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Old 10-20-2011, 03:42 AM   #1
WT Sharpe
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Discussion: The Island of Dr. Moreau by H. G. Wells (spoilers)

Let's discuss the October Book Club selection, The Island of Dr. Moreau by H. G. Wells. What did you think?
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Old 10-22-2011, 09:46 AM   #2
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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.
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Old 10-22-2011, 12:20 PM   #3
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Caleb thanks for getting this discussion started.

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:
Quote:
“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:

Quote:
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.



Ecstasy of St. Theresa by Gian Lorenzo Bernini



Whew! Steamy stuff.

Last edited by Hamlet53; 10-22-2011 at 01:36 PM. Reason: Added image
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Old 10-22-2011, 04:54 PM   #4
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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.
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Old 10-22-2011, 06:30 PM   #5
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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.
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Old 10-22-2011, 06:42 PM   #6
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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.
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Old 10-23-2011, 02:47 AM   #7
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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?
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Old 10-23-2011, 04:14 AM   #8
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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.
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Old 10-23-2011, 05:29 AM   #9
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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).
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Old 10-23-2011, 10:18 AM   #10
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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.

Quote:
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.
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Old 10-23-2011, 07:17 PM   #11
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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.
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Old 10-23-2011, 11:32 PM   #12
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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.
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Old 10-23-2011, 11:32 PM   #13
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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.
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Old 10-24-2011, 03:06 AM   #14
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I thought it was a fun read, the science is so dated and corny but thats all part of the fun.
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Old 10-24-2011, 03:32 AM   #15
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I thought it was a fun read, the science is so dated and corny but thats all part of the fun.
Mmmmm - vivisection.
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