View Full Version : MobileRead Discussion: The Island of Dr. Moreau by H. G. Wells (spoilers)


WT Sharpe
10-20-2011, 04:42 AM
Let's discuss the October Book Club selection, The Island of Dr. Moreau by H. G. Wells. What did you think?

caleb72
10-22-2011, 10:46 AM
I liked this book. I might have seen one of the movie versions but as it wasn't ringing too many bells as I read, perhaps not.

I liked the notion that the human qualities awakened or tinkered into the beasts were only held with great effort. It was as if such modifications were subject to an evolutionary entropy. I also liked how Prendick and then the main character adopted a loyal friend from the beasts mainly because I think it was the animal rather than the human characteristics that bred the beasts' loyalty.

If I were going to find an overriding message in the book it would be that there is peril in playing God, in attempting to defy nature. Nature always wins out; any success in controlling it is fleeting.

In a way, stories such as Jurassic Park are quite similar - cautionary tales of hubris and where it's likely to lead us.

Hamlet53
10-22-2011, 01:20 PM
Caleb thanks for getting this discussion started. :thumbsup:

I had seen a couple of film versions before reading this book (for the first time) for this monthly discussion. I did not recall a great deal of detail but enough to totally alter my experience from what H.G. Wells intended for readers. Readers were supposed to slowly come to the realization of who/what these strange man like creatures were, and what the experiments of Dr. Moreau were about, but having seen the films any such shock or surprise was gone for me.

I have a slightly different take on the moral lesson that Wells intended. That it was immoral for Moreau to conduct those cruel experiments out of shear curiosity and to discard the creatures produced to fend [poorly] for themselves when results did not meet his expectations. That Moreau though mentally superior, and because of this able to exert dominion over animals, was in no way morally elevated over the animals he experimented on.

Some one mentioned in a different thread before this book was opened for discussion that this was more a SF tale than anything else. I would agree completely. Even at the time the Wells wrote this book I am sure people understood enough to know that it was fiction to think that the mental capacity and instincts of various animal species could be altered by surgery, no matter how skillful.

I highlighted and made a note (love reading ebooks) this passage:

“But,” said I, “these things—these animals talk!”

He said that was so, and proceeded to point out that the possibility of vivisection does not stop at a mere physical metamorphosis. A pig may be educated. The mental structure is even less determinate than the bodily. In our growing science of hypnotism we find the promise of a possibility of superseding old inherent instincts by new suggestions, grafting upon or replacing the inherited fixed ideas. Very much indeed of what we call moral education, he said, is such an artificial modification and perversion of instinct; pugnacity is trained into courageous self-sacrifice, and suppressed sexuality into religious emotion. And the great difference between man and monkey is in the larynx, he continued,—in the incapacity to frame delicately different sound-symbols by which thought could be sustained. In this I failed to agree with him, but with a certain incivility he declined to notice my objection. He repeated that the thing was so, and continued his account of his work.

I asked him why he had taken the human form as a model. There seemed to me then, and there still seems to me now, a strange wickedness for that choice.

This immediately reminded me of this, and I made a note to look it up later:

Saint Teresa of Avila:

I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the iron's point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it. The soul is satisfied now with nothing less than God. The pain is not bodily, but spiritual; though the body has its share in it. It is a caressing of love so sweet which now takes place between the soul and God, that I pray God of His goodness to make him experience it who may think that I am lying.


http://smarthistory.khanacademy.org/assets/images/images/bernini_theresa.jpg

Ecstasy of St. Theresa by Gian Lorenzo Bernini



Whew! Steamy stuff. :o

Todd Young
10-22-2011, 05:54 PM
I've got to say that the book frightened and disgusted me. The idea of vivisection and the way it was described, along with the way the "animals" were described was far worse than anything I have read in modern sci-fi, even Atwood's Oryx and Crake.

caleb72
10-22-2011, 07:30 PM
I've got to say that the book frightened and disgusted me. The idea of vivisection and the way it was described, along with the way the "animals" were described was far worse than anything I have read in modern sci-fi, even Atwood's Oryx and Crake.

I can't disagree. The whole notion was disgusting and I couldn't help being a little pleased when Moreau got his cumuppance at the hands/claws of one of his own victims.

When I see some of the anti-animal experimentation propaganda, I get a similar gut punch. I wonder if this novel serves as a reference.

