Novel: The Island of Doctor Moreau

Author: H. G. Wells, 1896
Genre: Science Fiction
Format: Ebook, 126 pages

On February the First 1887, the Lady Vain was lost by collision with a derelict when about the latitude 1’S. and longitude 107’W.

Major part of nineteenth century can be described in two words – Awesome Science! Crazy things happened during Victorian era and even crazier things were inherited well into Edwardian period. Steam-powered machinery, cars, plains, cinema, photography, electric lights… Science was on steroids, producing evolutionary theories and discoveries of new worlds, and trying to understand the magical works of human body. Writers of the time, like Wells were fascinated by these new possibilities, and created most of the best science fiction and adventure literature. The Island of Doctor Moreau is a great example of the curiosity that existed in regards to medicine and human biology. In short, the book describes the misadventures of Edward Prendick who happens to witness the grotesque vivisection experiments conducted by the reclusive Dr. Moreau. The Doctor’s purpose is to create perfect human beings out of wild animals by modifying their anatomy. Unfortunately all his experiments gradually, but surely degrade back to their animalistic form, and eventually end up being abandoned in the forest of the island in favour of a new patient.

His curiosity, his mad, aimless investigation, drove him on; and the Things were thrown out to live a year or so, to struggle and blunder and suffer, and at last to die painfully. (p. 91)

The Island of Dr. Moreau discusses important topics that still plague science to this day. How far should our knowledge extend? Are we responsible for the things we create? Are we justified in playing God? Moreau seems to never ponder over these questions. He takes upon a project after project without a second thought and disposes of those he considers a failure. His subjects undergo excruciating physical pain of multiple surgeries without anaesthetics, and continue living with a terrible knowledge of what they had become. Moreau’s experiments fear their creator and call his laboratory a “House of Pain.” I was honestly mortified by the cruelty and the level fanatism that possessed the man, and I can only imagine the Prendick’s horror when he realized the mad scientist’s true purpose. Eventually, Prendick runs away into the forest and joins the colony of the abandoned beasts, and so we learn about the Law.

The Law is a list of interesting characteristics that the beasts think separates them from animals and brings them closer to humanity. For example, they are not to walk on all fours, or suck in the water when drinking, or taste blood. The punishment for breaking the Law is to return to the House of Pain and to face the wrath of the creator. The beasts make up a small community with their own hierarchy and social life, including religion. The Ape Man considers himself equal to Prendick, seeing that both of them have five fingers – a trait that is rare among the creatures. He can also come up with Big Thinks, which are the result of Ape Man’s experimentation with limited language that he knows; again, this skill is very uncommon in his community.

Upon his return home Prendick cannot shake off a feeling that he still remains among the strange creatures of Moreau. People of London seem to be on brink of degradation and devolving, and cities are nothing more than big jungles. When he hears a priest speak, all he can hear is the beasts’ Law passed on from one animal to the other. Convinced in his own human solitude, Prendick chooses to live away from others, dedicating his life to studies of chemistry and astronomy.

I could not persuade myself that the men and women I met were not also another Beast People, animals half wrought into the outward image of human souls, and that they would presently begin to revert, – to show first this bestial mark and then that. (p. 124)

There is – though I do not know how there is or why there is – a sense of infinite peace and protection in the glittering hosts of heaven. There it must be, I think, in the vast and eternal laws of matter, and not in the daily cares and sins and troubles of men, that whatever is more than animal within us must find its solace and its hope. I hope, or I could not live. (p. 126)

5 comments

  1. I’ve read some of H.G. Wells other books, but they weren’t quite as dark as this one sounds. Your descriptions of the House of Pain had me squirming, so I’m not sure I’m going to rush out and find this, unless I’m in an unassailably happy mood!
    Great thoughts – thanks.

  2. Thank you for visiting! That’s an interesting point you’re making, Katkasia, because this is my very first Wells. I am looking forward to reading his other works to see how they compare in mood. The subject matter in The Island is indeed pretty dark, but I wouldn’t say Wells’s writing style is overly gloomy. However, one scene where the narrator is being hunted by a jaguar man really spooked me! I literally pictured myself running along that beach, afraid to turn around and see the monstrous figure of the pursuer. I do not envy Prendick!

    Hopefully my blog will see more of Wells, since I found him rather accessible and exciting. Perhaps we can compare more thoughts then. Again, welcome.

  3. Wow – sounds like the stuff of nightmares! I’ll have to try and review one myself soon.

  4. Feel free to link it here when you do, I would love to read it. 🙂

  5. Hi Andrea,
    Well, it’s only a collection of his short stories, but a review nonetheless! Hope you enjoy!
    http://kasiajames.wordpress.com/2012/02/18/book-review-the-country-of-the-blind-h-g-wells/
    Thanks.

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