Darkness Visible

The Invisible Man - H.G. Wells

The Invisible Man, by H.G. Wells ****

This was the third book in a row that I read by Mr. Wells. In reading it, something finally became clear that bothered me all through The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds, but that I could not put my finger on. It is this: in these books there are no heroes. There is genius, courage, resourcefulness, and even some villainy, but no heroism, no virtue. This makes reading Wells a bit of a challenge. I did not come away from these books liking the central characters very much, nor could I begin to identify with them. That these are barriers to my enjoyment, though, says more about me than the books, so on to the book itself.

The Invisible Man tells the story of Griffin, a brilliant young scientist who discovers the secret of making living things invisible. Griffin is a proud and unstable man who, by virtue of his intelligence and scientific achievement, feels he is above other men and their moral constraints. It is nothing to him to use live animals as test subjects with no regard for their welfare, or to try to exploit other men to further his own ends.

When he discovers the secret of invisibility, he chooses to test it on himself. It works well enough, but he makes a critical mistake; he tests the formula before learning how to reverse the process. The bulk of the book chronicles his desperate search for an antidote and the accompanying descent into madness and fury before its tragic, but inevitable, end.

The Invisible Man, like all great works of literature, functions simultaneously on multiple levels. It is a well-written story of action and suspense, a cautionary tale about the dangers of science practiced outside the bounds of ethics, and an exploration of the idea of the lone genius. It resembles The War of the Worlds and The Time Machine in its rather grim and hopeless assessment of humanity and what might be accomplished through science. Despite this, and my own difficulties with the character of the book, I can recommend it highly.