Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Lessons I Learned From…


The great thing about the internet is that if something’s in the public domain, it’s at your fingertips for free. Also things that aren’t in the public domain, but you’re not supposed to do that.

Anyway, sometimes it’s fun to read old books. You know, the classics that helped shape pretty much every writer since then. A few weeks ago I figured I’d finally read THE INVISIBLE MAN the kids these days have been talking so much about. And while reading it, I had a few thoughts about how writing styles have changed since the book was written. So fair warning, spoilers ahead. I mean, this is just a one hundred and fifteen year old book we’re talking about…

One interesting thing is that the hero of the story, and by that I mean the one who stops the Invisible Man, isn’t introduced until the third act of the book. Partly this is because the protagonist is Griffin, the Invisible Man, and it’s his story we’re following. But there isn’t even a hint about Kemp until the actual scene where he’s introduced as an old acquaintance of Griffin.

I couldn’t believe Wells got away with that. Honestly, it felt forced with a smattering of deux ex machina thrown in to taste. However, each part of the book is mostly structured as coming from a POV opposingGriffin’s. The first is the Halls, his landlords at the inn who find him more than a little off. Then Thomas Marvel, who Griffin comes across after fleeing apprehension and becomes an unwitting ally. Then we get Kemp, who ends up saving the day.

So not only do we get an anti-hero protagonist, he remains mostly out of our, um, sight. We don’t get to hear his thoughts except during a several chapter long monologue (another thing no one could get away with today), we don’t get to understand his feelings, background and motivations. He is an Unknown and ultimately Unknowable.

On one hand, this is appropriate. On the other, it’s hard to connect to. Of course, this would have been far more acceptable in the nineteenth century, where such distance from characters is common (for example, in another Wells book, WAR OF THE WORLDS, the narrator isn’t even named).

Interesting how characterization has changed. Also the understanding that invisible eyeballs would be blind since they need light to reflect off them to see.

Have you read any of Wells’s books? What do you think about nineteenth century literature in general? And on another note, do you agree that characters have become much more important in order to tell a story?


  1. I love it but I have to agree, authors would never get away with it now days, and for good reason. Writing has come a long way and I like the direction its taking in the aspect of making readers feel more connected.

  2. I haven't read that one, but I have read more than a bit of Wells. I'm also going back through some RLS right now. One thing I continually find with a lot of the classics is that they would -never- get published today. I'm not sure, exactly, what that says.

  3. And yet another classic I haven't read.

    I think it's interesting to note how literature has changed and what that says about how we as a people have changed. I don't know if that's good or not.

  4. I don't particularly care for 19th century literature. I only read it when assigned.

  5. I haven't read it, but now I want to! hehe. I didn't read most of this post as it has spoilers, but thanks for posting it anyway :)

  6. I've read some of Wells' work, but not that book.


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