The Island of Doctor Moreau by

26 August 2012

Call no:
Setting: ,
Rated :

Read/Download for free from The University of Adelaide

Read for Coursera Sci-Fi course & for RIP VII

After his death the nephew of a Mr. Edward Prendick found a strange account among his papers. It was known that Prendick had been cast adrift after the ship he was on sank. The tale he told his rescuers a year or so later made very little sense, and so he pretended memory loss, for fear of being thought insane. For he ended up upon the Island of Doctor Moreau (title alert) where strange creatures lived, the results of Moreau’s experiments and vivisections.

This is another of those books that has entered into popular culture and imagination. We all know the general outline of the story. An insane scientist creates strange beast-men on an isolated island, with terrible consequences.

Even if you think you know the story, if you haven’t read the book you should give it a go, because it is one of those classics that have gone on to inspire so many other sci-fi & fantasy stories. Not to mention episodes of The Simpsons.

The story is told in first person by Prendick some time after his escape from the island, so he knows how it ends, and sometimes will use that fact in his telling. Foreshadowing the disaster we know is coming. And then there is the character of the Doctor himself. A horrible individual, I don’t think there can be any real argument there, possibly one of the first “mad scientists” so beloved of horror & sci-fi? He shares with Frankenstien a desire for knowledge. And there are plenty of echoes of other stories as well in that regard, but he is the first one that I’ve come across who really doesn’t care about anything but his work.

Okay, Frankenstein was selfish and unthinking, but at least at some point he actually considered that maybe what he was doing wasn’t such a good idea. He was the hero, in a way, his arc was all about realising that you cannot have mastery over nature. Moreau never learns that, unless you count death as knowledge. Unlike Frankenstein Moreau is the bad guy here. He wants to remove the “beast” from the animals and turn them human. That is something that cannot be done, because humans, of course, are part of the natural world.

And his lack of empathy for any pain the animals suffered is truly appalling. Not that Prendick is much better. He can’t stand it while he can hear the animals moaning in torture, but once out of earshot he isn’t too bothered by it. Vivisection for vivisection’s sake is not a good thing.

Other reviews: She reads novels ; Dark Wolf’s fantasy reviews ; Book Clutter

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7 Responses

  1. Redhead says:

    I've really got to read this sometime. It seems everywhere I look, I run into references to this classic. I know what they are referencing, but I don't get the totality of the joke, because i haven't read the original material.

    and you gotta love when a classic has entered public domain and you can download it!
    Redhead´s last blog post ..Feed, by Mira Grant

    • Fence says:

      Yes, free classics are awesome. Although the flip side is all the trash that is also out there. And the wading through of it :)

      The only problem with reading something that is so prominent in culture is that you feel like you know what is going to happen, or that you have already read it, when you haven't.

  2. Carl V. says:

    This is one of those stories that I *think* I know simply because of it being in the culture and being referenced by so many other stories and yet I really should read it as there is no doubt a lot there that I have no idea of. And really it is one of those classics I feel I should have read by now.
    Carl V.´s last blog post ..The Insomniacs ~Karina Wolf, The Brothers Hilts

  3. Fence says:

    You should have. You really should have ;)

    I think this was my favourite of the Wells' I read for the scifi course. I really liked The County of the Blind as well, but that was more of a short story.

  4. Debi says:

    This is one of the few classics I actually have read. And really not all that long ago, but you've sort of resparked my feelings about it here. For me it was definitely a love/hate thing. The vivisection stuff so thoroughly horrified me, and yet I couldn't help but be intrigued by the story overall.
    Debi´s last blog post ..Locke & Key…thoughts along the way…

    • Fence says:

      It was a really good read. For some reason I wasn't expecting to really enjoy it, so that was a plus. Even if I didn't really like any of the characters

  5. lynnsbooks says:

    I really should read this – I'd decided to pick up Jekyll and Hyde for Carl's RIP but if I get time I would also like to fit this in. Strangely enough I'm fairly certain I saw a film based on this story but I genuinely can't remember anything about the story!

    Thanks for the review.

    Lynn :D
    lynnsbooks´s last blog post ..Shadows by Ilsa Bick