Thoughts on invisibility, by Christopher Ransom
Tales of people blessed or cursed with nearly God-like powers — telepathy, immortality, communion with the dead, precognition and, of course, invisibility — have enchanted audiences for centuries. But far too often, the creators of such works get carried away by the fantastic, the clever, the gee-whiz factor inherent in these devices. When such extraordinary protagonists lose their ordinary humanity, audiences can’t connect with the characters, and thus the story.
I know that when I was a child, before I ever saw a movie or read a book about invisibility, I imagined what it would be like to be invisible. Two decades later, when I first saw the trailer for Paul Verhoeven’s The Hollow Man, starring Kevin Bacon, I was excited beyond all reason. Then I saw the film, and was left feeling sick to my stomach. Here was yet another wasted effort, a hundred-million dollar cheapening of what might have been. Of all the things you could think to do with an invisible man, he peeps at naked women and kills dogs? For shame, sir. For shame.
The groundbreaking work in the sub-sub-genre of invisibility, H.G. Wells’s novel The Invisible Man, covers some astute psychological terrain, showing us how this nearly God-like power must translate into corruption of monstrous proportions. But even Wells’s novel can’t stop being wowed by its own conceit, the clever mummy-wrapped visuals and nose-tweaking hijinks against the terrified (and nearly slapstick) villagers. The amazing thing in Wells’s novel is that there is an invisible man at all; his existence is a shocking fact to the mannered Victorians. And perhaps this was enough, given that it hadn’t been done before, in the author’s time and place.
With The Fading, I wanted build on Wells’s foundation, and go deeper. I knew there would be ample opportunities to describe the visuals of my invisible man out and about in the world, and this proved to be great fun. But what truly interested me was the journey into the interior, the exploration of the emotional life of my protagonist, Noel Shaker.
What would uncontrollable, intermittent episodes of invisibility do to this young man’s life? How would it affect his family, friends, relationships with the opposite sex? What would his day-to-day life consist of? How do you run down to the grocery store and shop for sustenance — steaks, breakfast cereal, a six-pack of beer — when you are invisible? How do you earn a living when you can’t even rob a bank without risking the sight of a brick of cash floating out of the vault? I was interested in the cumulative toll such an existence would take on one man’s psyche, the options it would leave him in life.
Far from being a superpower, then, to be invisible proved to be a major disability. One that resulted in isolation, loss, grief, a hermit’s private terror, the guilt of unplanned violence, the bi-polar swing from elation to depression and back again. Such is the stuff of quality horror fiction, and the horror of invisibility is first and foremost a horror of the emotions, not the body.
This is what novels are for. Granting us entry into the emotional lives, the interior world, the experience of being this person. Hollywood is terrific at showing us what it looks like to fly and dodge bullets and save the Lois Lane when she falls from that building. The caliber of special effects these days is such that films can show us anything and everything (usually in assaultive fashion). But even the best films will never be able to capture the interior lives of people the way novels can.
The Fading spans some 25 years in the life of a man who is afflicted with invisibility. It is my attempt to deal with invisibility the way only a novel is capable of. It was the most rewarding book I’ve written, bringing me closer to my main character than I ever expected, and I never wanted it to end. My hope is that readers who climb aboard with Noel, who step inside his transparent skin in order to see what he sees and feel what he feels, will leave the book feeling the same way I did.
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