Study Guide

The Invention of Hugo Cabret Transformation

By Brian Selznick

Transformation

And so Hugo began working all day in the dark on the clocks. (1.5.41)

Hugo quickly goes from a happy-go-lucky kid who adores his father and has lots of close friends at school to the poster child for underage, homeless workers. Uncle Claude really did a good job of bringing that kid up right.

He had been studying the book very closely and had learned how to do just about every magic trick it talked about. (1.11.6)

Hugo becomes a magician in his own right after he reads the book that he bought and watches Papa Georges performing some tricks. In fact he becomes good enough to make Isabelle’s key necklace “vanish” without her knowing it. After all, what's pickpocketing if not an example of sleight of hand?

The mechanical man hadn’t been writing… it was drawing! (2.12.54)

The mechanical man that Hugo has been so eagerly trying to fix has finally been transformed. It’s no longer a hunk of metal; it’s a moving, (not-quite) breathing little being.

“HA!” he cried. “How could this be mine? I am not an artist. I am nothing! I’m a penniless merchant, a prisoner! A shell! A windup toy!” (2.2.16)

Papa Georges seems quite upset that he’s been turned from a famous filmmaker into a toy booth owner, and with good reason. He used to have the most magical of lives, and now he’s just bitter and filled with regret. But there's still another transformation to be made…

“Maybe it’s the same with people,” Hugo continued. “If you lose your purpose… it’s like you’re broken.”

“Like Papa Georges?”

“Maybe… maybe we can fix him.” (2.6.20-22)

Not all is lost for Papa Georges, though. Hugo and Isabelle are convinced that they can snap him out of his decades-long funk and get him back to the magician he used to be. They can work some magic of their own.

“It’s so beautiful,” said Isabelle. “It looks like the whole city is made out of stars.” (2.6.310)

The train station is the dingy place where Hugo is stuck traveling through dark hidden passages all day. But at night, when he’s up at the glass clocks, the city transforms into a real dreamscape.

It was the cape from A Trip to the Moon, and Georges Méliès was wearing it. (2.10.9)

Is it a bird? A plane? A flying blimp? No, it’s Papa Georges! And he’s turned back into his old magician self, just in time to save the day. He's transformed from grump to hero. And all it takes is a cape.

“Then you know Prometheus was rescued in the end. His chains were broken and he was finally set free.” The old man squinted one of his eyes and added, “How about that?” (2.11.19)

Like Prometheus, both Hugo and Méliès are set free at the end and can live their lives as they please. And how do they choose to do so? By forging a family.

Now that my cocoon has fallen away and I have emerged as a magician named Professor Alcofrisbas, I can look back and see that I was right. (2.12.4)

By the end of the book, Hugo has turned into a magician. Seriously, Shmoopers. He now goes as Professor Alcofrisbas, a name that Papa Georges bestowed upon him when he was performing magic tricks at the Film Academy gala.

The automaton my father discovered did save me. (2.12.5)

It may just be a little mechanical man, but that automaton changed everything. Now that's magic.