Tuesday, 26 February 2008

H. G. Wells' The Invisible Man

In his 1897 novella The Invisible Man, H. G. Wells creates uncanny effects with his descriptions of the title character's appearance. Heavily disguised, and often lurking in darkness, Wells' invention is a forerunner to the masked villains of 1970s-90s horror movies such as Jason Voorhees in Sean S. Cunningham's Friday the 13th (1980) and Michael Myers in John Carpenter's Halloween (1978).

Here are some excerpts from Wells' novella:

... carrying a little black portmanteau in his thickly gloved hand. He was wrapped up from head to foot, and the brim of his soft felt hat hid every inch of his face but the shiny tip of his nose; ... he wore big blue spectacles with sidelights, and had a bushy side-whisker over his coat-collar that completely hid his cheeks and face. ... standing there like a man of stone, his back hunched, his collar turned up, his dripping hat-brim turned down, hiding his face and ears completely.

Image: The Invisible Man (1933) Dir. James Whale

For a moment she stood gaping at him, too surprised to speak.
He held a white cloth - it was a serviette he had brought with him - over the lower part of his face, so that his mouth and jaws were completely hidden, and that was the reason of his muffled voice. ... all his forehead above his blue glasses was covered by a white bandage, and that another covered his ears, leaving not a scrap of his face exposed excepting only his pink, peaked nose. It was bright pink, and shiny just as it had been at first. ... The thick black hair, escaping as it could below and between the cross bandages, projected in curious tails and horns, giving him the strangest appearance conceivable. This muffled, and bandaged head was so unlike what she had anticipated, that for a moment she was rigid.

The only light in the room was the red glow from the fire - which lit his eyes like adverse railway signals, but left his downcast face in darkness - and the scanty vestiges of the day that came in through the open door. Everything was ruddy, shadowy, and indistinct to her ... for a second it seemed to her that the man she looked at had an enormous mouth wide open, - a vast and incredible mouth that swallowed the whole of the lower portion of his face. It was the sensation of a moment: the white-bound head, the monstrous goggle eyes, and this huge yawn below it.

He felt alone in the room and looked up , and there, grey and dim, was the bandaged head and huge blue lenses staring fixedly, ... It was so uncanny-looking to Henfrey that for a minute they remained staring blankly at one another.

Image: The Invisible Man Returns (1940) Dir. Joe May

... the stranger was undoubtedly an unusually strange sort of stranger, and she was by no means assured about him in her own mind. In the middle of the night she woke up dreaming of huge white heads like turnips, that came trailing after her at the end of interminable necks, and with vast black eyes.

The blind was down and the room dim. He caught a glimpse of a most singular thing, what seemed a handless arm waving towards him, and a face of three huge indeterminate spots on white, very like the face of a pale pansy. Then he was struck violently in the chest, hurled back, and the door slammed in his face and locked all so rapidly that he had no time to observe.

... at twilight he would go out muffled up enormously, whether the weather were cold or not, and he chose the loneliest paths and those most over-shadowed by trees and banks. His goggling spectacles and ghastly bandaged face under the penthouse of his hat, came with a disagreeable suddenness out of the darkness upon one or two home-going labourers; and Teddy Henfrey, tumbling out of the Scarlet Coat one night at half-past nine, was scared shamefully by the stranger's skull-like head (he was walking hat in hand) lit by the sudden light of the opened inn door. Such children as saw him at nightfall dreamt of bogies ...

Below, a clip from James Whale's 1933 film adaption of The Invisible Man.

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