Gladiator Summary

Philip Gordon Wylie


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Gladiator Summary

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Published in 1930, Gladiator by Philip Gordon Wylie is a science fiction classic novel. The novel inspired the creators of Superman and helped to develop the superhero archetype.

Gladiator tells the story of Hugo Danner. He is an outsider who spends his entire life trying to find acceptance and fulfillment. Hugo’s father conducted prenatal chemical experiments on him. These experiments caused Hugo to be born with extraordinary levels of strength, speed, and intelligence. At first, genetically-altered Hugo hides his special gifts from those around him. The novel deals with his struggle to cope with his abilities and figure out his role in the world.

Professor Abednego Danner lives in a small, rural Colorado town at the turn of the 20th century. The Professor is married to a conservative religious woman. Their marriage is not a happy one.

Professor Danner becomes obsessed with unlocking the genetic potential of living beings. He begins experimenting on animals. First, a tadpole becomes so strong that it is able to break the bowl that holds it. Next, a kitten is able to attack larger animals using its strength and speed. The Professor is forced to kill the cat fearing that is has become too dangerous. He poisons it.

Without her knowledge, Abednego begins conducting genetic experiments on his pregnant wife and his first child. From birth, his son, Hugo, demonstrates his superhuman powers. Mrs. Danner realizes that her husband has conducted experiments on his own son. She despises her husband for what she has done to her and her son. She does not leave or divorce her husband. Instead, she chooses to raise Hugo to view his incredible talents as gifts. But, his mother also tells Hugo not to reveal his gifts to others. If he gets angry, he cannot get into a fight because one punch would reveal his incredible strength. His mother worries he would be the target of a witch-hunt if others found out about his power.

Hugo, who already feels out of place, is bullied at school. But he cannot fight back and risk revealing his abilities. Only when he is alone in nature around his home is he able to try using and testing his extraordinary strength. He tests his powers out on the trees around him.

As a teenager, Hugo is able to use his abilities to become a star football player in high school. He finds summer jobs that use his strength. He works as a strongman in a sideshow act at the boardwalk. He also works as a professional fighter. He receives a college scholarship to play football. Unfortunately, he is forced to quit school after he accidentally kills another football player with his brute force.

With school no longer an option, Hugo goes to France to fight in World War I as part of the French Foreign Legion. One of his special abilities is bulletproof skin. His skin helps him to stay alive on the battlefield.

After the war, Hugo returns home a war hero. He finds a job at the bank. One day a person gets locked inside the bank’s vault. Hugo is able to rescue the man by ripping off the door. He asks everyone to leave the room before he does so. Instead of being thanked for saving a man, his employer views Hugo with suspicion. The bank decides that Hugo is a thief who was working at the bank waiting for an opportunity to break into and rob the vault. Hugo is fired from his job. The bank tries to torture him into showing them how he opened the vault. Using his abilities, Hugo is able to prevent the torture and escape arrest. As he escapes, he lifts a car high above his head into the air. (Fans of Superman will know that Superman did the same thing in his first Action Comics appearance.)

In the next step of his checkered career, Hugo takes on the world of politics. He tries to influence Washington politics but is angered with the bureaucracy he finds.

Next, we find Hugo in the Mayan ruins as part of an archeological expedition. He befriends the archaeologist heading the expedition. He comes to trust the friend enough to tell him about his genetically created abilities. His friend offers Hugo several options for him to consider. Hugo climbs to the top of a mountain to be alone to debate his options. He asks God for advice about what he should do. Hugo Danner dies immediately when he is struck by a bolt of lightning. He dies having never found a use for his extraordinary abilities.

Prolific American writer Philip Gordon Wylie (May 12, 1902 – October 25, 1971) wrote both fiction and nonfiction. He wrote short stories, articles, newspaper columns, novels, essays, and screenplays. His work was influenced by his wide range of interests, including psychology, biology, physics, and ethnology. He is especially known for his works of science fiction including Gladiator, which inspired the comic book Superman, The Savage Gentleman, and When Worlds Collide, which inspired the comic book Flash Gordon.