The Call of the Wild
With the release of a new film adaptation, David Stuart Davies looks at this ever-popular classic. ...
'People screamed. People sprang off the pavement ... "The Invisible Man is coming!
Herbert George Wells (1866-1946) became an overnight literary sensation with the publication of The Time Machine. The success of this novel triggered an incredible industrious and creative period of about six years when Wells wrote his most memorable and brilliantly conceived ‘scientific romances’. In quick succession, he published The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896), The Invisible Man (1897), The War of the Worlds (1898) and The First Men in the Moon (1901). Each of these volumes is brilliant and ground-breaking in their own individual way, examining how society of the time would react to amazing scientific advances.
titular character, a scientist called Griffin discovers a method to make
himself invisible but then is unable to reverse the process. In desperation he
goes into hiding, turning up at an inn in the small village of Iping. With his
face swaddled in bandages, his eyes hidden behind dark glasses and his hands
covered even indoors, he checks in as a guest at The Coach and Horses. Because
of his bandages it is at first assumed that he is a recovering victim of some
terrible accident. As he carries out experiments in his room to make himself
visible again, Griffin becomes aggressive, arrogant and then violent. The
horror of his fate has affected his mind. Because of his behaviour he is forced from the village, and driven to murder.
He seeks the aid of an old friend, Kemp who refuses to help and so Griffin resolves
to wreak his revenge.
Wells claimed that the inspiration for the novella was ‘The Perils of Invisibility’, one of the Bab Ballads by W. S. Gilbert, which includes the couplet:
‘Old Peter vanished like a shot,
But then – his suit of clothes did not.’
This is notion mirrored in Wells’ story which though an entertaining
read also raises some serious issues. Interestingly, the critic John Sutherland
considered Wells and his contemporaries such as Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert
Louis Stevenson and Rudyard Kipling as ‘writing boy’s books for grown-ups’ and
identified The Invisible Man as ‘one
such book’. This is perhaps too simplistic for there are certainly adult themes
within the narrative. One thread relates the notion of immorality and the
question of how humans would behave if there were no consequences to their
actions. Griffin begins the novel as a decent law abiding fellow but his
invisibility secures for him a great deal of freedom to behave as he wishes. As
he states, ‘My head was already teeming with all the wild and wonderful things
I now had impunity to do.’ He uses his invisibility to commit a series of
immoral acts, including shooting a policeman, because he feels secure in not
being observed or identified. In other words, he can get away with it. Through
Griffin’s actions, Wells seems to suggest that many people would react in the
same way which presents a bleak and damming view of human nature.
The Invisible Man was first
serialised in Pearson’s Weekly in
1897 and as a novel later that year. The story was well received and helped
establish Wells as ‘the father of science fiction.’ There is a fair amount of sly humour in the
novel and this was effectively realised when Hollywood came to present a screen
version in 1933. The movie, directed by James Whale who took great pleasure in injecting
slightly surreal comedy into his films (See The
Bride of Frankenstein), emphasised the farcical nature of Griffin’s dilemma
in the early part of the movie, although it grows darker towards the climax. Claude
Rains portrayed the Invisible Man although of course he is never seen, only
heard, until the end when as he dies he loses his invisibility. What adds to
the enjoyment of the film are the special effects created by John P. Fulton.
The movie does justice to Wells’ novel following the main track of the author’s
narrative. In 2008 this feature was
selected for the United States National Film Registry by the Library of
Congress as being ‘culturally, historically, and aesthetically pleasing.’The film was a great box office success and spawned a set
of sequels which reduced in quality as the series progressed ending up at its lowest point in 1951 when Abbot & Costello Meet the Invisible Man.
In the 1950s there was a popular British television
series which featured a scientist, Dr Peter Brady, who becomes invisible after
an accident in the laboratory. The programmes had only a tenuous link with
Wells’ novel: Brady uses his special powers to solve mysteries and bring
criminals to justice. There were other TV series to follow, including one in
1972 with David McCallum as the see-through scientist and in 2012 Darryl D.
Moore played a thief who is given the means to become invisible and ends up
working for a government agency.
Now there is a new movie for 2020. The plot involves an
abusive boyfriend who fakes his own death and achieves invisibility in order to
torment and torture his partner. While an effective horror movie, the only
connection this movie has with H.G. Wells’ novel seems to be the title and the
idea that someone can become invisible and behave in an immoral fashion.
I know film makers feel obliged to put their mark on literary material when transferring it to the screen but when they go too far away from the source, it becomes another entity altogether. For a real taste of the power and enjoyment of Wells’ tale, a viewing of the James Whale movie is recommended, but better still read the book.