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The Invention of Hugo Cabret

A scene from George Méliès’s film, The One Man Band

George Méliès is widely regarded as the father of special effects. From the 19th to the 20th century, he mastered them to create movies of science fiction and fantasy. Below is an adapted excerpt from the book The Invention of Hugo Cabret, a fictional re-telling of Méliès’ life.

 

They pushed the door open, and the five of them stood there, expecting to see a huge mess, ripped-up drawings, chaos. But that’s not what they saw at all.

The bed had been pushed to the side. George Méliès was sitting at a desk that he had dragged to the centre of the room, a pen poised in his hand as though he were a giant version of the automaton. The old man’s past drawings completely covered the floor, radiating from the foot of the desk, creeping up over the bed and across the walls, where they had been tacked all the way to the ceiling. The curtains were drawn shut and the projector was sitting on one of the bedside tables. From the projector, the film flickered across the entire wall. Images of the moon and the rocket and the explorers shimmered across the old man’s face and onto the sea of his beautiful drawings.

“My parents were shoemakers, did you know that?” he asked as he looked toward Hugo and Isabelle.

“They wanted me to work in their factory, but the only thing I liked about it was the machinery. I taught myself how to fix machines, and I dreamed about getting away and becoming a magician. So when I was finally old enough I sold my share of the factory and bought a magic theatre. We were very happy.

Then the Lumière brothers invented the movies. I immediately fell in love with their invention, and I asked them to sell me a camera. The Lumière brothers refused my request, so I was forced to build my own. My beautiful wife became my muse, my star. I made hundreds of movies, and we thought it would never end. How could it? But the war came, and afterward everything was lost. And just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, two of my dearest friends were killed in a terrible car accident. But their baby daughter survived.”

“Me?” said Isabelle.

Take a closer look at the passage below. Can you tell how the author manages to convey the atmosphere and sense of suspense?

They pushed the door open, and the five of them stood there, expecting to see a huge mess, ripped-up drawings, chaos. But that’s not what they saw at all.

The bed had been pushed to the side. George Méliès was sitting at a desk that he had dragged to the centre of the room, a pen poised in his hand as though he were a giant version of the automaton. The old man’s past drawings completely covered the floor, radiating from the foot of the desk, creeping up over the bed and across the walls, where they had been tacked all the way to the ceiling. The curtains were drawn shut and the projector was sitting on one of the bedside tables. From the projector, his film flickered across the entire wall. Images of the moon and the rocket and the explorers shimmered across the old man’s face and onto the sea of his beautiful drawings.

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