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Book Review: The Island of Dr Moreau by HG Wells

island of dr moreau Book Review: The Island of Dr Moreau by HG Wells


Ah, my third HG Wells in as many months, and the third book in which Wells gets his didactic on. Though I have awful memories of the film adaptation of this novel (oh, Marlon, what happened to you?), I havent actually enjoyed this novel in print form before. But as has been the case with all of Wellss work, Im rather impressed by the longevity and continued relevance of this work.'In The Island of Doctor Moreau Wells sinks his analytical scalpel deep into all things social, and the result is a novel that is as chilling as it is thought-provoking.

Edward Prendick is stranded on an island in the middle of nowhere, an event that necessarily severs him from the norms and confines of civilised society, and which sets up the shocking dichotomy between savagery and humanity with which Wells is to bombard us for the next few hundred pages. On this island Prendick meets the mysterious Moreau, a disbarred surgeon of superlative genius but rather less outstanding moral capacity. Moreau remains an odd, ambiguous figure who skulks around the periphery of Prendicks consciousness until Prendick begins to connect the oddly malformed inhabitants with the actions and ideology of the doctor.'Moreau, of course, has been seeking to imbue animals of all types with both human form and intelligence, and has, to varying degrees succeeded.

Its a position that reflects the blazing light of naturalist Charles Darwin, whose hypotheses were at the time were gaining prominence (albeit a then highly contentious prominence, as we can see in the postulations that arise from Wellss novel). Moreaus creatures have been carefully manipulated, through both physical and social conditioning, to exhibit human characteristics to as far a degree as possible, but they remain eerily mimetic of their intended form rather than being able to truly pass. Moreaus actions are horrifically cruelmuch page space is given to the physical anguish to which his creatures are subjected, and the same again to the endless Pavlovian conditioning required to keep them on the path to something approaching humanityand Wells uses these actions as a way of highlighting the incremental, long-term requirements of evolution; something that is further underlined when the creatures regress when their humanity is not tended to as required.

But its not just Moreaus creatures that regress. Prendick himself does so, after a while finding himself considering these once-alien creatures to be familiar and almost passably human in form and nature. Theres the suggestion of humanitys in-built savagerywhich is an inexorable part of our make up that we simply hide beneath the trappings of culture and socially conditioned behaviour and normsand how it may rise to the fore in instances where the tempering force of civilisation is stripped away. Its a curious thought: that our humanity is something derived necessarily from being part of a collective. The very tenuousness of culture and civilisation is touched upon, too: while the bestial form seeks to endure, culture fails to abide unless attended to regularly and attentively.'This all becomes particularly interesting when Prendick eventually returns home and finds himself an outsider in his own world.

Indeed Moreaus creatures ritualistically take themselves through prayers and chants designed to help them retain their veneer of humanity, even as their forms regress back to the original.'Eerily, the combination of the law to which the animals adhere and their dogmatic chants and prayers mirrors the vehemence often found amongst the more determinedly ardent human spiritualists: theres the idea that truth comes out of belief, which a chilling enough idea in its own right. This is further augmented by the fact that Prendick must stand in as a sort of god-like figure in order to ensure that Moreaus subjects remain capable of adhering to the externally applied and enforced norms to which they are subject.

On top of all of this, theres obviously the highly salient (read: neon sign) theme of using science as a means by which to usurp what many would prefer is left to the evolutionary powers-that-be. This dangers of science argument is one advanced by Wells in, well, pretty much everything of his Ive come across, and he certainly drives home the point here by ensuring that the god-like figure of Moreau dies a gruesome death at the hand of one of his creations. Note to self: you dont make friends with vivisection.

Given recent scientific advances and experiments, Wellss tale of the forcible and immediate adaptation to given stimuli/milieux is quite the timely finger-wag. Needless to say, I wont be drinking this any time soon.

Rating: star Book Review: The Island of Dr Moreau by HG Wellsstar Book Review: The Island of Dr Moreau by HG Wellsstar Book Review: The Island of Dr Moreau by HG Wellsstar Book Review: The Island of Dr Moreau by HG Wellsblankstar Book Review: The Island of Dr Moreau by HG Wells (excellent)

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See also our review of The Time Machine

See also our review of'The Invisible Man


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  1. you don't make friends with vivisection love it! Beautiful review. Ive never read any Wells because the stories always seemed slightly disturbing and, well, I dont generally like to be disturbed, but Im very curious especially after reading your reviews. The island sounds horrific! But very interesting.

  2. I loved Wells books as a kid and from some reason I stopped reading them as an adult. Thanks for the great review, I must re-read them.

  3. Ive read most of Wells. That was an insightful and thoughtful review on his book.

  4. Stephanie /

    Belle: Thanks! Moreau is quite a departure from Wellss other stuff in that it is just so very gritty. Theres a surprising amount of gore, and it is quite confronting. Id recommend this one, though! Next up for me: War of the Worlds

    Zohor: my pleasure. This one would definitely stand up to a re-read, so Id recommend it when you get a chance!

    Gently Mad: Im glad you enjoyed italthough admittedly I did ramble just a tad! :)

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