Friday, June 29, 2018

Invisibility in literature

Lacking today's CGI, the 1933 movie adaptation of
H.G. Wells' The Invisible Man relied on bandages to
cover up his invisibility.
From the first page of Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison uses the unnamed narrator's metaphorical invisibility to give him the ability to tell his story. But in a lot of literature — generally speaking, science fiction and fantasy literature — invisibility is literal.

As this Smithsonian article from 2012 points out, invisibility as a plot point or literary characteristic stretches all the way back to Greek mythology (with Hades' cap of invisibility) and Plato, whose Republic features a character that finds a ring that renders him invisible, a device that was replicated in J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings books. Perhaps the best-known example of actual invisibility in literature (and the most likely cause for confusion in this summer's book selection) is H.G. Wells 1897 novella, The Invisible Man, in which a scientist creates a formula to make himself invisible.

The Smithsonian Air & Space Museum
displays Wonder Woman's invisible jet
on April 1, 2015.
The device continues to pop up throughout literature and movies, often (but not always) coinciding with the character's desire to be unnoticed (such as Harry Potter and his invisibility cloak or Violet's shyness in the Incredibles movies) or feeling of being ignored (such as in Andrew Kaufman's short novel All My Friends are Superheroes and in a flotilla of young adult fantasy novels). Several superhero comics series include characters with the powers of invisibility, most notably Fantastic Four's Invisible Woman, Martian Manhunter, and, of course, Wonder Woman's invisible jet.

What are your favorite uses of invisibility in literature?

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