The Little Man Who Wasn’t All There, by Robert Bloch

More invisibility! More invisibility fiction for the gods of invisibility fiction! Or something. Again, blogging about all the invisibility stories I’ve been coming across while finishing my book on invisibility physics.

It seems that pretty much every important author of science fiction and horror has written a story about invisibility at some point. One really just has to google a famous name and the word “invisibility” and see what comes up.

For example, one of my more recent discoveries is “The Little Man Who Wasn’t All There,” by Robert Bloch, published in the August, 1942 issue of Fantastic Adventures.

Robert Bloch was a correspondent of H.P. Lovecraft’s when he was young, and he went on to have his own impressive career as an author of horror. His most famous tale is Psycho (1959), which was adapted into the Alfred Hitchcock movie of the same name.

“The Little Man Who Wasn’t All There” is one of a series of semi-comedic tall tale type stories narrated by the character Lefty Feep. Bloch wrote 22 of these stories between 1942 and 1946.

This particular tale starts with Feep being very nervous when folks say stuff to him like “I didn’t see you when you came in.” Eventually, the tale is cajoled out of him. He ran into his friend, the magician the Great Gorgonzola (groan) a few days earlier, and Gorgonzola asked for a favor. The magician is planning to be out of town for a few days, and he is worried that his wife will be seduced away by the rival magician Gallstone — and take the secrets of his new magic tricks with her. Could Lefty spend a few days at his house while he’s away, and keep an eye on things?

Of course Lefty does, and when he accidentally gets his coat wet, he borrows one of Gorgonzola’s. Arriving at the race track to do some betting, he finds that his torso is invisible! Hence the title “The Little Man Who Wasn’t All There.” More silliness and wordplay ensues, and in the end Lefty not only has to outwit Gallstone but also has to foil a foreign plot to steal government secrets.

The wit of Bloch’s “comedic” tales falls flat with me, and this particular story is filled with some serious anti-Asian racism. (Published in 1942, in the wake of Pearl Harbor, too many people were willing to indulge in anti-Japanese attacks.)

But what of the invisibility in the story? Lefty speculates:

Maybe there is some new chemical in the cloth, or some fibre that does not reflect light. Whatever it is, Gorgonzola has an invisible suit, and I am wearing it. This is enough for me.

The story ends, as all the Lefty Feep stories do, with some sort of silly pun, twist, or stinger. It is not bad as twists go, but overall I far prefer Bloch’s serious horror.

I suspect the most famous Left Feep story is “The Weird Doom of Floyd Scrilch,” a story about a man who is so ordinary that he is, in effect, the perfect target for every advertisement in print. Scrilch therefore makes a fortune answer those advertisements for various products, because they work supernaturally well for him. But it is possible for things to work too well, hence the “weird doom” of the story’s title.

Stay tuned for more blog posts about invisibility in fiction!

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