The Invisible Man is a novel by H.G. Wells.
- Griffin - A bandaged stranger who made himself invisible through a scientific experiment, and subsequently goes mad with power.
- Mrs. Jenny Hall - The owner of the Coach and Horses Inn in Iping.
- Mr. George Hall - Mrs. Hall's husband. A carter.
- Millie - Mrs. Hall's aide.
- Mr. Teddy Henfrey - A clock repairman.
- Mr. Cuss - A doctor.
- Mr. Bunting - The town vicar.
- Mr. J.A. Jaffers - A constable in Iping.
- Mr. Huxter - A grocer.
- Sandy Wadgers - Iping's blacksmith.
- Mr. Thomas Marvel - A tramp enlisted as a mule by Griffin.
- Mariner - A sailor in Port Stowe.
- Dr. Kemp - Griffin's former schoolmate from University College who lives in Port Burdock.
- Barman - Barman at the Jolly Cricketers.
- Black-Bearded Man - An American with a black beard in the Jolly Cricketers.
- Hunchback - Owner of a costume shop in Drury Lane.
- Colonel Adye - Chief of the Port Burdock police.
A mysterious man all swathed in bandages so that his face can’t be seen takes up residence at the Coach and Horses Inn, in the small Sussex village of Iping. The inn’s owners, George and Jenny Hall, find their guest suspicious, and so do the other villagers. The guy has a nasty temper and stocks their parlor with all kinds of scientific equipment.
When pressed, the bandaged nutcase insists he’s a scientist doing very important work and has been disfigured in an accident. This is sufficient for the Halls, but one of their patrons, nosy clock repairman Teddy Henfrey, suspects their guest is a fugitive hiding from the law. Rumors abound. However the Halls put up with him because he pays his bills on time. Mostly.
Jenny Hall’s patience with the stranger begins nearing its end when he comes up short on his rent and his temper becomes increasingly more and more violent. Iping’s doctor, Cuss, tries to pry into the stranger’s affairs, only to be sent packing with a wild story about Mr. and Mrs. Hall’s tenant lacking a hand, and yet somehow still being able to pinch his nose… with the hand he seemingly hasn’t got!
One night, the home of Reverend Bunting, the vicar, is burgled; Bunting and his wife can’t account for how the thief got in and out. Due to Teddy the clockmaker’s rumor about the stranger being a thief on the lam, suspicion falls on him… especially when he “conveniently” suddenly has Mrs. Hall’s rent money!
Finally confronting her guest, Mrs. Hall demands an explanation for all the strange goings-on… and gets one when the stranger whips off his bandages to reveal his horrifying secret… nothing! He is completely invisible underneath his clothing and bandages! The village constable, Jaffers, comes to arrest him for the robbery of the Bunting house (“head or no head”), but the man strips off all of his clothing, becoming totally invisible. He assaults Jaffers and various villagers and wreaks havoc in Iping, before escaping to avoid police capture.
It is only when he is out of town that the invisible man realizes he forgot his notebooks, the records of all of his experiments. He forces a tramp named Thomas Marvel to help him acquire the books - in the nick of time, as Reverend Bunting and Cuss the doctor were prying into them trying to figure out how to replicate the invisible man’s experiment. The invisible man overpowers them and steals back the books (and their clothes!) and gets them to Marvel. The two then leave Iping for good.
On the road to the neighboring town of Port Burdock, the invisible man commits several robberies and loads the money into Marvel’s pockets, using him for a mule. Marvel, who has grown fearful of his invisible “partner,” and his foul temper and his threats, escapes, taking the books and money with him! He is pursued by the enraged invisible man, who discards Bunting and Cuss’ clothes. The tramp seeks refuge in a tavern, the Jolly Cricketers, where the bartender and customers, including an off-duty constable, come to his aid and fend off the unseen menace. One of the men, a visiting American, has a gun and gets off a lucky shot which wounds the attacker, and the invisible man is forced to flee…
The gunshots are heard by Dr. Kemp, a bachelor scientist who lives nearby. He has heard the crazy stories about an invisible man coming out of Iping, but doesn’t believe them… until he goes into his room for the night and finds none other than the invisible man himself in his bed, having bandaged his injured arm. More, the invisible man recognizes Kemp from their college days! Kemp realizes the invisible fugitive is none other than his former schoolmate Griffin, a tempermental albino.
Griffin considers it a divine stroke of luck to have blundered into the home of Kemp of all people, and confirms some of the stories Kemp has heard, including the involvement of Marvel, who he swears to kill. He promises to tell him more, before going to sleep, taking Kemp’s room and his robe. A distraught Kemp, unsure of what to do, writes a letter to Colonel Adye, the head of Port Burdock’s police, telling him the invisible man is in his house. Whilst awaiting the arrival of Adye, Kemp stalls Griffin by persuading him to tell him his story. Griffin explains how, while in London, he discovered a means of removing pigments and colors in bodily fluids and tissues and using a machine he invented to change the way light refracts through a person’s body. He experimented on a cat belonging to an elderly woman who lived in the same building as him; the painful process had the cat yowling so much it roused the suspicions of his Jewish landlord, who, thinking him a vivisectionist, attempted to serve him notice.
