THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU
Reviewed by Brian James Lewis
This week’s Throwback Thursday Thriller is The Island of Dr. Moreau. First published in 1896 by notable forward thinker, H.G. Wells, this novella is a tale of science gone wrong that resounds just as strongly today as it did over 100 years ago. What an amazing Sci-Fi and Horror pioneer! Wells was writing books about genetic engineering and its consequences during a time in which people were still using a horse and buggy.
Our narrator, Edward Prendick, is picked up by a strange boat and rescued after the passenger ship that he was originally on meets misfortune and he and a few crew members managed to escape on one of the lifeboats. However, only Prendick survives. His condition is so rough that he refers to his hand as “a dirty skin purse full of loose bones.” His savior Montgomery brings Prendick back from the edge of death mostly to entertain himself than anything else.
The small freighter that they’re on is crammed with supplies as well as a crude menagerie of animals secured on deck or wherever possible. When Prendick asks Montgomery about it, he pretends to be merely an observer himself. But that soon dissolves when the drunken captain of the freighter and his crew’s harassment of Montgomery’s manservant goes too far and he has to step in before major damage is done. Prendick is freaked out by the black hairy man because there are things about him that just look odd like his huge teeth and animal eyes.
Eventually the ship arrives at the island that Montgomery calls home and it is unloaded. Prendick is also unloaded against his will and put back into his lifeboat to drift. The owner of the island, Dr. Moreau finally relents and lets Prendick ashore. This at first makes Prendick grateful, but once he’s on the island for a short time, that turns into terror as he discovers a bunch of people who’ve been horribly disfigured by Dr. Moreau. He then makes a big point of threatening the doctor and Montgomery. This confuses the Beast People who think that he is one of them and is the beginning of a bad downhill slide for everyone involved.
When he learns the truth, that Moreau turns animals into men and women using vivisection, Prendick is even less delighted. He should be, since his behavior has shown the other “men” that they too can retaliate against the House of Pain and fight against the artificial God that Moreau has made himself into. There are quite a few episodes of the Beast People surging forward against Moreau, Montgomery, and Prendick, and then being driven back. But when Moreau “He who rules the House of Pain” is killed in a fight with the Puma, everything in the unstable social structure comes crashing down and doesn’t stop until the bitter end.
Montgomery, who is a righteous alcoholic, goes on a bender. While wasted he decides that it would be a great plan to share his booze with the Beast People. They end up drunk and Montgomery turns them against Prendick, who has locked himself inside the fenced in compound for safety. Everyone is running crazy, the boats that Prendick and Montgomery planned to use as a means to escape the island are smashed and burned. As most fights fueled by drink do, Montgomery’s fight against Prendick takes a sickening turn when he runs out of alcohol and the Beast People demand more. When he doesn’t produce more, they beat him to death in rage.
Prendick seeing this, rushes out to his rescuer’s aid only to accidentally knock over an oil lamp inside the supply room. It explodes and burns down the entire compound leaving Prendick with no safe refuge to hide in. For a while, he lives among the Beast People until they regress back into their animal identities. They shun their clothing, stop speaking English, and most importantly, return to their animal ways such as being carnivorous and hunting. Prendick is just another thing to hunt and has to move to the beach with the ocean at his back with his faithful companion, the Dog Man.
However, once the Dog Man is killed in the night, Prendick knows he has to get off the island or die soon. He builds a raft and is amazingly enough rescued once again in wretched condition and is returned to dear old London. Once he gets there an odd thing happens. He finds that he can’t stand being around people because in every human he can see parts of his former beast people companions and it is too scary and close for comfort.
The Island of Dr. Moreau is not only a superb story but one with a lot of messages for us. Currently we are capable of doing what Wells depicted over a hundred years ago. We have extreme cosmetic surgery, genetic engineering, etc. Man is not meant to be God. However in our highly educated conceited opinions we think we might be better than a higher power at running the show. In truth humans usually mess things up really bad when given enough rope.