Book Review: The Island of Doctor Moreau by H.G. Wells

Title: The Island of Doctor Moreau
Edited: H.G. Wells
Published: 1896
Genre: Classic

Synopsis: Adrift in a dinghy, Edward Prendick, the single survivor from the good ship Lady Vain, is rescued by a vessel carrying a profoundly unusual cargo – a menagerie of savage animals. Tended to recovery by their keeper Montgomery, who gives him dark medicine that tastes of blood, Prendick soon finds himself stranded upon an uncharted island in the Pacific with his rescuer and the beasts. Here, he meets Montgomery’s master, the sinister Dr. Moreau – a brilliant scientist whose notorious experiments in vivisection have caused him to abandon the civilised world. It soon becomes clear he has been developing these experiments – with truly horrific results.

 My Rating: red-starred-starred-starred-star 1/2
I’m going to start off by saying that this book is not for everyone. There are things that happen in this book that for those of you with sensitivity towards animal cruelty might not be able to stomach it, I admit a few times it made me sick. The center theme in this book is the difference between man and beast – in the purely Victorian sense of the word. However, to arrive at this theme we first have to embark down the road of vivisection in Victorian England and how it seemed to be permissible and socially acceptable to the point of it being enjoyed in a social setting. It’s really very hard for our modern mind to comprehend this but it did happen and so from this Wells draws his science-fiction. This is my first Wells read – I have seen the movies but I thought I would never read his books because (and I see how sexist this is as I write it) I saw it always as a much more masculine themed writing.
This book is not without its faults yet despite it all I appreciated what Wells was trying to portray and more importantly criticize. Wells gives us a story of a sensible man called Prendick, this man ends up stranded at sea and is rescued by Montgomery, another Englishman who seems to be off to a strange island with caged animals on board a ship. As Prendick arrives on the island (later named by him as The Island of Doctor Moreau) he notices right away that something is not quite right about the island. It becomes clear that first night that Dr. Moreau is practicing vivisection on a puma whose cries of pain do not let Prendick sleep and he runs out into the forest to get away from the crying animal. There in the forest he first sees ‘the beast people’ who essentially are the failed attempts of Dr. Moreau in creating the perfect man-beast. The animals have been operated on and pieces of other animals have been attached – so a creature can have the head of a wolf but with human nose and legs of hyena, fingers twisted in a human-like manner, larynx changed to speak and mind altered to be able to think. It’s a playground for this freak show that Dr. Moreau has created. The story goes from there and despite it only being 130 pages, I felt that Wells perfectly captured the madness of the 3 main characters. Moreau – the classic mad scientist who sees nothing wrong with his experiments and creations. Montgomery is an outcast of civilized human society who has grown accustomed to the horrors of the island and has found an odd kinship with the beast people and finally our narrator, a man trapped in this crazy island just trying to survive, not sure if he will end himself to prevent some catastrophe falling on him or to see out the adventure.
I loved that Wells is straight to the point, no unnecessary mystery, no extra scenes with Moreau being crazy, no names for the beast people, he gives you the necessary to create a story and doesn’t take it beyond that which is why I think Wells books are so adaptable. You could almost set this story in any century because it’s so isolated and the themes of playing with science and messing with the natural order of things is deeply questioned. I highly recommend this if you enjoy the horror/sci-fi genre and want to dip your feet into classics.
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7 thoughts on “Book Review: The Island of Doctor Moreau by H.G. Wells

  1. Great review! It’s been a while since i read the book myself, but I remember liking it very much. It’s one of the bleakest and perhaps most emotional of his early books, as he sometimes tended to get a bit too wrapped up in his witty, but often a bit dry social satire. For example The War of the World is absolutely brilliant as an anti-war satire, but a rather arduous read. If you liked Moreau, I recommend trying The Invisible Man – it’s a bit slow in the beginning, but as the protagonist sinks deeper into his power madness it gets quite juicy.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Well, I enjoyed both of those as well! BTW, have you seen the thirties film adaptation of Moreau? I’d love to hear what you think of it. Personally I find that it is perhaps my favourite Wells adaptation. Charles Laughton is superb.

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      2. If you have the chance, listen to the podcast How Did This Get Made on The Island of Doctor Moreau for hilarious behind the scenes tidbits, my particular favorite is Brando refusing to wear anything under his muumuu leaving the crew terrorized of gusts of wind =D

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