Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Island of Dr. Moreau...random thoughts

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

I read my first book by Wells (The War of the Worlds) earlier this year, and was so delightfully surprised by how much I enjoyed it. While I'm not sure I enjoyed The Island of Dr. Moreau quite as much, the reasons for that have nothing to do with Well's writing. For there is something about his writing that I really adore. I'm not sure if I can adequately explain it, but to me, it seems to have this unique combination of intelligence, beauty, and complete down-to-earthness. (A gift I obviously don't possess, as can be witnessed in the use of "down-to-earthness" as a word.) He just has a wonderful way of using language in a way that is both expressive and thoroughly lacking in pretentiousness.

No, it wasn't the writing that marred my enjoyment of this book. Actually, it was my own weak stomach. There were parts of this book that left me feeling physically ill. Not a figure of speech, but honest-to-goodness sick to my stomach.

The telling of the story begins with Edward Prendick's experience after being rescued at sea after a shipwreck. At the time of his rescue, he has been afloat for some time, and would probably not have lasted much longer out on the open ocean. His rescuers are an odd lot. The drunken captain of this boat is an obnoxious man. He is delivering a fellow named Montgomery, along with his strange companion and several animals, including a puma, a llama, and a multitude of rabbits, to an island seemingly in the middle of nowhere. It was Montgomery who saved Prendick's life, but it seems as if he did so merely as a diversion as opposed to any real desire to help out a fellow human being. Upon arriving at the island, Prendick is put in an impossible situation...the captain won't allow him to stay aboard the boat and Montgomery won't allow him to come onto the island. However, Dr. Moreau, the man truly in charge of the island, relents when he finds that Prendick has some scientific training.

And here is where things truly take a turn for the macabre. For Dr. Moreau is no ordinary doctor, no ordinary scientist. In fact, it turns out that there is a reason why the name was so familiar to Prendick. For Dr. Moreau had been famous in the London news some ten years earlier for his experiments in vivisection. After that, Dr. Moreau had disappeared. And Prendick now finds that he has continued these experiments in earnest here on his own little deserted island. And yes, it is here in some of these descriptions, that I had a hard time pushing my way through.

But I must say that I'm quite glad that I did stick with it. For the book, while horrific, has so much to offer. I don't want to give away what happens during the rest of the book for those who have never read it, but I do want to say that it is not merely a gruesome tale of evil experimentation on animals. It has great relevance even today. For medical and scientific ethics will always be relevant. Though experiments of the sort Dr. Moreau seem clearly abhorrent to us, what about experiments in genetic engineering or in stem cell research? And no, I'm not saying that I think these avenues of research are wrong. And I'm definitely not wanting to start any debate here on my little blog about it. I'm merely saying that I found this book full of thought-provoking material.

Along with the issues of medical ethics, there's much to ponder on the subject of what makes us human. I was reminded a great deal of Shelley's Frankenstein as I read this book, both because of this question and more obviously because of the two obsessed men featured in these stories. (Okay, I admit it...I was also reminded of the episode of Gilligan's Island where the mad doctor scientist takes the castaways to his island where he's doing mind transfer experiments on animals. Hey, I never claimed to be an intellectual.)

So, despite some unpleasant images, I'm quite glad I read this book. And it definitely made for an appropriate R.I.P. read. Finally, I just want to share one line that I particularly loved:

An animal may be ferocious and cunning enough, but it takes a real man to tell a lie.


If you have also reviewed this book, please feel free to leave a link in the comments and I'll add it here. Thanks.

Becky at Becky's Book Reviews


Ruth said...

I read War of the Worlds for the first time earlier this year as well. I, too, was surprised how much I liked it. Those first few paragraphs...amazing.

I'm looking forward to reading more of Wells' work. (I have The Time Machine and The Island of Dr. Moreau waiting for me.)

Becky said...

I love H.G. Wells. And this one was probably one of the more difficult ones to "enjoy" in the traditional sense of the word. The Time Machine is great. I'd definitely recommend that. And The Invisible Man is great as well.

Nymeth said...

I think that using down-to-earthness as a word is a perfect example of language being used in a creative, expressive and unpretentious way :P

Anyway, I can't believe I've never read any of Wells' novels. I've read some of his short stories, though, and I loved them all. This one sounds very much worth reading, even if disturbing. But maybe War of the Worlds would be a better one for me to start with?

Bookfool said...

Hmm, I have a weak stomach so maybe I'll call this a skipster. But, I do like H.G.Wells and I get what you mean about his writing being down-to-earth.

Dawn said...

I have heard of H.G. Wells stories and have seen bits and pieces of movies but I have never read a book of his. Maybe when things settle down a bit for me I'll check one of them out.

take care,

Debi said...

I'm definitely going to have to search out more of his work, too. He definitely can write one heck of a story!

Thanks, I'll definitely keep The Time Machine in mind for my next Well's book. And there most certainly will be a next.

I'm not sure which would be better to start with actually. They're really both so good. The War of the Worlds surprised me...lots of your sort of stereotypical sci-fi elements, which really isn't generally my thing. Yet he made it so compelling. And both of these books, while good stories in their own right, also had a lot of deeper stuff going on as well. Definitely left you with things to think about. So honestly, I don't think you could go wrong with either.

I wouldn't blame you for skipping it. It is a great a book, but it definitely wasn't an easy one.

"Maybe when things settle down a bit for me I'll check one of them out."...You mean like next summer. :)

Kim L said...

Sounds like a great read! I remember finding War of the Worlds unbelievably creepy when I read it. Such a great writer!

Quixotic said...

Love that line you quoted.

I haven't actually read anything by HG Wells...not even War of the Worlds. It does sound interesting though, so maybe I'll get round to checking it out.

Carl V. said...

I can't believe I've never read this book. It certainly is right up my alley. I've read many of the other horror classics. I have read War of the Worlds and I have a short story collection of his that I need to get to sometime.

Rhinoa said...

Yes it's definitely not a pleasant novel, but definitely worth reading. I read it when I was at uni and compared it to Frankenstein I think. The joys of being able to take and Science Fiction and Fantasy course despite doing a degree in Biochemistry :)