AWESOME-tober-fest 2015: What Was It? A Mystery (1859) by Fitz-James O’brien
And we are off! So, I had planned on beginning AWESOME-tober-fest 2015 on October 1, but I got excited and I’ve decided to start one day early. Today. So, enjoy everyone, my discussion of all things invisible man begins NOW.
Usually with any discussion of invisible men, ground zero is assumed to be HG Wells’ 1897 story, The Invisible Man. And yes, that is probably the most important work on invisibility to date. And yes, I am going to review that book (check back tomorrow). However, Wells’ story wasn’t the first to feature invisibility, or an invisible man.
In 1859 Harper’s Weekly published a short story by Fitz-James O’Brien titled What Was It? A Mystery. O’Brien is considered to be one of the forerunners of science fiction. And this particular short story is considered one of the earliest known uses of invisibility. It predated HG Wells’ story by nearly 40 years.
I was doing research on invisibility for this month and discovered an anthology from the 70s that included stories about invisibility. It was called Invisible Men and it’s edited by Basil Davenport.
I looked through the list of stories included. There is one from Wells himself, but not the titular Invisible Man. It’s another story entitled The New Accelerator. O’Brien’s short story was also included. Doing a little more research I discovered the history behind O’Brien and this particular story and decided that I should give it a read.
It’s a very interesting and atmospheric story. It’s based in an old apartment building and features several of the renters. One of them is attacked by an unseen force one evening. The unseen force is captured and tied to the bed. The renters try to figure out what it is and even take a plaster cast of it. But the invisible being dies before they can discover what it is. That’s the long and short of it.
It’s structure is very similar to a lot of Lovecraft’s early stuff. The story is told by a narrator from the present who is relating events that happened in the past. The events are never really fully explained and it leaves you with an uneasy, creepy feeling. Another similar story that comes to mind is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s short and creepy The Ring of Thoth as well as Lovecraft’s Out of the Aeons.
And that is What Was It? A Mystery, one of the first uses of invisibility in literary fiction. It was a fun and interesting read. Especially to set the table for the movies and books to come this month.
Also, check out the blog Countdown to Halloween for more Halloween-y, bloggy AWESOMEness.