cover; right, an interior illustration from this edition of the narrative’s most famous moment—Christine unmasking the Phantom as he plays the organ.

Bottom row: Modern Library’s paperback edition (left) features a dapper gentleman in opera dress but otherwise makes no reference to the story on the pages within. Spoiler alert, Puffin Classics! Its cover image (middle) is the Phantom Erik’s unmasked face, while the Bantam Classics edition (right) draws upon yet another iconic scene from the narrative, the Phantom ferrying Christine across the subterranean lake that lies beneath the Paris Opera House.

Have you ever heard the wonderful silence just before the dawn? Or the quiet and calm just as a storm ends? Or perhaps you know the silence when you haven’t the answer to a question you’ve been asked, or the hush of a country road at night, or the expectant pause of a room full of people when someone is just about to speak, or, most beautiful of all, the moment after the door closes and you’re alone in the whole house? Each one is different, you know, and all very beautiful if you listen carefully.
—  Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth