Thursday, March 22, 2012

Just Finished: The Island of Dr. Moreau

H. G. Wells' The Island of Dr. Moreau, my Science Fiction/Fantasy pick for Mixing It Up, and also on my list for the Classics Club, turned out to be a great pleasure.  Although I was interested in reading this book, I was not expecting to be as impressed as I was. 

Set in 1877-1878, the novel opens with a man named Edward Prendick found drifting in a lifeboat in the south Pacific.  His story, told in flashback, forms the bulk of the book.

He claims to be suffering from amnesia because he knows that he will be thought insane if he tells what he experienced during the eleven months between his shipwreck and his escape from the island of the title.  He does write his story, which is found by his heir and eventually published.  The setup of this book is reminiscent of Frankenstein, which opens with a traveler on the Arctic ice, near death, picked up by a passing ship, who tells his fantastic story before he dies.

That opening, needless to say, is not the only parallel between Dr. Moreau and Frankenstein.   Published at opposite ends of the nineteenth century, each book features a scientist determined to create human life.  Each man's creation ultimately destroys him.  Both books pose large questions about the ethical boundaries of science.  

Dr. Moreau differs in its outlook, though,  from Frankenstein.  It doesn't have that novel's heartbreaking pathos or its strong religious sensibility;  rather, it offers sly social satire.  Moreau's grotesque creatures ape human behavior, speaking, wearing clothing, and walking upright, taught to abhor going on all fours and lapping at streams.  Prendick, the narrator, even begins to find them beautiful, thinking his own shape awkward.  Yet they gradually revert to animal states after Moreau's death ends his iron control of them.  One creature, trained by Moreau as "the Sayer of the Law," harangues the others like a preacher in a pulpit, repeating meaningless phrases he calls "Big Thinks."  But the Big Thinks are eventually forgotten, too.  On Moreau's island, the trappings of civilization and religion are artificial and fall away when they are no longer imposed by force.

I'd suggest reading both Frankenstein and The Island of Dr. Moreau;  each takes the same fascinating subject in a different direction.


  1. I really need to read this one. It's one of those books that I've absorbed ideas from through cultural osmosis, but I hardly even know it. Thanks! :)

    1. My only previous knowledge of the book was the 197? movie starring Michael York, lol. It's been quite eye-opening to read.

  2. Thanks for your review. I read The Island of Dr, Moreau as a teen, but I have yet to read Frankenstein. Something I must rectify.

    My boys and I have really enjoyed Wells' other novels, so I'll have to see if I can find an audio version for us to share.


    1. Oh, yes, do read Frankenstein, too! I had it in mind the whole time I was reading this.