Nyssa
10-22-2011, 07:42 PM
I don't think I can finish the book. I just don't feel like reading it anymore. I stopped right as Prendick ran for his life and one of the beings led him to a cave.

lila55
10-23-2011, 03:47 AM
In the book the beasts are very often referred to as "brutes". In my eyes, this term would much more befit the men on the island.

The scientist Dr. Moreau is so bent on doing his research, that he declares any ethical questions that might arise as insignificant compared to that.
Is that not an attitude that we are grappling with in todays world as well?

caleb72
10-23-2011, 05:14 AM
The scientist Dr. Moreau is so bent on doing his research, that he declares any ethical questions that might arise as insignificant compared to that.
Is that not an attitude that we are grappling with in todays world as well?

But would that be what Wells is getting at? The reason I ask is that Moreau was clearly ostracised from London's scientific community in the book which seems to indicate that not even the London of that time would be willing to squash ethical concerns for the sake of Moreau's aims.

crich70
10-23-2011, 06:29 AM
I haven't read the book but have seen several movie versions. I think one point that can be made is that by trying to make men out of beasts Dr. Moreau showed himself to be more of a beast than any of them. He gave himself to his own desires and put aside his own humanity. Arthur Conan Doyle had Holmes say it well,"When one attempts to rise above nature one is likely to fall below it." (The Creeping Man).

sun surfer
10-23-2011, 11:18 AM
I just finished early this morning.

I began the book oblivious to the theme, then midway smiled at the clever reveal of it, then by the end rolled my eyes a bit at the heavy-handedness of it.

Perhaps my observations are obvious, but I felt the theme was mostly one big allegory on religion, especially Christianity, and human nature. The island is a microcosm of our world.

Moreau is God. At first I thought the relatively gentle Montgomery was Jesus, but after his death, Prendick "The One Who Wades Into (i.e. Walks On) Water" and his disciple seem better suited. Or, Montgomery could be Jesus Pre-Crucifixion while Prendick is the Resurrection. Montgomery even had a last supper with wine and followers. Of course, for Moreau, Montgomery and Prendick, there's also the Holy Trinity.

I saw Moreau's random cruelty being representative of the God of the Old Testament in particular, but in general the random cruelty of life and of the world that one must accept as being allowed by a Creator, in any religion.

I think the decline of the animals' "humanism" symbolises the view of a slow decline in culture in civilisation which many people have lamented since the times of the highest costumes and manners from hundreds of years ago. Of course more generally, it's saying that animalistic instinct is in all of us, waiting, hidden only by our humanity and willing to spring back out again when or if we ever allow it or descend past the point of being able to resist.

It's interesting to me that in a way, Wells could be arguing for the necessity of religion, and in a way, he could be arguing for its futility and artificiality. Or maybe both, saying that while ultimately futile and artificial, religion serves a necessary purpose for society.

My days I devote to reading and to experiments in chemistry, and I spend many of the clear nights in the study of astronomy. There is - though I do not know how there is or why there is - a sense of infinite peace and protection to the glittering hosts of heaven. There it must be, I think, in the vast and eternal laws of matter, and not in the daily cares and sins and troubles of men, that whatever is more than animal within us must find its solace and its hope. I hope, or I could not live.

Was Wells an atheist? I know nothing about him and this is the first of his I've read. I didn't expect it all to be so...overly thematic. I thought I was getting myself into a 19th century sci-fi horror novel about the perils of men messing with nature, and not a treatise on religion!

It's also interesting to think of how very different yet in many ways how similar it is to "Lord Of The Flies".

I'd like to ponder it some more now. Ultimately I thought it was a good book, interesting. Not scary but thoughtful. A quick read. It could've done with a much lighter thematic touch near the last third of the book, but nevertheless I liked the theme.

Nyssa
10-23-2011, 08:17 PM
I don't think I can finish the book. I just don't feel like reading it anymore. I stopped right as Prendick ran for his life and one of the beings led him to a cave.

Curiosity has gotten the better of me and I'm reading again. *sigh* I really don't know what I want to happen. I already know Moreau's fate, of course, from snippets of comments here, but I'm hoping there's more to it than that. I've tried not to read too many of the reviews.

caleb72
10-24-2011, 12:32 AM
Hi sun surfer. I loved your analysis of the book. None of that occurred to me, but I like the idea of the island being a microcosm of our world and the subsequent parallel to Lord of the Flies, a book I particularly liked.

