Let’s Get Invisible! by R.L. Stine

Here’s a new blog post about invisibility in fiction, continuing the celebration of the release of my book Invisibility!

Most of the stories about invisibility that I’ve blogged about have been restricted to the 1960s and earlier, coinciding with the golden age and pulp age of science fiction. There are a few books that I’ve been curious enough to explore, however, that are more recent, and one that I couldn’t resist is Let’s Get Invisible!, one of the “Goosebumps” series of books by R.L. Stine!

“Goosebumps” is a series aimed at children, so obviously this wasn’t going to be the deepest story to read, but it has some fun surprises nevertheless! Spoilers ahead, if anyone cares…

The story is narrated by a kid named Max and begins on his birthday. No actual ages are given, but it seems like he’s a pre-teen. At the end of his birthday party, which includes his younger brother Lefty along with his friends Erin, April and Zack, Erin learns that Max’s house has an attic, and insists on going up to explore. (“I love attics!”) The house used to belong to Max’s grandparents, and many of their old belongings were stored up in the attic, long neglected and forgotten.

While exploring the attic, the group first finds a hidden room, untouched for years. And inside that room, they find a strange full length mirror, with an electric light on its top, activated by a pull cord. Max is the first to pull it, turning on the light, and much to the surprise of all his friends, he becomes fully invisible when he does so! Another pull of the switch turns the light off, and the invisibility as well. As the kids experiment, they figure out that they will not reappear after the second pull of the switch until about the same amount of time passes that they were invisible.

Soon it becomes a game, and the gang starts a competition to see who can stay invisible the longest. The first attempts are a couple of minutes at a time, but soon it stretches towards ten minutes and beyond. Max, however, becomes worried. He, and Erin, notice that they longer they stay invisible, the more queasy they feel, and the more distant the real world seems to become. Furthermore, they start to feel a strange pull away from the real world and towards… somewhere else. One night, Max hears a strange voice whispering his name. Is the mirror a simple invisibility device, or is it something far more sinister and dangerous?

I was actually rather surprised by the direction that Let’s Get Invisible! takes in the story! I imagined it would be full of kids using the power of invisibility to act out various nasty tricks and hijinks at school and beyond, but most of the action takes place in Max’s house and its immediate vicinity. Nobody, at first, manages to remain invisible long enough to cause trouble farther away, and when they try… well, that’s when bad things happen.

How does the invisibility work? Well, considering this is a story told by a pre-teen, we can’t expect much in the way of deep scientific explanations! Max does ponder a little bit:

I glanced up at the light, casting a yellow rectangle down onto the mirror. What was the light’s power? I wondered.

Did it do something to your molecules? Make them break apart somehow so you couldn’t be seen?

No. That wasn’t a good theory. If your molecules broke up, you’d have to feel it. And you wouldn’t be able to kick the floor, or squeeze your arm, or talk.

So what did the light do? Did it cover you up somehow? Did the light form some kind of blanket? A covering that hid you from yourself and everyone else?

What a mystery!

They never do figure out how the mirror actually works, but they do learn more about its dangerous secrets and its nature. It has a fun twist about 2/3rds of the way through, and an ending with a satisfying payoff that… well, could leave you with goosebumps.

I never read “Goosebumps” books as a kid, because they came out much too late for me (starting in 1992, when I was already 21 years old). I did recently watch the Fear Street trilogy on Netflix, which is inspired by R.L. Stine’s book series of the same name. I’m not sure how closely the Netflix series followed the books, but I enjoyed the streaming series a lot. And Let’s Get Invisible! was pretty entertaining, too!

Random postscript note: Obviously, Let’s Get Invisible! is a play off of Olivia Newton-John’s song “Let’s Get Physical,” which came out in 1981. Olivia Newton-John was the granddaughter of the Nobel Prize winning physicist Max Born, which is not widely known. Late in life, Born hired a young physicist named Emil Wolf, who would much later become my PhD advisor, to help him work on a new optics book Principles of Optics. Wolf wrote to Newton-John after the passing of Born, and the two of them met and chatted about her grandfather. For the rest of his life, Wolf kept two photos of Newton-John, one in his home and one in his office.

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