The Island of Doctor Moreau
The Island of Doctor Moreau is an 1896 science fiction novel by English author H. G. Wells. The text of the novel is the narration of Edward Prendick, a shipwrecked man rescued by a passing boat who is left on the island home of Doctor Moreau, a mad scientist who creates human-like hybrid beings from animals via vivisection. The novel deals with a number of philosophical themes, including pain and cruelty, moral responsibility, human identity, and human interference with nature. Wells described it as "an exercise in youthful blasphemy."
First edition cover (UK)
|Author||H. G. Wells|
|Published||1896 (Heinemann (UK)|
Stone & Kimball (US))
|Text||The Island of Doctor Moreau at Wikisource|
The Island of Doctor Moreau is a classic of early science fiction and remains one of Wells' best-known books. The novel is the earliest depiction of the science fiction motif "uplift" in which a more advanced race intervenes in the evolution of an animal species to bring the latter to a higher level of intelligence. It has been adapted to film and other media on many occasions, with Charles Laughton (1933), Burt Lancaster (1977), and Marlon Brando (1996) as the mad doctor.
The Island of Doctor Moreau is the account of Edward Prendick, an Englishman with a scientific education who survives a shipwreck in the southern Pacific Ocean. A passing ship called Ipecacuanha takes him aboard, and a man named Montgomery revives him. Prendick also meets a grotesque bestial native named M'ling, who appears to be Montgomery's manservant. The ship is transporting a number of animals which belong to Montgomery. As they approach the island, Montgomery's destination, the captain demands Prendick leave the ship with Montgomery. Montgomery explains that he will not be able to host Prendick on the island. Despite this, the captain leaves Prendick in a dinghy and sails away. Seeing that the captain has abandoned Prendick, Montgomery takes pity and rescues him. As ships rarely pass the island, Prendick will be housed in an outer room of an enclosed compound.
The island belongs to Dr. Moreau. Prendick remembers that he has heard of Moreau, formerly an eminent physiologist in London whose gruesome experiments in vivisection had been publicly exposed, and who fled England as a result of his exposure.
The next day, Moreau begins working on a puma. Prendick gathers that Moreau is performing a painful experiment on the animal, and its anguished cries drive Prendick out into the jungle. While he wanders, he comes upon a group of people who seem human but have an unmistakable resemblance to swine. As he walks back to the enclosure, he suddenly realises he is being followed by a figure in the jungle. He panics and flees, and the figure gives chase. As his pursuer bears down on him, Prendick manages to stun him with a stone and observes the pursuer is a monstrous hybrid of animal and man. When Prendrick returns to the enclosure and questions Montgomery, Montgomery refuses to be open with him. After failing to get an explanation, Prendick finally gives in and takes a sleeping draught.
Prendick awakes the next morning with the previous night's activities fresh in his mind. Seeing that the door to Moreau's operating room has been left unlocked, he walks in to find a humanoid form lying in bandages on the table before he is ejected by a shocked and angry Moreau. He believes that Moreau has been vivisecting humans and that he is the next test subject. He flees into the jungle where he meets an Ape-Man who takes him to a colony of similarly half-human/half-animal creatures. Their leader is a large grey unspecified creature named the Sayer of the Law who has him recite a strange litany called the Law that involves prohibitions against bestial behavior and praise for Moreau.
Suddenly, Dr. Moreau bursts into the colony looking for Prendick, but Prendick escapes to the jungle. He makes for the ocean, where he plans to drown himself rather than allow Moreau to experiment on him. Moreau explains that the creatures called the Beast Folk were not formerly men, but rather animals. Prendick returns to the enclosure, where Moreau explains that he has been on the island for eleven years and has been striving to make a complete transformation of an animal to a human. He explains that while he is getting closer to perfection, his subjects have a habit of reverting to their animal form and behaviour. Moreau regards the pain he inflicts as insignificant and an unavoidable side effect in the name of his scientific experiments. He also states that pain is an animalistic instinct that one who is truly human cannot have, cutting his thigh with a penknife with no apparent reaction, to further prove his point.
