I’ve read voraciously for as long as I can remember. Listening to the inner monologue of characters, seeing them work through challenges, and learning how different people relate to each other and their world fascinates me. In middle school, I discovered one of the stories that would haunt me for the rest of my life—Gaston Leroux’s The Phantom of the Opera.
I was obsessed with Poe and ghost stories at the time, but this book was something different. Leroux’s tale spoke of the Phantom as both an urban legend and a real person. Though his narrator gives damning evidence that the Phantom—Eric—is horrible and dangerous, he still shows Eric as a human being, with real motivations and very real suffering. And at the end, Leroux leaves room for a sliver of doubt. Were these stories built up around an innocent man who was persecuted because of being born different?
I think everyone has had at least one moment in their lives when they felt the weight of their uniqueness as a sort of existential crisis. We have all felt different—and through that, we’ve felt isolated. Most people have also seen how an event can be warped through retellings, till the final embellished tale bears little resemblance to the reality. Leroux captures both experiences and entwines them in a tale that was destined to be a classic.
After reading his story, I started to wonder—what if there really was a man behind the legends of the Phantom of the Opera? Someone who just happened to look different? What if he wasn’t a psychopath? What if he was kind? And then the real question hit me. What if he found out about the tales that sprang from his life? How would he react?
I had to explore this. And that is how Dante Lucerne was born.
He sees himself as an unremarkable man (I must disagree with him on this count), except perhaps for the scars that have always set him apart from others. A set designer for a failing theater, looking for a place where he could fit in and feel like he’s part of something. Looking for a family. I think we can all relate to that.