The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells begins with a maritime journey, climaxes with a group of animal-human hybrids taking over a Pacific island, and ends with the protagonist preferring to be alone for the rest of his life rather than deal with humanity ever again.
Probably most famous for being turned into several terrible movies, including one featuring Marlon Brando as the titular Moreau in 1996, the book is a cautionary science-fiction tale (written two decades before the genre existed) about the dangers of “playing God”.
In this case, “playing God” involves surgically altering pigs, apes and puma so they more closely resemble humans, then forcing them to live by a code of conduct that mimics human society.
Not to go on all fours; that is the law. Are we not Men?H.G. Wells, The Island of Doctor Moreau, p. 59
Needless to say, it does not go well.
Written in 1896, the book has retained its impact thanks to its disturbing descriptions of animals bodies, painfully and unnecessarily altered via surgery and the agonised screams of those same animals as they are operated on without anesthetic.
It turns out that Moreau, for all his high-falutin ideals and notions of “civilising” nature, is little more than a mad scientist abusing his medical training.
When the book’s protagonist, Edward Prendick, discovers the community of surgically altered “Beast Men” living on the island, he has mixed feelings about the vivisected creatures. At first, he pities them. However, when he is forced to spend more time with them, he quickly becomes disgusted by their appearance and their crude, clumsy attempts to be human.
He’s not crazy about Moreau either.
By the end of the novel, Prendick has escaped the island and returned home to Victorian London. However, despite being back in civilisation he can’t seem to look at other human beings without seeing the lumbering, savage lurking underneath.
I see faces keen and bright…(and) feel as though the animal was surging up through them.H.G. Wells, The Island of Doctor Moreau, p130.
And so, still feeling as if he is surrounded by beasts, he leaves London for the relative peace of the country. Here, he plans to live the rest of his life in self-imposed solitude, devoting his days to –
reading and experiments in chemistry…and nights in the study of astronomyH.G. Wells, The Island of Doctor Moreau, p.131
Studying the stars soothes Prendick’s troubled mind and brings him a sense of “infinite peace and protection” and the book ends on a note of hopefulness about humanity and the wonderous mysteries of space.
Is it a happy ending?
Soon after finishing The Island of Doctor Moreau, H.G. Wells penned another frequently filmed science-fiction tale.
He called it: The War of the Worlds.