So a week in and one book down. Yes, I’m surprisingly pleased that I found myself able to meet my very first weekly deadline. Here’s a short summary of my opinion of the book, The Invisible Man, and the themes therein. Spoiler warning that I will reveal plot details here in case anyone wishes to read it for themselves first.
The Invisible Man is the story of a man. An invisible one. You may have gathered that from the title – top marks for clarity in naming the story.
Imagery and storytelling
I enjoy the way the entrance of this strange gentleman is painted in the opening chapter. Staggering into the Coach and Horses inn “more dead than alive” and demanding food and a fire. Ironic for a character whose distinguishing trait is his invisibility that the descriptions of his grizzly appearance are such a triumph. The man, Griffin, is invisible but his clothing is not. Swiftly Mrs Hall, the landlady, attributes the thick bandages with which he adorns his face to “an accident or op’ration or something”.
Through the eyes of the people who inhabit the villages and towns of late nineteenth-century Sussex a tale of this outsider unfolds. At first he is treated with suspicion, being speculated upon and judged to within an inch of his life. This soon turns to fear as his horrifying secret is revealed and he increasingly puts it to use for his own advantage with dramatic results.
In the later chapters I found my interest waning somehow. Griffin describes to Dr. Kemp the method by which he made himself invisible, and the ensuing fleet through the streets of London trying to figure out his next moves. Looking back, it was no doubt a thoroughly action-packed account of how one man twisted the laws of nature to endow himself with a power of his own desiring, and how rapidly and cruelly he found that there were obstacles and disadvantages in abundance with this predicament.
Maybe it is simply the fact this part of the story is recounted through dialogue, and felt to me like it jilted the narrative of the storyline. But it serves as a necessary tool for getting to the questions on every reader’s lips “How did he do it and why?“.
Power and virtue
What is most interesting in the whole story is its depiction of how such a unique and unfathomable power can quickly corrupt a man. Griffin became consumed with his desire to be invisible and hid his studies and experiments away from prying eyes so that he could keep the secret for himself. By achieving his aim he only amplifies his isolation and he now runs the risk of being the target of a witch-hunt of sorts. His ambitions to use his power for personal gain turn to desperation to reverse the effects of his own diabolical experiment, but he has no-one to turn to for help. He continues his quest for an ‘antidote’ whilst also remaining challenged with hiding the fact of his invisibility.
The frustration of it all makes him violent and delirious with rage. This anger becomes directed at anyone who dares cross his path (a bit harsh when they could not have seen him coming anyway). It culminates in his twisted hopes of casting a “reign of terror” over the region, seemingly for his own amusement as much as anything else. But the long conversation he holds with Dr. Kemp makes light of this. The hunt ensues to capture and bring him to justice.
Not such a great idea after all
The key here to me is this: had Griffin sought collaboration or co-operation in his scientific studies then he would have had at least another partner to counter-balance his rampant pursuit of this power. He himself overlooked the many disadvantages that would face him once invisible, but perhaps someone else could have persuaded him of their existence to warn against this extreme experiment.
The assumption was that most of the credit would be taken from him by a superior in the ranks of academia. Maybe he even have feared someone else granting themselves the power of invisibility before he would have the chance. But the idea of achieving reasonable acclaim as a scientist and intellectual was not enough; he dreamt of being a god amongst men. And like all ungodly dreams eventually he paid the price for it.
Well there’s my summary. And I really would like to treat this as more than a mere reading exercise; as an opportunity to learn valuable lessons from key figures in history up to the present day through the medium of books.
The lesson for us here today is this:
We all have our own ‘invisibility’. By that I mean we all have that seemingly glorious power which we desire, for the most part they are based firmly in reality but others may push the boundaries. Perhaps we seek to be the world’s most talented musician or sportsman. Maybe we desire being irresistibly attractive or supremely wealthy.
They may be goals which are entirely worthy, but in and of themselves are hollow.
What good is being invisible if you have no friend in the world to share in the fun and bounty? What is the sense in possessing immense talent if you devote so much time to it that you deprive yourself of life’s simple pleasures? Where is the nobility in being rich or beautiful beyond compare if it inevitably drives bitter jealousy and vitriol towards you from others?
We must weigh up the pros and cons when we chase our dreams, or at least stay aware that there may well be cons also. A great edge in this regard is to surround yourself with the people who share enthusiasm for your dream but those who are unafraid to tell you what they think, to balance and moderate your ambition in the process.
Nobody achieves anything truly great on their own. It is a cliche, but all cliches are only so by being so often repeated, and if that is the case then there is always truth to them.
If you want something badly, you’re going to have to work for it and you’re going to have to work with others to get there. Seek the support of those whom you trust and also those with whom you hope to build trust. Because who is going to really trust you when you’re only just starting out on a journey to do something incredible?
Food for thought there.
I approached reading the book by breaking it up into 4 or 5 chunks then sitting with some music on to block out distractions for an hour or so at a time. I must have spent 7-8 hours reading in all, but it was a reasonably dense prose for a novel.
Keep an eye out for my next post where I’ll be selecting another book off the shelf to mine for fundamental life lessons – by which I mean I will waffle on about it until I get bored.
If you made it this far, then thanks so much for reading! Do leave any comments below, I will be sure to reply.