I like the attempt to find characters to represent God and Jesus, although there was one too many humans to really fit the picture. Also - I don't think any of the characters offered any kind of different point of view or philosophy to the beasts in a consistent way to make me associate with Jesus. If I were to choose, I would choose Prendick though. He was the one who initially suggested a break with tradition, a rebellion against the past. But he gave up too easily.

Moreau and God though - that's a good one, especially when you see the beasts constantly chanting what could be a version of the ten commandments.

But if your reading is right, then I would lean towards the futility of religion in shaping us into "civilised" humans and that we will always descend back into the animal at the first possible opportunity. Our "original sin" is too strong.

caleb72
10-24-2011, 12:32 AM
I haven't read the book but have seen several movie versions. I think one point that can be made is that by trying to make men out of beasts Dr. Moreau showed himself to be more of a beast than any of them. He gave himself to his own desires and put aside his own humanity. Arthur Conan Doyle had Holmes say it well,"When one attempts to rise above nature one is likely to fall below it." (The Creeping Man).

Love that quote. Thanks for that.

Ron.
10-24-2011, 04:06 AM
I thought it was a fun read, the science is so dated and corny but thats all part of the fun.

caleb72
10-24-2011, 04:32 AM
I thought it was a fun read, the science is so dated and corny but thats all part of the fun.

Mmmmm - vivisection. :D

HomeInMyShoes
10-24-2011, 10:12 AM
I began the book oblivious to the theme, then midway smiled at the clever reveal of it, then by the end rolled my eyes a bit at the heavy-handedness of it.

...

Was Wells an atheist? I know nothing about him and this is the first of his I've read. I didn't expect it all to be so...overly thematic. I thought I was getting myself into a 19th century sci-fi horror novel about the perils of men messing with nature, and not a treatise on religion!


Wells did write at least one book directly centered on religion God the Invisible King, but he's definitely more known for his social condition writing than religious. I don't know that Wells was an atheist, but he certainly didn't seem to follow any standard religion. I agree with your comment that there is a a bit of a microcosm of Christianity, and there's definitely the theme that it is belief and faith that keeps one on track over animalistic tendencies. Having read a bit more about Wells and a few other titles of his this year, it definitely brings out the themes of socialism and abuses of power we see in many of his other works.

I read a lot of Wells this year after having never read anything by him. He can get a bit preachy at times. I really liked the story in The Island of Dr. Moreau despite being a little grossed out by all the vivisection. Overall not so scary for horror, but quite disturbing at times. The horror would have been more effective if Wells hadn't used what is his usual schtick -- relate a person writing a memoir about an event. It would have been far creepier if we didn't know the protagonist survives when we start the story.

I'm left puzzling over Prendick and how he fits in with the usual themes in other of Wells' books. Prendick comes to the obvious conclusion that in order to keep himself safe he needs to be the alpha dog on the island after Dr. Moreau is gone. But does Prendick believe this? Does he believe in Christianity and one God? More generally, in a montheistic regime? A dictatorship over the collective?

caleb72
10-28-2011, 08:18 PM
The horror would have been more effective if Wells hadn't used what is his usual schtick -- relate a person writing a memoir about an event. It would have been far creepier if we didn't know the protagonist survives when we start the story.


I agree with this. It really distanced me from what was going on. Didn't prevent me from enjoying the book, but I think I could have enjoyed it more had it been written with a different perspective.

Nyssa
10-28-2011, 09:37 PM
I'm done!

My immediate reaction (which I also posted on GoodReads): "Ugh! I hated this book...not because I did not like the story, but becuase I could not put it down permanently, which is what I wanted to do on numerous occasions. It was a raw, disturbing and distressing train wreck."

Reading the other responses, I can see the religious aspects mentioned, but I think it loses the theme at the end.

WT Sharpe
10-28-2011, 10:06 PM
...The horror would have been more effective if Wells hadn't used what is his usual schtick -- relate a person writing a memoir about an event. It would have been far creepier if we didn't know the protagonist survives when we start the story....

I agree with this. It really distanced me from what was going on. Didn't prevent me from enjoying the book, but I think I could have enjoyed it more had it been written with a different perspective.

I don't know. I enjoy stories from the first person perspective. They have a way of putting you in a ringside seat to that person's view and their emotional response. I'm not saying all stories should be written in that manner, but after all—isn't variety the canary that got away?

