The Invisible Man

The H. G. Wells series continues.

Raw Feed (1996): The Invisible Man, H. G. Wells, 1897.H G Wells

The popular image, popularized in movies, and the memory in my mind from reading this over 20 years ago, is a frightening novel of a menacing, egomaniacal mad scientist. That element is there, but the novel contains a great deal of humor (and perhaps some gentle satire against those of the poor working class Wells grew up with), especially in the first part of the novel.

The menace is a burlesque one as Griffin knocks people over and commits burglary with his invisibility. However, after he flees town after being unveiled and meets Mr. Marvel, who he coerces into helping him, the tone of the book does start to match the popular image.

When he tries to seek refuge with his old schoolmate, Dr. Kemp – who tries to turn him into the police, Griffin is revealed as a petty, would-be tyrant who thinks that his invisibility – along with the help of a confederate (he offers the position to Dr. Kemp) – is enough to enable him to start a “Reign of Terror” in “some town”.

I suspect that the sort of mad (the word is explicitly used in connection with Griffin), petty scientist bent on personal power depicted in Griffin is an important development in the stock image of the “mad scientist”, particularly in cinema. To be sure, “mad”, megalomaniac scientists had existed before – Jules Verne’s Robur the Conqueror comes to mind in sf. But Griffin is more obviously unbalanced, has smaller ambitions and, most importantly, is the victim of his own experiments unlike Robur or Victor Frankenstein.

The novel ends on a humorous, yet disquieting, note with Griffin’s ex-landlord trying to learn the dead scientist’s secret of invisibility. Humorous because he clearly has no idea what the coded book with the secret says. Disquieting because Wells makes a comment on the difficulty of suppressing scientific discoveries. When the landlord dies,  Griffin’s books will pass into someone else’s hand, someone who may discover Griffin’s secrets.


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