He was born ugly, and people abused him because he was ugly, so he went on a murder spree. Which character does this describe?
Err … both. Okay.
What about their motivations? The Creature was abandoned hours after his creation, left to fend for himself. He just wanted someone to talk to, right? He was lonely because he was the only person in the world like himself, and even his own reflection frightened him. He learned three different languages to talk to people in, only to hear them screaming at him in three different languages. Even a small child thought he was repulsive. So … he killed the child. Solid logic there, buddy. The next step is obviously to frame an innocent woman for the murder.
And the Phantom, who was stuck in a zoo as a child and grew up being poked and prodded at, who had to wear a mask to get people to stop screaming at him. So escape to the bowels of a theater, blackmail the managers into giving you oodles of money (which you do … what with? do you go out? do you, heaven forbid, buy some company? nope) — and then take advantage of a teenager’s grief at the death of her father to manipulate her into being your student. Yep, sounds good. And when she decides to marry some other dude and escape your clutches, logically the next thing to do is to murder a few people.
Of course, all of this is massive oversimplification. They’re both fascinating stories with really well-developed antagonists. And Frankenstein especially doesn’t have a single handy dandy moral to apply; Frankenstein the character isn’t a good guy either. And you should see all the people who howl that Christine should have picked the Phantom over Raoul. It seems pretty clear-cut that they’re victims … except for the fact that, you know, being lonely and maligned doesn’t exactly excuse the fact that they murder people.
The conclusion? Hats off to Leroux and Shelley, because these books are considered “classics” but are actually readable without choking on a torrent of pretension and condescension. I mean, The Phantom of the Opera was so popular it got turned into an Andrew Lloyd Weber musical, with a sequel. And Frankenstein has been turned into so many movies, including my favorite, the parody Young Frankenstein. Is it possible that a parody can be truer to the book than the zillion other “serious” movies? Maybe so. How delightful. In any case, these stories really are classics in the sense that after all this time, they still make us think.