The Ghost’s Conscience: The Persian in “The Phantom of the Opera”
Many people are familiar with the haunting mystery/horror story that is French writer Gaston Leroux’s Phantom of the Opera. They know of the ill-fated obsession that Erik, a brilliant yet malformed musician, held for the talented young opera singer Christine Daae; they know how he masqueraded as the Angel of Music from her childhood stories to win her trust and her love. Yet how many of them are aware of the one man who was his friend, who wasn’t afraid of him and told him what he needed to hear even if he didn’t want to hear it? If their knowledge is based solely on the various film versions or the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, then chances are they have never heard of the Persian.
The Persian is a rather enigmatic character; Leroux only reveals that he was the chief of police in the Persian town of Mazenderan and was exiled for helping Erik to escape after the sultan decreed he should be executed. We do not even learn his name; Erik addresses him by his title, “Daroga”, whereas everyone else merely refers to him as “The Persian”. Yet this nameless character is one of the most important influences in The Phantom of the Opera, for when Erik is at his most monstrous, the Persian is there as his friend and conscience.
Because of his appearance, Erik shuns his fellow men except when he thinks he can get something out of an arrangement. He cares little for the world in general and is content to leave it alone except when it amuses him to cause mischief. Consequently, the people he encounters either hate him for his ugliness or fear him for his genius. The Persian is unique in this regard because sees past Erik’s appearance for what he really is—a lonely, misguided man who believes his unusual situation means he owes nothing to humanity and can act as he pleases without thought of whom he might hurt. Recognizing this as dangerous, he strives to keep Erik from causing further harm. Erik was responsible for many murders in Mazenderan—sanctioned ones and unofficial ones—and the Persian knows how unscrupulous he can be.
This knowledge of his un-scrupulosity causes the Persian to act as Erik’s conscience. When the chandelier falls during a performance of Faust, he immediately suspects that it is the work of the “Opera Ghost”, and he reminds his friend, “You know what you promised me, Erik? No more murders!”  Although Erik acts quite nonchalantly about the incident, he is still influenced by the Persian’s words. The Persian is the one man in the entire world that he respects, but that respect has limits. He does not take it well when the Persian questions his relationship with Christine Daae but still yields to his friend’s pressure to let her go. However, the Persian knows Erik too well and continues to monitor his interactions with the young opera singer, and due to his vigilance, he is able to assist Vicomte Raoul de Chagny in rescuing Christine after Erik abducts her rather than letting her marry Raoul.
The Persian’s actions as both friend and conscience play an important role in The Phantom of the Opera. He attempts to change Erik from a monster into a man by forcing him to promise that he would no longer commit murders and also by reminding Erik that he owes the Persian his life. As the Persian and Raoul are close to drowning in the cellars, the former calls out to the scrap of humanity he has striven to place in Erik’s heart with the hope that previously buried mercy will at last surface: “I saved your life! Remember! You were sentenced to death! But for me, you would be dead now!” Although Erik instead responds to Christine’s pleas to save their lives, he would not have been as receptive had the Persian not been a true friend in the past and a persistent conscience in the present. His influence makes it possible for Christine to bring Erik into the human race at last.
* Leroux, Gaston. The Phantom of the Opera, Chapter XXI: “Interesting and Instructive Vicissitudes of a Persian in the Cellars of the Paris Opera”.
* Ibid., Chapter XXV: “The Scorpion or the Grasshopper: Which?”
(Read more of Emerald’s works at My Turn to Talk)