Facing eviction, Griffin made himself invisible to evade the landlord and his stepsons, and destroyed his machine and burned down the apartment building, but not before forwarding his notebooks to collect them later. Now invisible, Griffin amused himself by tormenting random passersby until he realized that because no one could see him, he was constantly being run into and knocked down, and since he had to be naked to be invisible, he began catching a cold. He started realizing that being invisible wasn’t as exciting as he’d hoped it would be.
He needed clothing, but he’d burned down his apartment building. Robbing a costume shop owned by an old hunchback, Griffin took clothes and wrapped himself in bandages to make himself visible, and, obtaining his books, went to Iping to work in secrecy with the hope of restoring himself to visibility. Now, though, he has gone completely insane, realizing his invisibility is only good for robbing and killing. He intends to take over Port Burdock and rule it, subjecting it to a “reign of terror.” Kemp objects to this idea.
Colonel Adye arrives with two constables. Griffin, realizing Kemp turned him in, undresses, attacks the police and escapes. Kemp advises Adye to use dogs to hunt the invisible man and to spread broken glass on the roads so Griffin will cut his feet. Adye does as instructed, but Griffin evades capture all the same. Encountering a local steward named Wicksteed, Griffin, in a terrible rage, commits his first murder by beating Wicksteed to death with an iron bar. He then sends Kemp a proclamation promising that he (Kemp) will be the first victim of his proposed “reign of terror.”
Kemp gives a letter to his housekeeper to take to Colonel Adye, proposing to use himself as bait in a trap for Griffin. However Adye arrives later with news that Griffin attacked the housekeeper and got the letter. Kemp’s servant survived and is all right, but the invisible man now knows of Kemp’s plan! Adye proposes they go through with it anyway, and leaves to go get his men. Kemp gives him a gun. On the way out, though, Adye is waylaid by Griffin who takes the gun and shoots him with it, then begins using an axe to smash all of the windows in Kemp’s house. Kemp seems trapped!
However Adye’s two constables, escorting Kemp’s housekeeper home, arrive just as Griffin breaks inside. The constables fend Griffin off with fireplace pokers. One of them breaks Griffin’s arm with a blow from his poker, making him drop the axe and the gun. Kemp slips out the window (making the constables think him a coward), and Griffin, uninterested in Adye’s men, pursues him.
Griffin pursues Kemp, who runs through the streets, yelling for help. A group of railroad navvies hear his cries and come to his aid. Bolstered by this display of courage, several other townspeople join in the fray and soon the invisible man, hampered by his broken arm, finds himself overpowered and borne down to the ground. A blow from one of the navvies’ shovels fatally injures Griffin, crushing his chest. As he dies, his body becomes visible again, his face twisted in an angry, disappointed grimace in death. Kemp has his dead former friend’s body wrapped in a blanket and taken inside.
Some years later, Thomas Marvel is a wealthy man, the proud owner of the Invisible Man Inn. He got to keep the money Griffin saddled him with because the police couldn’t prove whose money it had originally been. Kemp has pressed Marvel on the issue of the notebooks, but the former tramp claims he doesn’t have them. Sometimes, though, after closing up shop, Marvel will retire to his study and take the notebooks out and read through them, and daydreams about what he’d do if he were invisible. Remembering Griffin’s evil, though, he vows to himself that no matter what, he wouldn’t do the things Griffin did.
Next to The Island of Dr. Moreau and The War of the Worlds this is probably my favorite of H.G. Wells’ science fiction novels, and one of my favorite sci-fi novels, period. Whereas Wells’ other novels lean more towards the serious end of things, The Invisible Man is quite lighthearted and cheeky even when it’s being violent.
The Griffin character is very amusing and even a bit of a mischievous scamp despite his obvious evil qualities. He makes a very excellent villainous protagonist/anti-hero. As the heroic antagonist/hero, Kemp is a bit bland, but he’s introduced late in the novel, so you can’t fault Wells for not developing him properly. Still, he gets the job done, I suppose, and isn’t completely boring.
The one loose end is the fate of Colonel Adye. Although he’s shot and falls down and doesn’t get back up, when Kemp is telling the constables what happened, he admits he isn’t sure if Adye is dead or not. The epilogue with Thomas Marvel mentions that Adye also questioned Marvel about Griffin’s notebooks, however Wells is unclear about whether this happened before the shooting (meaning Adye is dead) or after it (meaning he’s alive).