21 February 2008

11. The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells

Another classic from the Master. I have to say I am really digging the HGW this year. I'm adding The Time Machine to the list and may get to it sooner than some other candidates that have been on the list for a longer time.

This story is told with a narrative frame of "this is someone else's story that I am relating." In this case, the narrator is Charles Prendick, but the story is framed by his nephew.

Charles was a passenger on a ship that catches fire and goes down in the Pacific. He boards a life raft and is rescued by a passing ship. He slowly recovers from his ordeal and manages to see some of the ship that rescued him. It's a filthy mess because the deck is jammed with animals in cages. Prendick meets Montgomery, the man who saved him, and Moreau, the doctor who has brought the animals on the ship. He also meets M'Ling, the attendant to Montgomery.

After they are dropped on Moreau's island Prendick realizes he is on for a long stay, perhaps even as much as a year, depending on when a ship happens by the island. Soon after that Prendick gets a glimpse of Moreau's twisted experiments.

Afraid that he is to be one of Moreau's specimens, Prendick makes a run for it. He leaves the huts that Moreau and Montgomery live in, and finds himself in the thick, leafy jungle. Almost as soon as he is clear of the huts he realizes he is being followed. What he sees terrifies him even more - a half man half beast creature.

After a long chase Prendick takes refuge with the monster and learns that the island is populated by all sorts of mixed human/beast kinds of animals of varying shapes and intelligences. Soon Montgomery and Moreau catch up with him and rescue him from the beasts.

Back at the huts, Moreau explains that he has created these beasts in the name of science, in the pursuit of the godlike power of creation by metamorphosis. Moreau explains that he works on raw (natural) animals and tries to turn them human by way of surgical and chemical manipulation.

Is it so far from our own genetically modified foods like square tomatoes to better fit our sandwiches, or non-seed bearing corn (thank you Monsanto!), or hormone manipulated cows (more milk!), or cloned and hyper-drugged animals we eat?

Prendick understands even though he thinks it's twisted and everything is calm.

Until one of the animals busts loose and goes on a rampage. The power structure (between beasts and humans) of the island is threatened. Prendick, Montgomery, and Moreau's lives are in danger.

I skipped over a lot of the intricate details, but I'll leave you there.

What I find amazing about Wells is his fantastic imagination. His foresight is impressive, taking the science of his day and drawing conclusions that bear out in our day.

I definitely recommend this book and I'm very much looking forward to The Time Machine.

3 comments:

Olman Feelyus said...

I LOVE the final paragraphs of this book, when he comes home again and is constantly visited by the horror of seeing his fellow London denizens seeming to be animals themselves. It's one of the most disturbing passages of anomie and alienation I've read. Wells is the man!

Olman Feelyus said...

It's no longer copywritten so I quote it here:

"...though I do not expect that the terror of that island will ever altogether leave me. At most times it lies far in the back of my mind, a mere distant cloud, a memory, and a faint distrust; but there are times when the little cloud spreads until it obscures the whole sky. Then I look about me at my fellow-men; and I go in fear. I see faces, keen and bright; others dull or dangerous; others, unsteady, insincere,—none that have the calm authority of a reasonable soul. I feel as though the animal was surging up through them; that presently the degradation of the Islanders will be played over again on a larger scale. I know this is an illusion; that these seeming men and women about me are indeed men and women,—men and women for ever, perfectly reasonable creatures, full of human desires and tender solicitude, emancipated from instinct and the slaves of no fantastic Law,—beings altogether different from the Beast Folk. Yet I shrink from them, from their curious glances, their inquiries and assistance, and long to be away from them and alone. For that reason I live near the broad free downland, and can escape thither when this shadow is over my soul; and very sweet is the empty downland then, under the wind-swept sky.
"When I lived in London the horror was well-nigh insupportable. I could not get away from men: their voices came through windows; locked doors were flimsy safeguards. I would go out into the streets to fight with my delusion, and prowling women would mew after me; furtive, craving men glance jealously at me; weary, pale workers go coughing by me with tired eyes and eager paces, like wounded deer dripping blood; old people, bent and dull, pass murmuring to themselves; and, all unheeding, a ragged tail of gibing children. Then I would turn aside into some chapel,—and even there, such was my disturbance, it seemed that the preacher gibbered “Big Thinks,” even as the Ape-man had done; or into some library, and there the intent faces over the books seemed but patient creatures waiting for prey. Particularly nauseous were the blank, expressionless faces of people in trains and omnibuses; they seemed no more my fellow-creatures than dead bodies would be, so that I did not dare to travel unless I was assured of being alone. And even it seemed that I too was not a reasonable creature, but only an animal tormented with some strange disorder in its brain which sent it to wander alone, like a sheep stricken with gid."


Does that not rock!

Doc Holaday said...

That passage most definitely does rock.

You will certainly enjoy reading The Time Machine. I think it and War of the Worlds aren't any more inventive than Island of Dr. Moreau, but they are a bit better plotted. I love all three of these novels and if I only had one shelf on which to store books, these would be there.