The Island of Doctor Moreau

Taking the concept of Frankenstein’s Monster and running with it

Written by

H. G. Wells in 1896

This is only the second book by H. G. Wells I’ve ever read, the first being the very excellent and compelling War of the Worlds. This book is much, much shorter than War of the Worlds, indeed I finished this within a few hours. However, this is still a brilliant read and definitely one of the better examples of classical science fiction/horror out there. It’s certainly better than Crapula.

The Island of Dr Moreau relates the story of one Edward Prendick, shipwrecked in the Pacific Ocean and then picked up by a passing cargo ship. On the ship, he sees any manner of strange things, and one very rude and angry captain who insists on kicking everybody off. Prendick recovers during the time on the ship, but is stranded by the ship’s captain when it makes landfall at the cargo’s destination, a remote volcanic island inhabited by Montgomery, another passenger and a menagerie of strange animals.

Prendick is still on the mend from dehydration and malnutrition during the first period of his stay on the island, when he finally meets Dr Moreau, an aging physician who was exiled, along with Montgomery to the island due to some rather unpleasant, not to mention unnatural, experiments. You see, Dr Moreau likes to experiment on animals, forcing them to become “human”, equipping them with speech, intelligence and the ability to walk on their hind legs. In this endeavour, he combines all sorts of animals into grotesque hybrids and somehow induces humanity in them.

This is a story about hubris and exceeding your limitations, or even playing God. I have no doubt that in the 1890s, before the advent of genetics in biology, there were likely many theories about how animals were speciated. H. G. Wells’ theory about plasticity was probably just as plausible as the next! But, as the story unfolds, it really carries the message that just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

As a short story exploring the themes of science paying no heed to boundaries and moral limitations, it is an interesting study. H. G. Wells somehow makes it interesting and succinct, without descending into unnecessary details and banal explanations. It’s a thoroughly recommended book, even though it is now more than a hundred years old, and our scientific knowledge has surpassed the level of that era. H. G. Wells is truly a master of story telling.

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