One day, Prendick and Montgomery encounter a half-eaten rabbit. Since eating flesh and tasting blood are strong prohibitions, Dr. Moreau calls an assembly of the Beast Folk and identifies the Leopard-Man (the same one that chased Prendick the first time he wandered into the jungle) as the transgressor. Knowing that he will be sent back to Dr. Moreau's compound for more painful sessions of vivisection, the Leopard-Man flees. Eventually, the group corners him in some undergrowth, but Prendick takes pity and shoots him to spare him from further suffering. Prendick also believes that although the Leopard-Man was seen breaking several laws, such as drinking water bent down like an animal, chasing men (Prendick), and running on all fours, the Leopard-Man was not solely responsible for the deaths of the rabbits. It was also the Hyena-Swine, the next most dangerous Beast Man on the island. Dr. Moreau is furious that Prendick killed the Leopard-Man but can do nothing about the situation.
As time passes, Prendick becomes inured to the grotesqueness of the Beast Folk. However one day, the half-finished puma woman rips free of her restraints and escapes from the lab. Dr. Moreau pursues her, but the two end up fighting each other, leading to their mutual deaths. Montgomery breaks down and decides to share his alcohol with the Beast Folk. Prendick resolves to leave the island, but later hears a commotion outside in which Montgomery, his servant M'ling, and the Sayer of the Law die after a scuffle with the Beast Folk. At the same time, the compound burns down because Prendick has knocked over a lamp. With no chance of saving any of the provisions stored in the enclosure, Prendick realizes that during the night Montgomery has also destroyed the only boats on the island.
Prendick lives with the Beast Folk on the island for months after the deaths of Moreau and Montgomery. As the time goes by, the Beast Folk increasingly revert to their original animal instincts, beginning to hunt the island's rabbits, returning to walking on all fours, and leaving their shared living areas for the wild. They cease to follow Prendick's instructions. Eventually the Hyena-Swine kills Prendick's faithful companion, the Dog-Man created from a St. Bernard. With help from the Sloth Creature, Pendrick shoots the Hyena-Swine in self-defence.
Prendick's efforts to build a raft have been unsuccessful. Luckily for him, a lifeboat that carries two corpses drifts onto the beach (perhaps the captain of the ship that picked Prendick up and a sailor). Prendick uses the boat to leave the island and is picked up three days later. When he tells his story he is thought to be mad, so he feigns amnesia.
Upon his return to England, Prendick is no longer comfortable in the presence of humans, all of whom seem to him to be about to revert to an animal state. He leaves London and lives in near-solitude in the countryside, devoting himself to chemistry as well as astronomy in the studies of which he finds some peace.
- Edward Prendick – The narrator and protagonist.
- Dr. Moreau – A vivisectionist who has fled upon his experiments being exposed and has moved to a remote island in the Pacific Ocean to pursue his research of perfecting his Beast Folk.
- Montgomery – Dr. Moreau's assistant and Prendick's rescuer. A medical doctor who enjoyed a measure of happiness in England, he is an alcoholic who feels some sympathy for the Beast Folk.
The Beast Folk are animals which Moreau has experimented upon, giving them human traits via vivisection for which the surgery is extremely painful. They include:
- M'ling – Montgomery's servant who does the cooking and cleaning. Moreau combined a bear, a dog, and an ox to create him. As Prendick describes M'ling, he states that M'ling is a "complex trophy of Moreau's skill, a bear, tainted with dog and ox, and one of the most elaborately made of all the creatures". He also sports glow-in-the-dark eyes and furry ears. M'ling later dies protecting Montgomery from the other Beast Folk on the beach.
- Sayer of the Law – A large, grey-haired animal of unspecified combinations that recites Dr. Moreau's teachings about being men to the other Beast Folk. The Sayer of the Law serves as a governor and a priest to the Beast Folk. He is later killed in an unseen scuffle between Montgomery, M'ling, and the Beast Folk.
