I read The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux, expecting a ghost story or monster yarn, which it was, but it did not scare me one little bit. I don’t know why—I think it was because I suspected opera people were too silly to be worth caring about. The sooner he bumped them all off, the better. At the time, I had no idea that it was an original story—in fact I thought it a rip off. Horrie in former years had been the fireman guarding the Princess Theatre during performances and once averted a major disaster, saving the building and its audience from a very dangerous fire with his prompt actions. It occurred before I was born, and was his fifteen minutes of fame—he got his picture on the front page of The Sun, pointing to the source of the fire. It had begun mysteriously in the basement, and the only possibility was that it was started by the ghost.
So I always knew the Princess Theatre had its phantom, although of course, out of family loyalty, I mistook who had copied what from whom. Before long I saw the films and realised the book was better known than I had thought when I read it. The colour Claude Rains version was a bit scary, the earlier Lon Chaney on television more so and thereby I was inspired to go back to the book and read it again and see what I missed. Nothing. Not one little bit scary. Not very interesting either. What was going on?
I had to wait nearly three decades for my answer when a new edition of the book was published to coincide with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s colossal musical on the subject. Peter Haining, the translator, writes in the introduction.
Inexplicably, the Phantom of the Opera was almost totally ignored by the reviewers when it was published (in 1911) and its sales were certainly disappointing. He goes on to point out that had it not been for the Lon Chaney film and subsequent productions, the book would have remained in obscurity forever.
Maybe my literary judgement at the time wasn’t quite so immature as I generally suppose.