Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Invisible Man - H.G. Wells

Cover from the first edition.
 H.G.Wells ( Herbert George ), along with Jules Verne and Hugo Gernsback, are considered the 'Fathers of science fiction'. But Wells in particular is probably the real king of the three. Over a long writing career he wrote over 100 works that included contemporary fiction, histories, political treaties, social commentaries, texts, and of course what he is best known for, science fiction

 Interestingly though he wrote all of his science fiction works in his early career. After that it was mainly his political and social commentaries he wrote. The Invisible Man is a 1897 novella of 150 pages and is certainly one of his better known sci-fi works. It first appeared as a serial in Pearson's Weekly, before its novelised form. It is certainly not as famous as his brilliant War of the Worlds, or the likes of The Island of Dr. Moreau, or The Time Machine. But still it is a known H.G. Wells work, whereas many of his other novels are now somewhat obscure. Suffice to say though that his better known novels have all been adapted to film over the years.

 Like his other sci-fi novels Wells was ahead of his time with his scope and imagination. I mean when Jules Verne wrote 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea the concept of the submarine wasn't totally foreign. Leonardo da Vinci envisaged such a machine, and there had been experiments with a submersible around the time of the American Civil War. But martians in War of the Worlds?? Or half man half, animal, at the hands of Dr. Moreau. But invisibility? This was heady stuff indeed for the late 19th century.

 But like all older novels my initial approach to the novel was based on the many film adaptations there have been since the first in 1933. It is of course a cliche to say they have all butchered the novel! But it has also suffered at the hands of television, stage, and even radio. But it is an easy to approach work and I read it last night in all its150 page entirety! The writing style is surprisingly modern without the flowery poeticness of the 19th century. This was a surprise, especially against the almost quaint datedness of the actual story.

 The problem for the modern reader is that the invisible man concept is well known to us through film etc. This being the original source it doesn't have the creepiness it would have held in 1897. But still, to get the most from this novella is to approach it as if reading it in the late 1890's. If you do, and put aside your modern appreciations, then you you see the impact this had on its publication.

 I personally really enjoyed this novella. A bit quaint but still very well written, and that is a real strength. The main protagonist is an initially un-named albino who dabbles in invisibility. He achieves his goal but finds he can't reverse the process. At first he revels in his invisibility but quickly finds it is in fact a curse. He has to go around naked as he can't find clothes. And in a winter that wasn't exactly satisfactory! He even finds that ingested food is initially visible until it is properly digested! The process slowly makes him mad as he struggles with his curse.

  It is here that Wells brings in a slight commentary on man. We find his name is Griffin. Through him and his curse, Wells shows us the typical reaction of man kind to what is unknown or different. Namely ostracism. Because he can't be seen he is treated as a freak, and the reader can read between the lines here, as Wells is quietly highlighting the ugliness of racism in particular. Griffin as a character is initially to be sympathised with. He rants and rages as one after another his attempts to reverse the process fail.

 As he fails more and more his rages increase, and the reader can almost feel him in the next room! As his secret is unravelled ( quite literally!! ) he brings out the worst of those around him. He is quickly ostracised and forced onto the run. From here his anger quickly deepens as he has no where to go, and he resorts to stealing to survive, as well as thuggery and malice. To be sure a lot of it is his own fault, but he is a victim of humanities innate fear of the unknown, which Wells showcases behind a sci-fi facade superbly.

 By the end Griffin has been completely driven mad, and after confiding to an old colleague his intention to cause terror and panic, he is cornered and accidentally killed. Once dead his body loses its invisibility. The novella ends with a stranger in possession of Griffin's three notebooks. He intends to use them to his advantage, as he has learnt from Griffin's mistakes, and his inability to harness the power invisibility.

The man himself!!
 The Invisible Man is still a worth while sci-fi novel. I think all sci-fi aficionados will enjoy it, and recognise the debt owned to their genre by the likes of H.G. Wells. Sure it has a somewhat dated premise, but it still has a subtle social undertone, that is as true today as it was in the late 19th century. I loved War of the Worlds, and this novella is just an acknowledgement of the incredible mind H.G Wells had for science fiction

 A recommended quick, easy, enjoyable read. Amazon has this with 4/5 stars from 158 reviews. I consider that a fair appraisal.

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