Study Guide

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

By Brian Selznick

The Invention of Hugo Cabret Introduction

Gulp! At first glance, The Invention of Hugo Cabret is a hefty book. It weighs in at over 500 pages. You might even feel your eyes drooping from exhaustion already… but seriously, Shmoopers, this one's worth the effort. Admit it, you've seen a long movie or two in your day (hello, Lord of the Rings trilogy), and if you've sat through a four-hour flick, we think you can handle 500 fun-filled pages.

Plus, this novel's got a trick up its sleeve. Much of it is illustrated. Instead of drowning in text, you'll be diving headfirst into a lush, rich, exciting world. So what are you waiting for, Shmoopers? Take the plunge.

This is a book about magic, plain and simple—the magic of the silver screen, the magic of family, friendship, the magical thrill of adventure. And if you’re not sold yet, let us just say that it’s all set in Paris, the City of Light. La Ville-Lumière.

In the book, a young orphan named—you guessed it—Hugo lives in a train station and is obsessed with fixing an automaton that his father left behind when he died. Through a strange series of events, he gets pulled into the world of Georges Méliès, an old man working at the station's toy booth. As Hugo soon finds out, the old geezer has quite the past, filled with magic, film, and mechanical men. Once the two become friends, the story really gets underway.

And what a story it is. With words and pictures, Brian Selznick gives us a world that only great cinema can inspire. In fact, he got the idea to write the book when he watched an old flick called A Trip to the Moon by a guy named Georges Méliès (source)… Wait a sec. That sounds familiar, right?

Right. Selznick thought Méliès would make one awesome main character and decided to write a book about the guy. And of course the book was so good that it became a movie itself: Hugo, starring big names like Chloe Moretz, Ben Kingsley, and Jude Law. It's a fitting adaptation, given that this book is all about the power of film, and is bursting at the seams with movie references galore.

And that's exactly where the magic comes in. After all, what's more enchanting than the good old silver screen? The characters in The Invention of Hugo Cabret get swept up in the adventurous history of moviemaking, and make their own history while they're at it.

What is The Invention of Hugo Cabret About and Why Should I Care?

If you, like us, are an avid fan of How It's Made, then this is the book for you. You'll get to take a peek at the inner workings of all kinds of different things—a wind-up toy, a clock, even the human heart.

And who’s there to lead us through all these discoveries? A little boy named Hugo, who's just scrappy and clever enough to spearhead his own education, even though he's homeless, parentless, and school-less. So how does he manage to learn so much?

Hugo approaches the world with a sense of wonder and inquisitiveness that makes even Shmoop a little jealous. When something interests Hugo, he does everything he can to learn about it, even if his methods are sometimes questionable. He's got curiosity in spades, and he uses it to seek out all the magical and amazing things that surround him. Which is a pretty awesome attitude to have, when you consider the fact that this kiddo hasn't had it easy.

But really, is it any wonder that this kid has such a hungry mind? Just think about the age in which he, well, comes of age. Film has just been introduced (remember those black and white, silent dealies?), and technology is taking off in all kinds of new, even magical directions. In a way, that sounds a lot like our world today, just a little more analog, and a little less digital. There’s magic in the world everywhere, and Hugo, Isabelle and Georges Méliès are all the kind of curious explorers and magicians who seek it out.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret Resources

Websites

Magic Portals
Think the book is pretty magical? The website is equally as magical and interactive, with lots of drawings and fun tidbits about the characters and story.

All Those Movies
If you want to see a full list of all the movies that Georges Méliès made, check out his IMDb page. This guy had quite the resume.

About a Man
If you want to learn more about the man behind all that real-life movie magic, you can read more about Méliès’ life here.

Movie Magic
Check out the official website for Hugo, the movie, which is at least as awesome as the book.

Movie or TV Productions

Hugo (2011)
This movie version of the book also happens to be a tribute to moviemaking in general. And who better to help such a tribute than the ever-awesome Martin Scorsese?

Articles and Interviews

Selznick Interview
If you’re just dying to know more about what Selznick has to say about his book, you can check out his interview with WBEZ here. Spoiler alert: they talk about magicians.

Scorsese Interview
If this book teaches us anything, it’s that filmmakers are very important folks who bring magic into the world. With that in mind, don’t forget to check out this interview with Martin Scorsese, the director of Hugo!

Video

The Real Méliès
Believe it or not, Georges Méliès was a real live filmmaker. And those films that captured Hugo’s and Isabelle’s attention so well? Those are real too. Check out A Trip to the Moon, with added soundtrack.

Hugo Trailer
If you’re on the fence about seeing the movie (although we don't really see how that's possible) you can check out the trailer online and make your final decision.

Méliès's The Black Devil
We promise, it's not a scary flick.

Méliès's The Conjurer
Starring Georges himself. And is that Mama Jeanne, his lovely wife and assistant?

Audio

The Real Scoop
Listen to Brian Selznick, the man behind the magic (of this book, at least) talking about The Invention of Hugo Cabret and where his ideas came from.

Brian Selznick, Ferroequinologist
Who likes train stations? Brian Selznick, that’s who. Check out this interview of the book’s author exploring Grand Central Station’s “secrets.” Hmm, he sounds like a certain boy we know…

Images

That’s Gotta Hurt
If you don’t understand why the train crash that happened was the stuff of nightmares for Hugo, take a look at this real photograph.

Mustachioed Glory
As facial hair grows, this stuff is pretty awesome.

A Day at the Movies
Awww, look at this cute film still from Hugo of the titular character and Isabelle watching a movie.

The Station Today
The Gare Montparnasse train station has definitely been updated since Hugo’s time…

Got something in your eye, there?
Ouch! Here’s the famous image from A Trip to the Moon that Hugo’s automaton drew.

Paris at Night
Paris at night really does look pretty magical. We bet the view that Hugo and Isabelle saw from the glass clocks was breathtaking!

Little Man
Hugo’s automaton probably looked something like this one, except for that creepy face!