Published — Friday 21 December 2012
Last update 21 December 2012 12:48 am
Before moving on to “universal” literature, I would like to introduce an author I greatly appreciate for his extraordinary imagination: H.G. Wells.
You might not know, or remember, his name, but you are surely acquainted with some of his books — later made into successful movies — such as “The Time Machine” and “War of the Worlds”. Here, I am going to write about another fascinating story and a mysterious character, “The Invisible Man”.
H.G. Wells’ books may not be considered “masterpieces” by some, but they are definitely “classic” because — according to French literary critic Sainte-Beuve (1804-1869) — “Classic is an author who has enriched the human mind... or revealed some eternal passion in the heart where all seemed known and discovered.” H.G. Wells shows you how not “all has been discovered.”
H.G. Wells (1866-1946) was an English writer who - thanks to a broken leg that compelled him to stay motionless for some time — when he was just a child — developed a great love for reading in general and for science in particular. Coming from an almost poor family, he succeeded in obtaining a scholarship to the Royal College of Science in London at 18. After graduation, he began teaching science but he soon decided to dedicate himself to writing only. His fame is due to what he called “useful knowledge” — acquired through study — closely joined to his limitless imagination. Together, the two created his “scientific fantasies” that offered his numerous readers the vision of future worlds and exciting possibilities.
“The Invisible Man” was published in 1897 and tells the story of a scientist, Griffin, who was greatly interested in the study of optics. He succeeded in finding a way to change the index of light refraction of a human body into the one of the air. By doing this, no physical mass (which needs light to be refracted, i.e. divided into what we see as colors) can be perceived by the eye. It becomes invisible. Unfortunately Griffin, once he successfully tries the procedure on himself, is unable to reverse it.
He finds refuge in a tiny village in the south of England, an environment the author describes particularly well because it was where he was born and had grown up. Griffin takes residence in the village inn, where he lives hidden in his room, heavily clothed and with a bandaged face any time he has to see someone. His only occupation is his chemical experiments, that he unceasingly carries out in the hope of finding a way to turn back into a “visible” human being. Realizing that he needs someone else’s help, he first finds a tramp, Thomas Marvel who, instead, betrays him. Griffin, in his desperation, threatens to kill him but gets shot. Finding shelter in a house, he meets an old colleague of his, Kemp, to whom he suggests that, by means of his invisibility, they can start a “Reign of Terror” in order to terrorize the nation and gain control. His desire for power has been unleashed! Betrayed by Kemp, too, Griffin is finally caught and killed. While dying, his body ironically regains its visible form.
The idea for this story was taken by a myth mentioned by Greek philosopher Plato (428 BC - 348 BC) in his “Republic”, “The Ring of Gyges”, where a simple shepherd, having found a magic ring in a cave that made one invisible, used such power to commit abominable crimes such as seducing the queen, killing the king and usurping the throne.
Plato, as he usually does in his “dialogues”, has the argument between Socrates and a pupil develop, in order to examine the two possible interpretations of a story or idea. Here the pupil, Glaucon, expounds his opinion about morality. He says that any man, even an excellent one, if put in a situation where he can commit a crime to his benefit with the certitude of not been punished, will perpetrate it. Therefore, he says, morality is not an innate condition, it is only a “social” one, created by the need to be respected by others. Socrates’ objection is that morality and justice do not derive from the rules of society and that a man who accepts to act against his inner “knowing” for his own benefit, enslaves himself to his low appetites. As a consequence, he is unhappy.
I find this argument worth pondering upon. When we take the time to “think”, we sometimes discover answers that are different from the ones we had previously given.
Elsa Franco Al Ghaslan