Magician, Traveler, Trickster

Hermes of Ancient Greece was in fact a lot more than a messenger of the gods. Great magicians appealed to him for enlightenment, for he was the father of the Art of Magic. Lost travelers would appeal to him for guidance, even though the mischievious god would usually point them in the wrong direction. Had Hermes not done this, however, then new territories would have been left undiscovered and new roads would still be left unpaved. On a darker level, vagabonds also appealed to Hermes, because of his skills as a trickster. Needless to say, Hermes appeared in this Tarot deck as the Magician.

One of Erik's other trademarks, often forgotten by cinema and occasionally in theatre, is his gift as a Master Magician. While traveling with the gypsies all over Europe, the child Erik not only mastered every magician's secret he could find but also improved upon them. By the time Erik reached adulthood, he established a well-earned reputation for his breath-taking skills in ventriloquism, legerdemain, hypnotism, and a whole host of other magical arts. The Sultan of Persia himself wanted Erik to entertain at his palace, and so sent out the daroga to find him. Later on, Erik found similar employment working for the Sultan of Turkey. His clever manuevers as the Opera Ghost in Paris confounded masses of people for quite a few years.

According to Leroux, Kay, and Siciliano, Erik traveled all over Europe and the Middle East before settling into his retirement years as the Opera Ghost. Erik was also a Master Architect, as seen in his remarkable works in Persia, Turkey, and - of course - Paris. (According to Forsyth, his handiwork can be also be seen in Manhattan - a remarkable structure known as The Hall of Mirrors.) Erik as the Guide for Lost Travelers could be a mischieviously troublesome guide; anyone who dared invade his territory would quickly lose themselves in the mazes he constructed.

In the movie by Waterbearer Films, the Phantom boasts, "I have built great cities for the Shah of Persia. I have performed feats of magic for the Czar of Russia so artful, that in St. Petersburg they still dispute whether it was sorcery or mere sleight of hand....(I have) used my powers of ventriloquism and illusion to relieve a distant empire of it's crown jewels. I even had a hand in fashioning this Grand Monument, this subterranean chateau in which I languish."

Even in the highly romanticized teleplay by Arthur Kopit, it is clear that Erik is skilled in the construction and use of trap doors. He is also a witty trickster, as seen in his practical jokes with the malevolent Carlotta. When he escorts Christine through his "woods" he has constructed in his lair, he playfully tells her, "One can get lost in these woods if one does not know the way. (Pauses) Or has a guide who does."

Then, of course, there are the unforgettable scenes in the musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Erik boldly walks down the steps of the opera house foyer during a crowded party and leaves his message, right before a spark flies and he disappears into thin air. It is not the only time in this show he performs such a stunning disappearing act. He also uses ventriloquism and trap doors to make Christine believe he is her Angel of Music. This is also done in other versions, including the children's cartoon, the musical by Theatreworks, the silent film starring Lon Chaney, and most of the novels including the original story by Leroux himself.

While Forsyth's novel The Phantom of Manhattan has serious flaws, one saving grace is the lavish construction Erik builds at Coney Island: The Hall of Mirrors. It is easy enough to get lost in that structure, but Erik also has switches that shift entire walls to change the path for any poor soul trapped inside. In the movie starring Gerard Butler, there is a brief glimpse of a similar structure in his lair during a chase scene involving Raoul.

The road to Erik himself is never easy, but to take an easier road would mean no new discoveries about yourself or your surroundings. In the case of the young Viscount Raoul de Chagny, the boyish aristocrat was far too naive and unprepared for the challenging rescue mission to the North Pole. The daroga would probably have remained safely in his post in Persia, but - I can only speculate on this - he may have descended into corruption under the thumb of the sadistic Sultana had he not lost his post on account of Erik.

The darker side of Hermes involves the use of tricks for malevolent purposes. Vagabonds admired the skills of Hermes, in the way that a pickpocket admired the skills of legerdemain. These qualities of The Trickster can also be seen in Erik. During his years as the Phantom, Erik "humbugged" the managers out of at least 20,000 francs a month by use of trap doors, "placed a frog" in Carlotta's throat by use of ventriloquism, and made two grown men believe they were in the middle of a desert. Many other mischievious deeds by Erik made unsuspecting victims believe they were being haunted by a ghost.

Well, I never said Erik is a saint. I just never saw him as some evil monster either. He can be quite the Trickster when he wants to be; he had Christine believing he was literally an Angel.....

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