[Book Review] H.G. Wells’ The Island Of Dr Moreau

The Island Of Dr Moreau BookH.G. Wells was perhaps ahead of his time with the books he wrote, he had such amazing ideas that seemed to suit what he would consider the future, not the present he was born into. This made him such an interesting figure, and his books extremely popular. Amoung some of his most well known works are The War Of The World, The Time Machine, The Invisible Man and his 3rd novel The Island Of Dr. Moreau.

I have memories of reading the book back when I was probably too young to read it, not fully understanding it and skipping some parts of it. What I took away from it was some disturbing ideas, and a film from 1996 that was a complete failure despite having some good ideas. Several years ago I saw the first film adaptation of the book with The Island Of Lost Souls, a fantastic film in its own right. Having given Christopher the film to watch for our Movie Exchange, I felt compelling to read the book again, and take it in fully now that I am an adult.

The Island Of Dr. Moreau is told from the point of view of Edward Prendick, a man who gets shipwrecked and is lost at sea. That is until he gets rescued by another passing ship and is revived and looked after by a man called Montgomery. Prendick notices there are strange things on this ship, and there is a strange man with Montgomery. Montgomery is being taken to an island with some supplies, Prendick alienates the ships captain and is left off at the island as well. Montgomery takes him in, not very willing having an added element. Prendick soon discovers there is something not quite right on the island, as he finds out a Dr. Moreau runs it and is conducting some disturbing experiments on animals.

The basic premise has been used for the three film adaptations, so I am sure most know the the bare basics of what it is about. The film versions do differ from the book, so it is interesting to see what Wells had originally thought of. The island itself only has Dr. Moreau and Montgomery as its human inhabitants, with Prendick becoming the third. The other inhabitants are animals that Moreau has experimented on to make them more human and combining species together using vivesection. The practice of vivesection was a hot topic back when this book was written, and there were many who believed that animals could be made more human using these techniques. At the turn of the century science was really making anything possible, so it is no surprise that this was something thought to have been possible.

Island of Dr. Moreau (1996) Marlon BrandoHmmm I don’t remember this from the book …

What makes this a disturbing read is the fact that Moreau acts as God (as does Dr. Frankenstein in Frankenstein), he is creating something new and different from what already exists. But these are creatures that should not exist, and this makes one ponder what is it to be human. This is one of the core themes of the book, and I do think that Wells explores it well, especially when Prendick spends time with the creatures. Wells also tackles the issue of abuse and cruelty, with pain being something that Moreau uses to control the creatues, as well as giving them Laws to live by, which animals themselves would not understand.

The characters we meet are all rather interesting, Prendick making a most intense narrator. Montgomery is a man now led by the drink, someone who has lost all sense of human interaction. Dr. Moreau fancies himself as a God, pushing the boundaries of what is right and wrong. The animal characters while not wholly developed are quite intriguing, especially the ones we barely get to know including The Sayer Of The Law, The Leopard Man and the Hyeana-Swine. M’ling is the creature we see the most, due to him being a servant to Dr. Moreau and Montgomery. There is a huge sense of sympathy for these creatures, they are living with things they shouldn’t be. They truly do not understand, and the Laws are not ones they can follow because their instincts take over.

The book itself is not a slow read, it is just over 100 pages. It does however require a bit of time to process the way in which it was written, being used to more recent books, it did take me some time (it was first published in 1896). With ideas that were well ahead of its time, this is a book that should be read. Because of how well known Wells has been, this book is still quite easy to find. Recommended for those who haven’t had a chance to read it, Wells was definitely an intriguing writer.


Review written by Marcella Papandrea


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