H.G. Wells was on a real hot streak in the 1890s. He had just become a professional writer and had already invented (or gave modern form to) a bunch of classic science fictional concepts, like time travel (in The Time Machine ) and alien invasion (in The War of the Worlds ). The Invisible Man was published in 1897 and like many of Wells' other stories, it features an eccentric and possibly mad scientist-inventor. Only this time, instead of traveling through time or making animals into people, the main character of The Invisible Man – spoiler alert! – creates an invisibility formula.
Of course Wells didn't invent the mad scientist or the concept of invisibility. The mad scientist is an idea that we can probably trace back to Daedalus from Greek myths (or at least to Frankenstein). In fact, we could trace the invisible guy back to Greek myths, too. In the Republic, Plato wrote a story about the Ring of Gyges that allowed the wearer to become invisible. Long story short, the ring gets used for evil. (Does that sound like J. R. R. Tolkien's ring from The Fellowship of the Ring? It should.) There are also a bunch of really fun horror stories from the 1800s about invisible monsters, like Fitz-James O'Brien's "What Was it? A Mystery" (1859), Guy de Maupassant's "The Horla" (1887), and Ambrose Bierce's "The Damned Thing" (1893).
What makes The Invisible Man special is that it's not about a monster – it's about a man. It's the story of how one person can fit into society; or rather, fail to fit into society.
But wait: this isn't just a tale of any old guy. The Invisible Man is actually a lot like his creator, H.G. Wells. They were both poor, they both worked as teachers, and they both had innovative ideas. And, of course, they were both invisible. Yep. There's a scene in Wells' autobiographical novel Tono-Bungay (1908) where the main character moves to a big city and feels invisible. It doesn't surprise us: who doesn't feel invisible when they're young and just starting to make a name in the world?
The Invisible Man has been the basis for a lot of exciting movies and TV shows, and that's how we generally remember the story today: a fun story about a crazy invisible guy. Let's remember, though, that Wells' story goes much, much deeper.
(A quick note on editions: The Invisible Man was first published over the course of a few weeks in Pearson's Weekly magazine. It was printed as a book the same year, but not before Wells made some stylistic changes. Other than adding an entire epilogue, most of the changes aren't major, but you might want to double-check your copy to see which version you're reading.)
Have you ever been alone in a crowd? Or been at a party where no one talked to you? Or have you ever felt like no one rewarded you (or even congratulated you) for hard work you had done? If you answered yes to any of those questions, then you know what it's like to be invisible.
Some people think The Invisible Man is just a story about a mad scientist meddling with things that man was not meant to know. But really, it's a story about a guy who doesn't fit in with his surroundings. The Invisible Man is a man without family or good friends, whose neighbors don't understand (or care) about his work. Now, we don't endorse homicidal killing sprees and reigns of terror (hobbies of H.G. Wells' Invisible Man), but we can certainly feel for him, over a century after he first came into existence. We may not know what it's like to be literally invisible, but we all know what it's like to feel invisible and isolated.
Can the Invisible Man See?
Here's an article discussing the physics of invisibility and why the Invisible Man would be blind.
So Close but yet So Far
Wired magazine did a report in 2003 on how advances in technology would make invisibility possible. Um, yes, this is the coolest thing ever.
Invisible Man: 3D?
In 2008, there was news that David S. Goyer, who wrote The Dark Knight, was working on a script for a new Invisible Man movie. Yes, please.
The Invisible Man (1933)
One of the best film adaptations (and the earliest), this film makes a few changes to the book. For instance, Griffin has a love interest and delivers the line "I meddled in things that man must leave alone." In other words, it makes the story pretty standard for a Hollywood science fiction film. Still, there are some really nice sequences, like this one, where the Invisible Man reveals himself.
The Invisible Man Hits the Small Screen
In this 1958 TV version (H. G. Wells' The Invisible Man) the invisible man is a scientist who uses his invisibility to spy on enemies and help solve crimes. Interestingly, no actor was credited as playing the invisible man; that way, people could pretend that it was actually an invisible man.
Take Two... and Three
In this 1975 TV version, another scientist accidentally turns himself invisible and gets a new job as a spy. This show didn't do so well, so in 1976 they sort of rebooted the concept as Gemini Man. One season later, that got the boot, too.
Amazon Women on the Moon (1987) parodies The Invisible Man
The son of the Invisible Man thinks he's made himself invisible in this sketch from Amazon Women on the Moon, a parody of various sci-fi and late night movies.
We Told You Newspapers Existed a Century Ago
This article from 1902 (!) shows how, at the time of its publication, people were really interested in Wells for his forecasting about the future.
Two Thumbs Up
Another New York Times gem; this time, a review of the 1933 movie. Shmoop's review: two thumbs up.
Times are a Changin'
By the 1940s, the New York Times clearly thought the Invisible Man was a sillier premise.
This is a clip from the 1933 movie The Invisible Man when out main man finally reveals himself (or his lack of self).
Liu Bolin is Invisible
This really has nothing to do with the book, but it's too cool to leave out. This guy is an artist who paints himself to match his backgrounds, disappearing completely.
A Little Help with the Accents
If you want to hear how the country folk speak, this audio book can give you a nice taste of it.
This American Life asks: Invisibility or Flight?
The first section of this radio program asks the question: which is better, invisibility or flight? The answer may say something about what sort of person you are.
The Very Visible H.G. Wells
Listen to an interview with the author (and his name-sharing colleague, Orson Welles).
League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
Alan Moore (who speaks here) wrote a wonderful comic book which reuses several science fictional and horror characters from the nineteenth century, including the Invisible Man – who turns out to be not so nice.
Judge the Book by it's Cover
An early cover of The Invisible Man. How would you have drawn it?
At Least They're Not Bloody
Another cover of The Invisible Man, this time showing the Invisible Man wrapped up in bandages.
H. G. Wells, Very Visible
The man himself. (He looks a little mischievous, don't you think?)
On the Big Screen
We'd probably get some better effects if it we remade today. (We're looking at you, James Cameron.)