Revisiting the Classics: The Invisible Man
The Invisible Man is a book with a cast of stupid people, for all that one of them is a scientific genius. It opens well enough, with the bandaged, goggled, false-whiskered title character appearing in a West Sussex village. But then it stalls, and then we get a lot of low comedy, after which there's a brutal Naturalist ending.
The novel was written for serialization in a magazine, and my theory is that Wells was writing so fast he really didn't have time to think his idea through. He'd done his research well enough to come up with a reasonably convincing pseudo-scienctific explanation for what happened to his protagonist, and he had some fine opening scenes, but after that he was winging it.
Wells was winging it no less than Griffin, his scientific antihero. Griffin had dedicated years of his life to pursuing his invisibility formula without once thinking what he wanted to be invisible for. The result is a series of ridiculous slapstick scenes in which Griffin discovers the disadvantages of being invisible, and in which he tries to steal enough money and food to avoid becoming the Invisible Freezing Starving Man.
Were I writing about an invisible man, I would at least give him a more interesting job than petty thief. He could be a spy, a master criminal, a mysterious romantic masked and caped figure inhabiting the lower catacombs of the Opera (whoops, sorry, that was last month's classic). Griffin, sadly, comes to megalomania too late in the story to be very interesting.
Until the very end, when Griffin's troubles have unhinged him and he kills a couple people, Griffin's worst crime is to rob a clergyman. (Though we could observe that Wells might not have considered this a crime.) There is a lot of slapstick as people try to uncover Griffin's secret, and are punished for their temerity by being hit by floating chairs, tripped down stairs, and having their noses pinched by invisible hands. There's a jolly music-hall comic-relief tramp, who is coerced into being an accomplice to Griffin's crimes. There is a bearded music-hall oily Jew who exists to demand money from the protagonist. But basically, once the authorities realize that they're dealing with an invisible man, the word goes out and Griffin is cornered and beaten to death by a mob of navvies in remarkably short order.
I hate to criticize Wells for lack of imagination--- I mean, he did come up with an absolutely sensational idea to build his book around--- but I really think this could use a second draft, possibly by Gaston Leroux.
I think I'll go re-read War of the Worlds.