The Invisible Man, by H. G. Wells

2012 Book 128: The Invisible Man, by H. G. Wells (9/1/2012)

Reason for Reading: Coursera fantasy and science fiction course

My Review

In H. G. Wells’ classic novel, a scientist turns himself invisible and wreaks havoc in rural England. This book is a versatile classic because it could be read by someone who is young or who simply wants to read fluff, but it can also be appreciated by more careful readers who are looking for undercurrents of meaning. It’s a tragi-farcical romp in 19th century England, but it’s also a warning about what people might do simply because they can get away with it. This is a classic that anyone interested in science fiction should read.

Essay on The Invisible Man, by H.G. Wells for Coursera Fantasy and Science Fiction. May contain spoilers!!!

In his 1897 novel The Invisible Man, H. G. Wells portrayed a tragic anti-hero, a trend which had become popular among romantic writers following in the footsteps of Milton. Well’s character Griffin isolated himself from humanity at first because he wanted all the glory of his discoveries. Later, he was driven to isolation by a fear of discovery. Finally, he was driven mad by the effects of his self-imposed isolation. 

Wells used two narrative styles for this novel. One style was Griffin’s first person narrative. This style not only established Griffin as the protagonist of the story, but it also painted him in a tragic light: he was naked, hungry, and alone; facing the unforeseen difficulties of invisibility. He had striven diligently for success only to have it wrenched away as he recognized his own impotence in isolation. Only upon this dreadful realization did he seek out compatriots. However, he faced rejection not only from the general populace, but also from his chosen companions. Like Satan in Paradise Lost, Griffin had rebelled against the social order, and been mortified by his own failure. Like Satan, he failed to recognize his own fault in his fall, and instead sought revenge.

The other narrative style used in The Invisible Man was that of a semi-omniscient reporter/observer who told the story as seen through the eyes of individual characters. This style was distanced from the motivations of characters, resulting in the farcical effect of watching people rushing after flying objects and thrashing wildly at thin air. This narrative style made Griffin’s plight seem pathetically silly. It is reminiscent of the comic debasement of Satan at the end of Paradise Lost. It suggests that Griffin doesn’t deserve the tragic grandeur of a real hero–because he’s just a sad little man with poor morals and no friends.

Milton–Epic Evil

The Great Courses
Why Evil Exists
Lecture Eighteen
Milton–Epic Evil

I want to explore the nature of “evil” and popular ideologies. It is, of course, impossible to ever really understand evil, but I think that even scratching the surface of the nature of evil will broaden my horizons. 🙂 I have found what looks like an excellent set of lectures from The Great Courses called Why Evil Exists. I plan on using these lectures as a guide during my quest. I will record my adventures here in my blog. The course’s introduction states: people have been addressing the problem of the existence of evil in a “divinely governed or morally ordered world” for millennia. The course aims to chart the answers that the Western world has outlined throughout time. I suppose I am to be left in the dark about the Eastern world’s answers to these questions? How evil. 😉

Because I have already started my study of Milton, I will skip ahead to Lecture 18: Milton–Epic Evil. *Watches lecture while taking notes.*


John Milton was a political revolutionary as well as a poet (see also: Milton and Paradise Lost: A Quest to Understand). All of Milton’s writings, even the political ones, were centered around how humanity can avoid corruption by evil. As a Calvinist and a republican,1 Milton meant Paradise Lost as an allegory for the failure of Oliver Cromwell’s rebellion. “Paradise Lost is the story of a rebellion gone terribly awry, and a leader horribly mutilated by his own revolt.” 2

Milton suggests in Paradise Lost that he intended the epic to “justify the ways of God to men.” He views God as timeless and eternal–existing at once in the past, present and future. So, although God knows all that has been or will be, it is not preordained. Adam and Eve had free choice, and they chose sin. But their sin was different from the sin of Satan, who represents Evil’s self-understanding in Milton’s epic.

In order to depict the embodiment-of-evil as a character, Milton had to display Satan in all his alluring charisma–for that is the nature of evil, it charms and tempts the unwary. It is easy to sympathize with Milton’s Satan. He oscillates between self-doubt (God has tempted me to fall thus!) and self-confidence (I am acting out my own ambitions, while God thinks he can control me!). Even though his emotions are self-contradictory, they make him more real to the reader…they make him someone the reader can understand. Along with Satan’s oscillating paradoxical motivations, Milton also uses paradoxical metaphors to represent evil. One of the most famous examples is Milton’s description of Hell as a “visible darkness.”

Milton had the difficult task of portraying self-aware evil (as opposed to portraying man’s perception of evil, as in Dante’s work). Because of this, he portrayed Satan as a much more interesting character than God or Jesus. Many critics believed that Milton himself sympathized with Satan. In The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, William Blake wrote: “The reason Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of Angels & God, and at liberty when of Devils & Hell, is because he was a true Poet and of the Devil’s party without knowing it.” Other critics, like C. S. Lewis, insisted that Milton’s poem complimented Christian faith.

Unlike Satan, Adam and Eve are “surprised by sin.” Even though the angel Raphael warns them about sin, they are incapable of understanding the warning because they are too innocent. The warning is useless. Theirs is not “self-aware” sinning like Satan’s. Eve sins out of careless folly, vanity, and pride…not a “self-aware” wish to rebel. Adam’s sin was that he loved Eve more than he loved God, whom he was supposed to love above all else. This is the difference between Satanic sin and human sin. Satanic sin is about the sin itself; human sin tends to rope in emotions about other people.  


Now that I have a good idea of what Milton was trying to say in Paradise Lost, I’m ready to attack the first book! 🙂


1. “Republican,” at the time, meant a person who believed that the people should govern themselves (as opposed to a monarchy). 

2. Charles Mathewes, The Great Courses: Why Evil Exists, Lecture 18.

3. This is the title of a well-accepted contemporary critical analysis of Paradise Lost: Surprised by Sin: The Reader in Paradise Lost, by Stanley Fish.

The Subtle Knife, by Philip Pullman

2012 Book 47: The Subtle Knife, by Philip Pullman (3/11/2012)

Reason for Reading: Interested in the Paradise Lost allegory

My Review: 3/5 stars
Lyra has traveled to a parallel universe, where she meets Will—another traveler of universes. They team up when they find that Lyra’s quest to find out more about dust and Will’s quest to find his missing father are intertwined. This is a difficult book for me to review. The first time I tried to read this book, I gave up about a quarter of the way through because I didn’t like being beat over the head with an anti-religion Message. It really lacked subtly in this book, and I hear it is even more brutal in the third book. However, I decided to give this book another try because I learned that it was a retelling of Paradise Lost, and I was interested in seeing what he did with that. My final conclusion: I still feel that I was being beat over the head with a Message; however, I think Pullman is a VERY creative author. SPOILER ALERT: I was a little off-put by the pointless waste of lives at the end of the book. But perhaps the third book will elucidate the reasons for these deaths.