“The Invention of Hugo Cabret” by Brian Selznick (Scholastic, 2007)

The Invention of Hugo Cabretstarstarstarstarstar

Brian Selznick, who previously has done a mixture of writing and illustration, brings us his greatest creation to date: The Invention of Hugo Cabret.  The main character, Hugo, is a young orphan who used to live with his uncle behind the scenes of a Paris train station.  Then his uncle died, and Hugo now spends his time, in the late 1930s, winding up and oiling, fixing and maintaining the many clocks and devices around the train station, all alone.  He is rarely seen and actually lives behind the walls, while thousands of people, day to day, travel to make their trains, or disembark for other destinations.

It is on one day that he gets to know the man who owns the newsagents in the train station, after befriending his daughter.  The story slowly unfolds that the man is actually George Méliès, one of the most important people in the early days of film, his most famous piece being about four men who traveled to the moon known as A Trip to The Moon, with the memorable image of the dough-like moon with a face grimacing as the bullet-like ship is shot into its eye.  Méliès died in 1938, but it is in this story that he lives on, working in obscurity at the newsagents.  The story unravels further to reveal an inextricable link between Méliès and Hugo.

While this would be an enjoyable story in its own right, Selznick has created a new medium using not just words, or pictures, or illustrations, but incorporating all three into a chronological miasma.  The book begins like a movie, with fifty pages of gray illustration as we zoom in on the train station, into the clock and Hugo Cabret.  Then there is the start of the story in word form, but instantly switching to illustration again, and then cutting to photographs where necessary.  The difference here is that the illustrations are not revealing the written word, but continuing the story of the word.  You cannot skip one or you miss the story.  The Invention of Hugo Cabret uses all these forms to make this not just a book, but a collection of illustrations, and a type of movie or flicker-book that are all interwoven to tell the story of Hugo Cabret and his relationship with George Méliès, one of the original geniuses in the early days of film.

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Originally written on April 28th, 2007 ©Alex C. Telander.