Sunday, April 9, 2017

The Invisible Man - H. G. Wells

H. G. Wells is one of those writers who's works sound so familiar that I almost feel like I've already read them. Because of this (totally erroneous) impression, I also thought I wasn't much of a fan. I've checked both my bookshelf and memory which collectively tell me that I have bought, but never read, 'Ann Veronica' and 'The New Machiavelli', I might have seen the character of the invisible man used in other films, but apart from that I've never read, or even so munched as watched, anything based on his works.

Wells' work is in the public domain as of this year which means nice new editions of his books are popping up, including a set from Oxford World's Classics - which they very kindly sent me. I might have ignored these indefinitely (still thinking that Wells wasn't really for me based on not fancying any of the film versions of 'The Island of Dr Moreau' etc), but they're short books so I read a couple as part of that general effort to clear through some of the low hanging fruit in the tbr pile. Now I feel like a bit of an arse for not doing this years ago (Ann Veronica still looks a bit worthy and unappealing though).

I started with 'The Invisible Man' which was an excellent choice for its mix of horror and humour, I really hadn't expected the humour. Griffin - we only discover his name towards the end of the book - turns up at a village pub one cold winters day looking for rooms to rent. It's out of season and he has ready cash so the landlady overlooks his odd appearance and general rudeness and lets him have the rooms. As the months pass he continues to be rude and unapproachable, and when his money starts to run out and there's talk of eviction a crisis point is reached.

Fortunately for the invisible man it's now summer, so running around without visible clothes on isn't as bad as it was in winter. But being invisible doesn't necessarily confer the advantages a person might expect. For example, invisible isn't silent, it doesn't leave any hiding places about the person, and Griffin can't reverse it.

The horror, along with an element of tragedy, comes from Griffin's monstrous egotism, that and a natural fear on the part of the reader of the unseen. Griffin has lost all sense of right and wrong (if he ever had one) and is determined to embark on a reign of terror until he's worshiped as a god.

The humour comes mostly from the consideration of the difficulties of being invisible, and how to make use of that invisibility. If Griffin had thought to make himself some invisible clothes before he started making invisible cats it all might have been very different. As it is if he wants to hide he has to be naked, and silent, and as anybody who knows the British climate will understand, that's not ideal (especially if you catch a cold).

To be invisible is a common enough fantasy, following Wells as he picks that fantasy apart was so much more entertaining than I'd imagined. The science part of the science fiction might not read as at all feasible anymore, but the ideas that Wells explores are as relevant as ever - especially exactly what it is that make a monster, and it's these ideas which are making me so excited about reading more of his books.


  1. Whenever I have written about a Wells novel, I have written about their humor. In most cases, I have mostly written about the humor. A lot of out and out jokes in Wells.

  2. I didn't expect it, I don't know why not, maybe because the books that sounded like they might particularly interest me (Ann Veronica) also sound the least amusing (though for all I know it's stuffed full of jokes). My thoughts are a bit muddled on this, I hope to work them out as I read more of him, but the way he uses humour in 'The Invisible Man' really interested me.

  3. Adam Roberts has been working his way through Wells for a book. Invariably interesting. He has not gotten to Ann Veronica yet, but at the rate he is going it won't be long.

  4. Thank you, I'll have a look at that.