Ever wanted to be an animal?
Today I am writing to you about the island of Dr Moreau, was written by HG Wells and published in 1896. This remains one of Well’s best-known books and is considered a science-fiction classic.
The novel is been adapted multiple times, in various mediums. There are several direct adaptations via film, as well as several films taking inspiration from it. Lets also not forget the Simpsons treehouse of horror parody. Several books claim inspiration from the Island of Dr Moreau such as Heart of a Dog, and perhaps the more recent and well-known Sherlock Holmes: The Army of Dr Moreau.
However today we will be looking at the original book.
The story begins with Edward Prendick, an Englishman, with a scientific outlook, surviving a shipwreck in the southern Pacific Ocean. Edward is rescued by Montgomery and taken onto a ship which is transporting Montgomery’s animals. However, the captain of the ship refuses to take Edward back to civilisation with him and Edward ends up on the island destination, though Montgomery is not happy about this. It is revealed that the island belongs to Dr Moreau who was an eminent physiologist in London but fled due to the public exposure of rather gruesome experiments.
It quickly becomes apparent that something is very wrong on the island, Edward wanders the jungle to escape the anguished cries of Dr Moreau’s experiments and comes across men who look both like men and swine and is then chased by another animal/man hybrid. Edward raises questions with Montgomery begets no answers.
The following day Edward explores Dr Moreau’s surgery but is caught in flees thinking that he will be the next victim. During Edward’s flight into the jungle, he encounters a hybrid ape-man who takes him to a colony of other animal-man hybrids. Here Edward learns about the law encouraging human behaviour and discouraging animal behaviour before Dr Moreau finds him.
After Edward briefly attempting to drown himself in the sea Dr Moreau explains that the creatures were never human and have only ever been animal. Dr Moreau continues to explain that he is attempting to transform animals into humans and that what he is getting closer the animals continuously revert to their animal forms and behaviours. He also shows that he no longer feels pain and believes the pain is an animal component and something humans cannot feel.
Shortly thereafter a Leopard-man breaks the law by killing a rabbit and rather than undergo further experimentation flees. Edward is the one to find him and rather than return him to Dr Moreau he shoots him. Dr Moreau is angry with this but does nothing.
Dr Moreau is later killed by half-finished Puma-woman when she escapes during treatment. Edward decides to leave the island while Montgomery and the hybrids share a drink. Fight breaks out in which Montgomery and the leader of the hybrids are both killed. Edward then discovers that Montgomery has destroyed all of the boats on the island leaving him with no means of escape. Edward is full to remain on the island and witnesses the hybrids reverting to their animal instincts and Edward is forced to defend himself and kill a hyena hybrid.
Fortuitously lifeboat washes ashore and Edward uses this to escape. He is rescued but finds that when he returns to England he is not comfortable in the presence of people as he suspects that they are all about to revert to their animal state. He leaves the city and moves to the countryside where he can find a measure of peace.
It’s no secret that HG Wells was ahead of his time and this is another fantastic example of this. HG Wells was a genius when it comes to science-fiction, however, this is probably better reflected in his War of the Worlds story than this one, though it does still come through in places. However, this book is also a deep reflection of the time in which it was written as a time the nature of the human race and vivisection were both hot topics.
The human characters in this novel are well thought out and developed, as are certain members of the animal hybrid tribe. The lack of depth that some of the animal hybrid creatures have however only served to highlight the point that they are regressing to their animal states. Edward, as the narrator of the story, obviously is the most fleshed-out character and is incredibly believable. His fear and desire to flee the island in contrast with his scientific curiosity leading to some interesting internal conflict.
My favourite part of this story is the types of fear it plays into, naturally, there are instinctive fears, being the fear of large predatory animals. There is also the fear of monsters, while the animal hybrids and traditional monsters they are effectively unnatural creations as they are combinations of various animals, with a dash of human nature thrown in.
But I most enjoyed the more intangible fear this story brought out, that whilst we are self-aware and intelligent now, we could easily digress, even when we fight against it. Our internal conflict with our nature is the real horror in this story.
The story also plays on societal fears with this aspect that while people are civilised and intelligent, we all have a much darker animalistic nature within us that we could fall prey to. Or rather that other people could fall prey to and this could lead to the degeneration of human society.
I said earlier that HG Wells was ahead of his time, and this is undeniably true, however, this story is also a reflection of the time in which it was written. When you look at society at the time this book was published, you’ll find that there was much conversation about the degeneration of the human race. It was also around this time that groups opposing vivisection were formed and gaining in popularity. This novel reflects the ethical and philosophical conversations that were taking place at the time.
Overall, I would strongly recommend this story, is a timeless classic and even though vivisection et cetera are no longer the hot topics they still tie into arguments we are having today both political and ethical. But regardless of the societal tie in this still an amazingly well-crafted story about the nature of man and well worth your time.