- Ape-Man – A monkey or ape creature that considers himself equal to Prendick and refers to himself and Prendick as "Five Men", because they both have five fingers on each hand, which is uncommon among the Beast Folk. He is the first Beast Man other than M'ling to whom Prendick speaks. He has what he refers to as "Big Thinks" which on his return to England, Prendick likens to a priest's sermon at the pulpit.
- Sloth Creature – A small, pink sloth-based creation described by Prendick as resembling a flayed child. He is one of the more relatively benign creatures and helps Prendick kill the Hyena-Swine before fully regressing.
- Hyena-Swine – A carnivorous hybrid of hyena and pig who becomes Prendick's enemy in the wake of Dr. Moreau's death. He is later killed by Prendick in self-defence.
- Leopard-Man – A leopard-based rebel who breaks the Law by running on all fours, drinking from the stream, and chasing Prendick. The Leopard-Man is killed by Prendick to spare him further pain, much to the dismay of Dr. Moreau.
- Ox-Men – A group of gray ox-based creature who appear twice, first when Prendrick is introduced to the Beast Folk and then again after Montgomery's death.
- Satyr-Man – A hybrid of a goat and an ape. Prendrick describes him as unsettling and "Satanic" in form.
- Swine-Men and Swine-Woman – A group of pig-based Beast Folk who appear during Prendrick's introduction to the Beast Folk.
- Mare-Rhinoceros Creature – A hybrid between a horse and a Javan rhinoceros who appeared during Prendrick's introduction to the Beast Folk.
- Wolf-Men and Wolf-Women – A group of wolf-based Beast Folk who appear during Prendrick's introduction to the Beast Folk.
- Bear-Bull Man - A hybrid of a bear and a cattle who appeared during Pendrick's introduction to the Beast Folk.
- Dog-Man – A Beast Man created from a St. Bernard who, near the end of the book, becomes Prendick's faithful companion. He is so like a domestic dog in character that Prendick is barely surprised when he reverts to a more animalistic form. Dog-Man is later killed by the Hyena-Swine.
- Fox-Bear Woman – A female hybrid of a fox and a bear who passionately supports the Law. Prendick quickly takes a dislike to her and described her as being evil-smelling.
- Half-Finished Puma-Woman – The last beast-person created by Moreau. She is halfway through her process of being turned into one of the Beast Folk, but was in so much pain from the surgery that she uses her strength to break free of her restraints and escape. Moreau then chases after her with a revolver. He and the creature fight each other which ends in a mutual kill.
- Ocelot-Man – One of the smaller creatures which briefly appears after Moreau's death and is shot by Montgomery during his scuffle with the Beast Folk on the beach.
At the time of the novel's publication in 1896, there was growing discussion in Europe regarding degeneration and animal vivisection. Several interest groups were formed to oppose vivisection, the two largest being the National Anti-Vivisection Society in 1875 and the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection in 1898. The Island of Dr. Moreau reflects these themes, along with ideas of Darwinian evolution which were gaining popularity and controversy in the late 1800s.
The novel has been adapted into films and other works, on multiple occasions:
- Ile d'Epouvante (1913, The Island of Terror), a French silent film (also spelled L'Ile d'Epouvante and Isle d'epouvante). The 23-minute two-reeler film was directed by Joe Hamman in 1911 and then released in 1913. By late 1913, the film had been picked up by US distributor George Kleine and renamed The Island of Terror for its release in Chicago.
- Die Insel der Verschollenen (1921, The Island of the Lost), a German silent adaption directed by Urban Gad.
- Island of Lost Souls (1932), with Charles Laughton and Bela Lugosi.
- Terror Is a Man (1959), with Francis Lederer, Greta Thyssen, and Richard Derr. This Filipino film, directed by Gerardo de Leon, was re-released in the United States years later as Blood Creature.
- At the age of 13, Tim Burton made an amateur adaptation of Wells' novel, The Island of Doctor Agor (1971).
- The Twilight People (1972), starring John Ashley and with an early role for Pam Grier, was Eddie Romero's version of the original story.
- Joseph Silva turned The Island of Dr Moreau (1977), with Burt Lancaster and Michael York, into a derivative published by Ace.
