When a gentleman named Edward Prendick is shipwrecked, he finds himself on an uncharted Pacific island. Edward is welcomed by Dr. Moreau and his assistant Dr. Montgomery, who seem at once scientific and dignified, but the presence of strange beastly men inspires questions, until a series of dark secrets send Edward running for his life.
Reviewers in 1896 claimed this early work of H.G. Wells as horrifying and blasphemous, and I find certain passages stimulate similar responses in me. Typical of Victorian science fiction, this is a slow burn that adds uneasiness bit by bit until you want to scream. Then, with the central chapter entitled “Doctor Moreau Explains” the mystery turns into a suspense-packed fallout of the discovery.
Dr. Moreau is a scientist who does not follow any ethical rules to sate his curiosity, and the obvious commentary on evolution, divine creation, and animal experimentation (aka man imitating God) feels a little preachy at times, even if the subject matter is well ahead of its time. Maybe I feel that way because I’ve never met a scientist without a strong moral compass, and because many of the these topics are nuanced. Of course, Wells could never have predicted the intricacies of genetic engineering, nor is the book in any way scientifically accurate, so it should not be read as such.
Wells was certainly a man of his time, and it’s difficult to look past certain passages for their racism and sexism, including the comparison of “specimens of the negroid type” to gorillas, the name M’ling for the most successful of Moreau’s creations, and the only female in the book likened to the “cats on Gower Street” because of her uncontrolled sexuality.
Most intriguing to me is my own response to the beastly men, when they seemed more like men and when like animals. They ritualistically chant The Law, a poem that reinforces who their creator is (Dr. Moreau), and what rules they must follow to be more like men. Sounds a little like popular religion. It’s wonderfully readable horror.
Recommended for fans of classic science fiction!
“Not to go on all-fours; that is the Law. Are we not Men?”
“Not to suck up Drink; that is the Law. Are we not Men?
“Not to eat Fish or Flesh; that is the Law. Are we not Men?
“Not to claw the Bark of Trees; that is the Law. Are we not Men?
“Not to chase other Men; that is the Law. Are we not Men?”