For the letter ‘I’ for ABCWednesday, the book I am featuring is ‘The Invention of Hugo Cabret‘ by Brian Selznick. While it had been a while since I read the book (2012 or 2013, I think, around the time the movie came out), I recalled the awe I felt as I read it. Wanting to rekindle that magical feeling, I read it again today – yes, in one sitting (thereby fulfilling my unmade goal of (re)reading the books picked for this series). Before you wonder, there is no need to learn speed-reading, this is a book that can be read easily in one sitting! If you have not heard of this book before (but maybe know about the movie), this book is part graphic novel, part storyboard, part comics, and the rest of it, a “novel”-novel.
Part fiction and part fact, this book is a beautiful tribute to film – the beginnings of film, the silent films of a bygone era, and to some of the great pioneers, well, specifically one – George Melies. As you flip through the pages of the book, the pictures and words both work together to tell you the story.
Selznick begins the story with a narrator giving a brief introduction that contain these words which will give you an insight into the book:
“I want you to picture yourself sitting in the darkness, like the beginning of a movie. … You will eventually spot a boy amid the crowd, and he will start to move through the train station. Follow him, because this is Hugo Cabret. His head is full of secrets, and he’s waiting for his story to begin.”
The story begins (and ends) in Paris. As the pictures (click the link to see those pictures!) on the first pages of the book zoom in and out to show you a moon shining over the city of Paris in 1931, and in the city’s railway station, there lived a little orphan boy named Hugo in it’s walls who through the eyes of the clock spied upon a melancholy old man in his toy shop; and then the words take over to tell you the next part of the story, until the pictures continue again, and back and forth to make the reading of this book a totally ‘novel’, totally magical experience. A book about learning, facing hardships and triumph over them, of survival, of friendship and family, of films, of people, and more – truly inspirational, and it has inspired me in the past too with writing, and hopefully more in the future with writing and drawing!
Some fun facts and other stuff I learned because of the book and sharing it with you here:
About Melies: Much of what is mentioned about the filmmaker is real in this book.
Melies‘ dad was a shoe maker; but Melies’ interest in magic led him to be a magician for a while.
When he first glimpsed a demonstration of the Lumiere Cinématographe in a private screening for a select audience (he among them), he knew what he wanted to do next – a new kind of magic – films. This was apparent from his words after that first screening – We sat with our mouths open, without speaking, filled with amazement. When Lumiere decided not to sell the Cinematogrpahe, Melies worked on his own version of the cinematographe using parts he had already; and later ended up using other companies cameras for making films.
He designed and collected automata that he donated to a museum later in life when he could no longer afford to maintain them.
Many of his films were lost or destroyed; the French military who occupied his offices after his financial ruin melted down many of Méliès’s films to gather the traces of silver from the film stock and make boot heels from the celluloid. 🙁
He did own a toy shop in a train station – the Gare Montparnasse (which is where the book and the movie is set in as well). He was found and rediscovered and honored later in his life.
Melies’ most famous movie (which is also featured in the book and the movie) is ‘A Trip to the Moon‘ – (one of) the first science fiction movies made; and he also made Le Petit Chaperon Rouge which was one of the first of many adaptations of the “Little Red Riding Hood” story. The image of the rocket landing in the eye of the man in the moon is iconic in cinema history.
Piracy was a problem even as early as these first movies – Melies movies were pirated often, much to his chagrin. He tried watermarking each and every image with his movie company logo but that did not deter the pirates who simply erased the logo using their own techniques and continued to pirate his movies!
With all the techniques and tricks he employed in his movies (and he made over 500 of them), Melies is considered the Father of Special Effects, and of course, a pioneer of science-fiction movies.
(NOTE: The photo below is a diorama made for the book by my son for his fourth grade book report project. Added a scene from the book on it as had other non-related schoolwork there:) )
Other Parallels, Asides, and Trivia: Life, Book, and the Movie:
The book mentions and depicts a photo with a scene from Harold Lloyd’s 1923 movie ‘Safety Last!’- where the hero is hanging from the hand of a clock. In the book, Hugo himself does not really hang from the clock while in the movie there is a scene where he is hanging from the clock. This is a nod to the scene Hugo talks about in the book (in addition to showing the scene from the ‘Safety Last!’ movie itself)
Automata: Hugo’s father dies in a museum fire and the automaton is almost destroyed (Hugo retrieves it from the trash and works on restoring it hoping there is a hidden message from his dad – this is one of the central themes of the story). In life – Robert-Houdin’s Hand Writing and Drawing Automaton was in Barnum’s American Museum in NYC and it was lost forever when the museum burnt to the ground. In the movie, the automaton made for the movie actually does what it is supposed to (and takes about 46 minutes to complete it; the only difference being the book one is mechanical and the movie one computer software based! The automaton in the book (and the movie) was inspired by an existing automaton at display in The Franklin Institute.
In the book (and movie), Melies’ is godfather to Isabelle, an orphaned girl who was a daughter of close friends; and who lived with him and his wife after the death of her parents. Melies’ granddaughter Madeline came to live with her grandparents after her mother died (Melies’ daughter).
The movie has a few silent moments where you only see action – scene by scene – kind of following the theme of the book – only pictures to tell the story, no words used.
The book won the Caldecott Award in 2008 – and the reason I mention it is because this award is normally given to picture books and this was the first time a novel of over 500 pages won it!
In addition to these facts, I learned much more about Melies, automata, magic, illusions, the history of cinema, and so much more as I went through links mentioned in the book’s afterword by Brian Selznick and through the book’s website. As well as various other websites which gave me new and interesting, but unrelated information!!
The book itself and its website – http://theinventionofhugocabret.com
This post goes towards ABC Wednesday‘s round 22 – letter I (my theme for ABC Wednesday’s Round 22 is children’s books – I will pick one popular (and sometimes the not so popular/the unknown) book – classic/modern/old/new… – and write about it – be it a backstory or facts or something else completely).