Nyssa
10-28-2011, 10:15 PM
I don't know. I enjoy stories from the first person perspective. They have a way of putting you in a ringside seat to that person's view and their emotional response. I'm not saying all stories should be written in that manner, but after all—isn't variety the canary that got away?

I agree. When done correctly, with the right story, there is a personal nature about the first person perspective that can often pull a reader into the story.

caleb72
10-28-2011, 11:36 PM
I don't think this book gave me a ringside seat and that was what I was getting at. It read like someone's recollections. This was deliberate of course, but I would have preferred another way of telling the story - whether first person or third person.

Nyssa
10-28-2011, 11:48 PM
I don't think this book gave me a ringside seat and that was what I was getting at. It read like someone's recollections. This was deliberate of course, but I would have preferred another way of telling the story - whether first person or third person.

I think the recollection aspect would have gone better if we got a proper epilogue.

I had a distinct feeling at the beginning of the book that he was going to end up in an insane asylum, but that did not come across at the end of the book, other than his seeing a therapist.

sun surfer
10-28-2011, 11:56 PM
I actually skipped the introduction that let us know that Prendick had definitely survived (I read it after the rest of the story). Many essay-type introductions to books ridiculously give spoilers away, so I usually skip them and then read them at the end. I didn't realise this introduction was actually part of the book.

So, I didn't know he'd survive. I assumed it was more than likely he would, since he's now writing about it, but there's been plenty of narrative tricks in first-person-written books with people writing as ghosts and such, and this was a "horror" pick, so I wasn't sure. I spent the first half of the book thinking that people were used in the experiments and that animal parts were transplanted onto them to make an animal-human, and I was imagining the book might lead to Prendick eventually getting captured and turned into a puma-man, and then maybe he would lead the other animal-people in a revolt against Moreau.

I was a little upset after the book was done and I read the intro and realised it was part of the story. But now, reading these posts, I think I was better off skipping it; it made the story more unpredictable through the first half.

lila55
10-29-2011, 03:19 AM
But would that be what Wells is getting at? The reason I ask is that Moreau was clearly ostracised from London's scientific community in the book which seems to indicate that not even the London of that time would be willing to squash ethical concerns for the sake of Moreau's aims.

That might not have been what was in Wells' thoughts as he wrote the book, but it was one of the things the book made me think of. Usually when I read a book or look at a painting or a photograph, I not so much try to imagine what the artist wanted to relate, but I try to listen into myself to see which feelings or ideas are brought on.

Hamlet53
10-29-2011, 08:36 AM
So, I didn't know he'd survive. I assumed it was more than likely he would, since he's now writing about it, but there's been plenty of narrative tricks in first-person-written books with people writing as ghosts and such, and this was a "horror" pick, so I wasn't sure. I spent the first half of the book thinking that people were used in the experiments and that animal parts were transplanted onto them to make an animal-human, and I was imagining the book might lead to Prendick eventually getting captured and turned into a puma-man, and then maybe he would lead the other animal-people in a revolt against Moreau.half.

Yes, that is why having seen film adaptions prior to reading this diminished the enjoyment for me. It would have been much better not knowing that the experiments were not on people, not knowing whether or notPendrick might fall victim. It sure would have made the novel a lot scarier.

HomeInMyShoes
10-29-2011, 10:54 AM
I don't know. I enjoy stories from the first person perspective. They have a way of putting you in a ringside seat to that person's view and their emotional response. I'm not saying all stories should be written in that manner, but after all—isn't variety the canary that got away?

Nothing wrong with first person, but first person when the author directly states it's a recollection of events and they give where the author is now after the story is concluded just removes a lot of suspense for me and Wells does this a lot.

WT Sharpe
10-29-2011, 05:19 PM
Nothing wrong with first person, but first person when the author directly states it's a recollection of events and they give where the author is now after the story is concluded just removes a lot of suspense for me and Wells does this a lot.

1) I've seen authors give advice to avoid the type of recollective story-telling that is so common in Wells, but I enjoy occasionally reading a story that is told in this way.

2) Why does my spell-checker insist that "recollective" is a misspelling?

Nyssa
10-29-2011, 06:37 PM
Loving the Pumpkin Head, T! :)

WT Sharpe
10-29-2011, 06:40 PM
Thanks, Nyssa, and have a Happy Halloween!

