H.G. Wells, ‘The Invisible Man’ (1897)

I’ve had a long relationship with Griffin, the invisible protagonist of H.G. Wells’ science fiction classic, even though I’ve only now come round to reading the novella itself. When I was 10, I vividly remember watching the BBC’s version of The Invisible Man, a series that was originally planned to be shown in the tea-time ‘classic serials’ slot – until the BBC Head of Drama pronounced that it was ‘too frightening for a Sunday afternoon… far too horrific.’

Despite being placed in a later weekday slot, this was evidently still not late enough; I watched the whole series and it scared the pants off me. What particularly struck me was just how angry Griffin was with the world around him. This was a man who found it almost impossible to control his rage; but what did he have to be so furious about?

invisible manSurely invisibility was a gift, and not a curse? This, combined with his being swathed in bandages to hide his invisibility, made Griffin a very unnerving figure; but what also disturbed me was how he looked when the serum began to take hold. A Google image search found a photo of Griffin that still chilled my spine over thirty years later – deadly red eyes gleaming as the colour sweated out of him…

In Wells’ novella Griffin is equally unhinged in his pursuit of both invisibility, and in trying to reverse the process. The most engaging chapters are when Griffin explains how he became invisible; I’m no scientist, and yet despite his explanations being over 120 years old, nevertheless I found Wells’ description pleasingly plausible. Griffin’s initial disorientation at dealing with his invisibility – trying to walk, and pick things up, without being able to see his feet or hands – is well described; and the book asks some intriguing questions about not just scientific progress, but also its consequences. Through describing Griffin’s actions, Wells asks the reader to consider what they would do in his position.

As the novella progresses, like Griffin’s physical form his morals dissipate until they too no longer exist. By the end of the book, he is insane; and in one of the novel’s most chilling passages, Griffin sets out his own personal manifesto:

There is nothing for it, but to start the Terror. This announces the first day of the Terror. Port Burdock is no longer under the Queen, tell your colonel of police, and the rest of them; it is under me – the Terror! This is day one of year one of the new epoch – the Epoch of the Invisible Man. I am Invisible Man the First.’

Pride comes before a fall; and like many dictators before him, Griffin’s plan for world domination does not run smoothly. For all that, Wells does not leave his reader entirely comfortable; and the uncertain ending leaves one with the strange suspicion that this is not the last the world has seen – or, more accurately, unseen – of the Invisible Man.


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