- David Calcutt adapted the story for a BBC Radio 4 Saturday Night Theatre dramatisation in 1990, with Kenneth Colley as Montgomery, Garard Green as Moreau, Terry Molloy as M'Ling, Kim Wall as Prentice and Neal Foster as Prentice's Nephew.
- In The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996), with Marlon Brando, Val Kilmer, David Thewlis, Fairuza Balk, and Ron Perlman, Dr. Moreau introduced human DNA into the animals in his possession to make them more human.
- Jonathan Pryce read a five-part abridgment for Book at Bedtime on BBC Radio 4 in 2008.
Inspirations and popular culture
The story, as well as the Litany of the Law, has inspired multiple derivative works and popular culture references.
- In Mikhail Bulgakov's novel Heart of a Dog (1925) a Moscow surgeon Dr. Preobrazhensky transplants human organs into the body of homeless dog. As a result, the animal transforms into the man, Poligraf Poligrafovich Sharikov. In the end of the novel Preobrazhensky undergoes another operation to return him to the dog's state.
- Moreau's Other Island (1980), by Brian Aldiss, is an updating of the original to a near-future setting. US Under-Secretary of State Calvert Madle Roberts is cast ashore on the eponymous island where he discovers the cyborgised Thalidomide victim Mortimer Dart carrying on Moreau's work. It transpires that Dart's work is intended to produce a 'replacement' race that can survive a post-nuclear environment, and that Roberts approved Dart's funding.
- The Madman's Daughter trilogy, written by Megan Shepherd, tells the story of Dr. Moreau's daughter Juliet. However, each book is based on a different classic novel: the first book is based on this novel by Wells, the second one on Robert Louis Stevenson's Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886), and the final book is based on Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818).
- In chapter 1 of Daniel Pinkwater's novel Lizard Music, Victor watches a late-night film on TV which is identified in chapter 2 as The Island of Dr Morbo.
- In chapter 61 of The Fallen (2013), book five of Charlie Higson's post-apocalyptic horror series, The Enemy, the expedition party from the museum encounters a strange set of malformed children at the biomedical company Promithios, who recite the Litany of the Law.
- The Isles of Dr Moreau (2015), by Heather O'Neill in her short story collection Daydreams of Angels tells of a grandfather who, when he was young, meets an eccentric, albeit humane scientist named Dr Moreau on "the Isle of Noble and Important and Respectable Betterment of Homo sapiens and Their Consorts". Moreau's experiments involve combining animal DNA with human DNA and the story unfolds as the grandfather meets (and dates) several of these humanoid creatures.
- Dr. Franklin's Island (2002), by Ann Halam, is a loose adaptation of the story, in which the eponymous scientist performs transgenic experiments upon the narrator and two other survivors of a plane crash, transforming them into mostly-animal hybrids.
- The Army of Dr Moreau (2012), by Guy Adams, puts Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson on the trail of several of the hybrids on the loose in London.
- The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter (2017) by Theodora Goss features the half-finished puma woman from The Island of Dr Moreau as one of its main characters, Catherine.
- The song Toes by the alternative band Glass Animals is based on the book's story.
- The music video for the song Eaten Alive by Diana Ross.
- The song No Spill Blood by Oingo Boingo.
- The song Island of Lost Souls by The Meteors.
- The debut studio album by the American new wave band Devo was titled Q. Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! (1978) from a line in the litany of the Law, spoken by the Speaker of the Law to the Beast Folk.
- The Simpsons annual Halloween special adapted the novel as a segment in their "Treehouse of Horror XIII" episode called "The Island of Dr. Hibbert", in which the doctor invites unsuspecting Springfield residents to his island resort, and turns them into human-animal hybrids.
- The cartoon series Spliced is a lighthearted take on the concept.
- In the third season of BBC America's science fiction thriller TV series, Orphan Black, the book plays an important role containing Professor Duncan's key to human cloning. The fourth season establishes an island similar to Moreau's where the head of a mysterious and powerful scientific elite performs experiments on human subjects. Much of the fifth season is set on the island.