Nyssa
10-29-2011, 06:43 PM
Thanks, Nyssa, and have a Happy Halloween!

Thank you. Happy Halloween to you as well.

HomeInMyShoes
10-31-2011, 07:55 AM
1) I've seen authors give advice to avoid the type of recollective story-telling that is so common in Wells, but I enjoy occasionally reading a story that is told in this way.

2) Why does my spell-checker insist that "recollective" is a misspelling?

Occasionally sure, but for it to be effective as horror, it needed to avoid it to keep suspense and tension a little higher. That was all I was stating. I liked the reminiscent view in Tono-Bungay, but that's a different story.

BenG
11-01-2011, 12:31 AM
Are we not men?
We are Devo.

BenG
11-01-2011, 12:43 AM
Occasionally sure, but for it to be effective as horror, it needed to avoid it to keep suspense and tension a little higher. That was all I was stating. I liked the reminiscent view in Tono-Bungay, but that's a different story.

I don't think Wells ever thought of it as a horror story. It was written as a an anti-vivisection tract and the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection was formed a couple of years later.
Also devolution and degeneration was a concern for European society at the time. If man could evolve, could he also de-evolve to a more primitive form? And of course Devo got their name from de-evolution and were inspired by the 1932 movie version of Well's book.

caleb72
11-01-2011, 03:13 AM
I don't think Wells ever thought of it as a horror story. It was written as a an anti-vivisection tract and the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection was formed a couple of years later.
Also devolution and degeneration was a concern for European society at the time. If man could evolve, could he also de-evolve to a more primitive form? And of course Devo got their name from de-evolution and were inspired by the 1932 movie version of Well's book.

I didn't know any of that. When a book is put into an historical context like that it certainly throws a different light on it. I didn't know about the Devo reference either.

Many thanks for your enlightening remarks.

:thumbsup:

HomeInMyShoes
11-01-2011, 10:16 AM
I didn't know anything about the Devo story. Very cool.

Nyssa
11-01-2011, 12:05 PM
I don't think Wells ever thought of it as a horror story. It was written as a an anti-vivisection tract and the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection was formed a couple of years later.
Also devolution and degeneration was a concern for European society at the time. If man could evolve, could he also de-evolve to a more primitive form? And of course Devo got their name from de-evolution and were inspired by the 1932 movie version of Well's book.

I didn't know any of that. When a book is put into an historical context like that it certainly throws a different light on it. I didn't know about the Devo reference either.

Many thanks for your enlightening remarks.

:thumbsup:

Yes, thank you, Ben!!

:ditto: to what Caleb has posted.

BenG
11-01-2011, 12:42 PM
If you can get the Criterion Collection DVD of The Island of Lost Souls, it has several interviews among the extras, including John Landis and Rick Baker about the making of the movie, an interview with a film historian about the movie and Wells' novel, and an interview with Devo.

issybird
11-14-2011, 07:38 PM
I hope I don't get Godwinned for this, but I was struck by how eerily prescient Wells was. Moreau was uncomfortably close to another famous vegetarian. And M'ling surely was short for Mischling, famous in another context.

I read that Wells intended Moreau as an indictment of colonialism. That's ok up to a point, but then I have to wonder what Wells meant in terms of "civilization" being a veneer which was lost without active maintenance. He was, properly, rejecting the notion of the white man's burden, but perhaps not sufficiently enlightened in terms of subject peoples and what constitutes a civilized society. Way ahead of Kipling et al., however.

For me, this fell entirely in the horror camp. In addition to the issues of torture and vivisection, the notion of superior beings remaking others by force in their own image qualifies on its own. I thought Wells set the stage with the reference to the Medusa, the famous shipwreck where the underclass was set adrift, to indulge in murder, suicide and cannibalism before rescue.

http://www.mobileread.com/forums/attachment.php?attachmentid=78995&d=1321314569

I will echo those who felt this would be more powerful in the third person, when we didn't know that the narrator perforce had to have escaped.

WT Sharpe
11-14-2011, 07:44 PM
I thought it more sci-fi than horror.

caleb72
11-18-2011, 08:13 AM
I hope I don't get Godwinned for this, but I was struck by how eerily prescient Wells was. Moreau was uncomfortably close to another famous vegetarian. And M'ling surely was short for Mischling, famous in another context.

That's quite interesting. It seems a bit problematic if you try to match up the ideals of Moreau vs his proposed counterpart though.