Frankenstein was the creator, but the name in time came to refer to the creation. Were someone to identify a human being as God, the inevitable response would be ridicule, if not concern for psychological wholeness.
Dracula, befitting a vampire’s sinister and Christ-stripped immortality, has surpassed the intentions of his demiurge. The implacable descendent of Attila the Hun removed his elderly, mustached figure from the crypt of Bram Stoker’s epistolary novel to be transmuted into a morphine-destined actor’s signature role, clean-shaven and tuxedoed, to be transmuted again and again, diminished ever further.
The Phantom of the Opera is a deceptive fellow, too. The era of his fictional environs notwithstanding, 20th-century imagination manufactured him. Gaston Leroux published the novel that introduced the misshapen titular character in 1910, two years after the debut between book covers of Ezra Pound’s poems. The Phantom is only five years older than J. Alfred Prufrock.
Leroux was the artificer, but had no hand in this progeny’s reputation. The French-born Phantom metamorphosed into the alter ego of Lon Chaney, whose Grand Guignol makeup was awarded eternity as an icon of American silent cinema. Leroux’s exposition of the forbidding face was sketchy and rendered through the stunned recollection of the Phantom’s obsession, Christine:
But imagine, if you can, Red Death’s mask suddenly coming to life in order to express, with the four black holes of its eyes, its nose, and its mouth, the extreme anger, the mighty fury of a demon.
An unspeakable birth defect, indeed. No one can tell what guided Leroux’s design. Chaney’s models were disfigured World War I soldiers.
Leroux’s Phantom was an architect alienated by his hideousness, by the inaccessibility of heterosexual love. Filmmakers and theatrical impresarios reduced him to a deranged musician. The febrile Renaissance man became a pathetic acid-scarred violinist, became a bargain-striker with the devil, became a Broadway tourist attraction.
Leroux’s Phantom died quietly and romantically. Diagnosis: a broken heart. The Phantom’s maker did not leave in such grandiloquent penny-dreadful fashion. Gaston Leroux died in 1927 of uremia.
A mini-essay/prose poem in belated celebration of Halloween. One of the pleasures of editing Sentence has been publishing work like this that straddles conventional boundaries of genre (or subgenre) and thereby extends ideas of what a "prose poem" (and thus a "poem") is or can be. This particular piece will appear in Sentence 8, which will appear shortly. I also love the way this piece takes a kind of pop culture approach to a pre-pop-culture era--in particular the era of High Modernism, which also happens to be the era of the birth of cinema, the most pop of pop culture.