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Hannah Sternberg

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January 25, 2012 - 9:59 pm

5. Gaston Leroux: The Phantom of the Opera has been adapted to film no less than fourteen times, and that’s not counting the screenplay I wrote for it in a marble composition book in middle school. It’s just a cracking story from a person unafraid of telling a cracking story. No histrionics are too shrill, no mysterious pits too deep, no tortured antiheroes too twisted for Gaston Leroux.

If you want to enjoy a pure unadulterated blast of Phantom magic, you don’t have to shell out for a trip to New York and theater tickets. Just open the book: The Phantom of the Opera is one of those books that reads like a movie. Like the next author in the list, Gaston Leroux’s original work tends to get overlooked after so many iterations, and many people feel that as long as they know the story, the book that got it started isn’t a must-read. That’s too bad. It’s like never reading Sherlock Holmes.

Why your college professor should love him: The eponymous anti-hero of The Phantom of the Opera is a disfigured outcast; a great example of pulp fiction’s love of the underdog. He’s balanced out by the typical, stunningly-handsome Prince Charming, but seriously, who’s really cheering for him?

4. Bram Stoker: If you haven’t read the original novel Dracula by Bram Stoker, pick it up. We suffer collectively from vampire burnout and the best way to rediscover the genre is to go back to the novel that popularized it. I stopped caring about vampire stuff when I stopped watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer sometime after high school and I hold no grudge against Twilight, even though I never really got into it. Meanwhile Bram Stoker’s novel has been gaining academic respect for all the wrong reasons: themes of sexual politics or death-fetishism or something like that. We’d all be better off if our classes just sat down and had a good old-fashioned gush about how much fun it is.

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First of all, Dracula is chilling, even to people who have grown up their whole lives being assailed by iterations of the well-worn story. It’s the kind of book you both fear and look forward to reading in the dark of a windy night in an empty, creaky house.

Secondly, Dracula is one of those magical books that stays suspenseful even in successive readings. Obviously you should give it a healthy interval to forget some of the juicy details, so they can surprise you all over again. But the suspense is also largely a product of tone. With multiple narrators, it’s unsettling to see how no single character ever holds all the threads in his hand. Watching the protagonists painfully weave them together to draw the net around Dracula always leaves you with the sense that they were that close to missing.

When I was hunting for creepy fiction to read last Halloween, I stumbled across Stoker’s short story, “The Judge’s House,” which proves that Dracula wasn’t just a fluke.

Why your English professor should love it: Chances are he or she already does, but here’s a tip: when your class sits down to discuss Dracula, raise your hand and say, “Can we just talk for a second about how scary it is?” I had to call a friend in the middle of the night because of that book.

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