The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells

Invisible man

The Invisible Man is kind of dick.

I can’t help but notice just how closely H.G. Wells’s The Invisible Man aligns with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. I really think Wells is writing his own version of Shelley’s tale.

The openings are similar.  Wells’s Invisible Man wanders into an inn seeking shelter from a storm. Shelley’s Dr. Frankenstein seeking escape end up on a ship heading for the arctic.  After a couple of unfortunate false starts, Well’s Invisible Man finds someone to tell his story to.  Dr. Frankenstein does the same with the ship captain once he is frozen in the arctic ice.  Both explain their unusual experiments and the seemingly logical reasoning behind them.  In the end Dr. Frankenstein is chased across the ice by the monster he created which is a visible manifestation of his internal demons while the Invisible Man ruined by his own demons is chased by the local townspeople.

Both books contain lengthy philosophical dialogues, though Wells’s hero is really only interested in justifying his own actions.  Wells  is dealing with Superman arguments that Nietzsche and Bernard Shaw both do a better job making. The Invisible Man shares a common bond with Dostoyevsky’s Raskolnikov from Crime and Punishment  in that he sees himself as outside of everyday morality. An invisible man is not bound by the restraint society puts on everyone else.  “An invisible man is a man of power.”  He believes this gives him moral authority to commit a series of crimes against the visible.

It all worked much better, as far as I’m concerned, in Mary Shelley’s hands. Somehow, she made it possible for me to accept the possibility that someone could reanimate dead tissue, create life, at least as long as the novel lasted.  The stories of both The Monster and Dr. Frankenstein are interesting enough to make this reader willing to play along with everything else.  The Invisible Man, while it deals with similar material, never really made me willing to forget just how ridiculous the story’s premise really is in spite of how diligently Wells tries to make a case that science really could make someone invisible.

But, parts of it were fun, and overall I have to admit I had a good time reading The Invisible Man.   Though, in the end, I’m with the villagers. The guy was a jerk! He got what he deserved.

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6 Comments

  1. Bot, did we ever read this differently. I did not take anything Wells did as making a scientific case, for example. Quite the opposite. Cosmic rays, radioactive spider, red sun vs. yellow sun. Wells is not making the Superman argument but mocking it. The Invisible Man sometimes sounds like Doctor Doom because he is a super-villain, although comic in the “ha ha funny” sense rather than the four-color printing sense.

    Shelley actually gives close to no details whatsoever about how Frankenstein creates his monster. I can see how that would be easier to accept, although I can also see the opposite case. James Whale’s answer is better.

    I wonder if I could find a way to read the story seriously. That would be an interesting challenge.

    1. I think you almost always read things more closely than I do, Tom. It’s been a long time since I read Frankenstein, but I think you are right about Shelley not giving details, which works in her favor in my opinion. I really did not read Wells as comic here, though I can see a strong case for mocking not making the Superman argument. Now that you mention it, I would probably read it that way if I read it again.

      But I do think that Wells is serious about the material overall. Though it is difficult material to take seriously.

  2. Jeane says:

    Funny, I never saw any similarities between Invisible Man and Frankenstein before, but when you point them out they seem so obvious. However, I did read the two books years apart, so one was not at all on my mind while reading the other. This would be an interesting one to revisit and see if I find it half as interesting as when I read it in my teen years.

    1. I think it would be interesting to read the two books together. While I cannot prove Wells was ‘inspired’ by Frankenstein, he surely knew the basics of the story. It’s hard to imagine that he didn’t know it from the many stage versions at least, even if he had not read the novel.

      It’s a common set up for horror/fantasy stories, the affected man telling his tale to a sympathetic listener.

  3. John says:

    I had a similar reaction to your post as Jeane. I read them so long ago and then so far apart that I think I missed those similarities that, given your observations, seem obvious in retrospect. I don’t recall offhand if you’re into graphic novels, but if so, you may be interested in Jeff Lemire’s take on the Invisible Man, called The Nobody.

    1. I do read a graphic novel now and then. I might give The Noboday a go. Tom has me thinking I should give The Invisible Man another look. 😉

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