The Invisible Man
First edition cover
|Author||H. G. Wells|
|Genre||Horror, science fiction novel|
|Published||1897 (C. Arthur Pearson)|
|Media type||Print (hardback & paperback)|
The Invisible Man is a science fiction novel by H. G. Wells. Originally serialized in Pearson's Weekly in 1897, it was published as a novel the same year. The Invisible Man of the title is Griffin, a scientist who has devoted himself to research into optics and invents a way to change a body's refractive index to that of air so that it neither absorbs nor reflects light and thus becomes invisible. He successfully carries out this procedure on himself, but fails in his attempt to reverse it. An enthusiast of random and irresponsible violence, Griffin has become an iconic character in horror fiction.
A mysterious man, Griffin, arrives at the local inn of the English village of Iping, West Sussex, during a snowstorm. The stranger wears a long-sleeved, thick coat and gloves; his face is hidden entirely by bandages except for a fake pink nose; and he wears a wide-brimmed hat. He is excessively reclusive, irascible, and unfriendly. He demands to be left alone and spends most of his time in his rooms working with a set of chemicals and laboratory apparatus, only venturing out at night. While Griffin is staying at the inn, hundreds of strange glass bottles (that he calls his luggage) arrive. Many local townspeople believe this to be very strange. He becomes the talk of the village with many theorizing as to his origins.
Meanwhile, a mysterious burglary occurs in the village. Griffin is running out of money and is trying to find a way to pay for his board and lodging. When his landlady demands that he pay his bill and quit the premises, he reveals part of his invisibility to her in a fit of pique. An attempt to apprehend the stranger is frustrated when he undresses to take advantage of his invisibility, fights off his would-be captors, and flees to the downs.
There Griffin coerces a tramp, Thomas Marvel, into becoming his assistant. With Marvel, he returns to the village to recover three notebooks that contain records of his experiments. When Marvel attempts to betray the Invisible Man to the police, Griffin chases him to the seaside town of Port Burdock, threatening to kill him. Marvel escapes to a local inn and is saved by the people at the inn, but Griffin escapes. Marvel later goes to the police and tells them of this "invisible man," then requests to be locked up in a high-security jail.
Griffin's furious attempt to avenge his betrayal leads to him being shot. He takes shelter in a nearby house that turns out to belong to Dr. Kemp, a former acquaintance from medical school. To Kemp, he reveals his true identity. Griffin is a former medical student who left medicine to devote himself to optics. He recounts how he invented chemicals capable of rendering bodies invisible, and, on impulse, performed the procedure on himself.
Griffin tells Kemp of the story of how he became invisible. He explains how he tried the invisibility on a cat, then himself. Griffin burned down the boarding house he was staying in, along with all the equipment he had used to turn invisible, to cover his tracks; but he soon realised that he was ill-equipped to survive in the open. He attempted to steal food and clothes from a large department store, and eventually stole some clothing from a theatrical supply shop and headed to Iping to attempt to reverse the invisibility. Now he imagines that he can make Kemp his secret confederate, describing his plan to begin a "Reign of Terror" by using his invisibility to terrorise the nation.
Kemp has already denounced Griffin to the local authorities and is waiting for help to arrive as he listens to this wild proposal. When the authorities arrive at Kemp's house, Griffin fights his way out and the next day leaves a note announcing that Kemp himself will be the first man to be killed in the "Reign of Terror". Kemp, a cool-headed character, tries to organise a plan to use himself as bait to trap the Invisible Man, but a note that he sends is stolen from his servant by Griffin.
Griffin uses Kemp's gun to shoot and injure a local policeman who comes to Kemp's aid, then breaks into Kemp's house. Kemp bolts for the town, where the local citizenry come to his aid. Griffin is seized, assaulted, and killed by a mob. The Invisible Man's naked, battered body gradually becomes visible as he dies. A local policeman shouts to have someone cover Griffin's face with a sheet.
In the epilogue, it is revealed that Marvel has secretly kept Griffin's notes; but since they are written in code, he is completely incapable of understanding them.
Children's literature was a prominent genre in the 1890s. According to John Sutherland, Wells and his contemporaries such as Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Louis Stevenson and Rudyard Kipling "essentially wrote boy's books for grown-ups." Sutherland identifies The Invisible Man as one such book. Wells said that his inspiration for the novella was "The Perils of Invisibility," one of the Bab Ballads by W. S. Gilbert, which includes the couplet "Old Peter vanished like a shot/but then - his suit of clothes did not." Another influence on The Invisible Man was Plato's Republic, a book which had a significant effect on Wells when he read it as an adolescent. In the second book of the Republic, Glaucon recounts the legend of the Ring of Gyges, which posits that, if a man were made invisible and could act with impunity, he would "go about among men with the powers of a god." Wells wrote the original version of the tale between March and June of 1896. This version was a 25,000 word short story titled "The Man at the Coach and Horses" which Wells was dissatisfied with, so he extended it.
Russian writer Yakov I. Perelman pointed out in Physics Can Be Fun (1913) that from a scientific point of view, a man made invisible by Griffin's method should have been blind, since a human eye works by absorbing incoming light, not letting it through completely. Wells seems to show some awareness of this problem in Chapter 20, where the eyes of an otherwise invisible cat retain visible retinas. Nonetheless, this would be insufficient, since the retina would be flooded with light (from all directions) that ordinarily is blocked by the opaque sclera of the eyeball. Also, any image would be badly blurred if the eye had an invisible cornea and lens.
The Invisible Man has been adapted to, and referenced in, film, television, and comics.
- Wells, H. G. (1996), The Invisible Man, New York: Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-283195-X
- Wells, H. G. (2017), The Invisible Man, Great Clarendon Street, Oxford, OX2 6DP United Kingdom: Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0-19-870267-2
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- The Invisible Man at Project Gutenberg
- The Invisible Man public domain audiobook at LibriVox
- 3 may 2006 guardian article about Milton and Nicorovici's invention
- Horror-Wood: Invisible Man films
- Complete copy of The Invisible Man by HG Wells in HTML, ASCII and WORD
- Audio review and discussion of The Invisible Man at The Science Fiction Book Review Podcast
- Animated summary of chapters 1 and 2 of the book on YouTube