The Phantom's story has been changed many times by different directors and authors, but according to the original novel by Gaston Leroux, a man named Erik lived underneath the Paris Opera House in the 19th century. He was a musical genius, but shunned the outside world and used skillful trickery and gadgets (like a two-way mirror) to make himself seem like a ghost haunting the place. He demanded a payment of 20,000 francs a month and the free use of 'Box 5' from the managers, threatening violence and disaster upon them and the company should they fail to comply. As the story begins, however, two new managers take over and dismiss his mysterious notes and the company's stories about him as nonsense.

At some point he has also taken on a protegée, Christine Daaë, a talented soprano. He gives her voice lessons through the wall of her room and leads her to believe he is the spirit of her deceased father. He develops an obsession with her, growing extremely jealous of her suitor, Raoul, the Vicomte de Chagny. He finally appears physically to her, wearing a mask and leading her to his underground lair. Christine soon discovers that he hides a terrible facial deformity behind the mask, and becomes afraid of him. He finally releases her, but makes her promise to love only him and to return to him of her own free will.

She agrees, but eventually confesses the whole story to Raoul. She and Raoul declare their love and plan to run away together. Erik eavesdrops and becomes enraged, eventually kidnapping Christine right off the stage during a performance. Raoul follows, and Erik traps him in a torture chamber where he can only listen as he, Erik, rants at Christine and accuses her of betrayal. He threatens to blow up the Opera House if Christine does not agree to marry him. After many hours together, she finally agrees, expressing her honest sympathy for his pain and realizing her love for him.  He allows Raoul and Christine to leave, giving them his blessing and requesting only that  He expresses his pain over a life lived without love and how Christine changed his life in a dramatic monologue, and 

The Phantom's story has been interpreted many times, occasionally as more of a horror story with less focus on Leroux's original story. It was also adapted into a Broadway musical in 1986 by Andrew Lloyd Webber, and it remains the longest-running show on Broadway to date. A film of the show was released in 2004. Other books have been released about the character as well, including Susan Kay's 1990 novel Phantom, which tells his entire life's story and incorporates aspects of the original novel and the Broadway show, and is considered to be 'canon' by many fans.

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