- In the video game RWBY: Grimm Eclipse, created based on the series RWBY, the main antagonist is Dr. Merlot who was created in the image of Dr. Moreau.
- The American television show South Park features a recurring character who seems to be based on the 1996 Brando portrayal of Dr. Moreau, a mad scientist who experiments on animals and is even the president of the North American Marlon Brando Lookalike Association (NAMBLA)
- Island of Lost Souls (1932)
- The film Dr. Moreau's House of Pain (2004), made by cult horror studio Full Moon Pictures, is billed as a sequel to the novel.
- Christopher Lambert plays Dr. Moreau in the 2018 Italian horror film La Voce del Lupo.
- Steve Buscemi plays a scientist on an island with hybrid experiments in Spy Kids 2.
In the short essay "The Limits of Individual Plasticity" (1895), H.G. Wells expounded upon his firm belief that the events depicted in The Island of Doctor Moreau are entirely possible should such vivisective experiments ever be tested outside the confines of science fiction. However, modern medicine has shown that non-human animals lack the necessary brain structure to emulate human faculties like speech. In addition, immune responses to foreign tissues means that transplantation within one species is very complicated, let alone between species.
- Barnes & Noble. "The Island of Doctor Moreau: Original and Unabridged". Barnes & Noble.
- Wells's description of The Island of Dr. Moreau as youthful blasphemy comes from his introduction to The Scientific Romances of H. G. Wells (1933; published in the United States as Seven Famous Novels by H. G. Wells, 1934). This Preface to the Scientific Romances is reprinted as a chapter of editors Patrick Parrinder and Robert M. Philmus's H. G. Wells's Literary Criticism (Sussex: The Harvester Press Limited, and New Jersey: Barnes & Noble Books, 1980), see p. 243 for the line quoted.
- See Mason Harris's introduction and notes for the 2009 Broadview Books edition of The Island of Dr. Moreau
- Booker, Keith M. (2014). Historical Dictionary of Science Fiction in Literature. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 311.
- "How Hollywood fell for a British visionary". The Telegraph. Retrieved 14 March 2019.
- Abbott (2011). "The Island of Dr. Moreau – H.G. Wells". 463. Retrieved 11 February 2015.
- "Welcome". politics.co.uk.
- "Island of Lost Souls". Turner Classic Movies.
- "L'ile d'Epouvante (1913) in Silent Horror Forum". Yuku.
- "The Island of Doctor Agor". IMDb.
- "'The Madman's Daughter' author Megan Shepherd on her 'Lost' inspiration and plans for a movie – EXCLUSIVE".
- Higson, Charlie (2013). The Fallen. US: Hyperion.
- "The Isles of Dr. Moreau".
- Billboard (12 April 2015). "Glass Animals Coachella Interview: Inspirations for New Record, "Black Mambo" & "Hazey"" – via YouTube.
- Curran, Kevin. (2002). Commentary for "Treehouse of Horror XIII", in The Simpsons: The Complete Fourteenth Season [DVD]. 20th Century Fox
- "Dr. Moreau's House of Pain (DVD)". FullMoonDirect.
- Canadas, Ivan. "Going Wilde: Prendick, Montgomery and Late-Victorian Homosexuality in The Island of Doctor Moreau." JELL: Journal of the English Language and Literature Association of Korea, 56.3 (June 2010): 461–485.
- Hoad, Neville. “Cosmetic Surgeons of the Social: Darwin, Freud, and Wells and the Limits of Sympathy on The Island of Dr. Moreau”, in: Compassion: The Culture and Politics of an Emotion, Ed. Lauren Berlant. London & New York: Routledge, 2004. 187–217.
- Reed, John R., “The Vanity of Law in The Island of Doctor Moreau”, in: H. G. Wells under Revision: Proceedings of the International H. G. Wells Symposium: London, July 1986, Ed. Patrick Parrinder & Christopher Rolfe. Selinsgrove: Susquehanna UP / London and Toronto: Associated UPs, 1990. 134-44.
- Wells, H. G. The Island of Dr. Moreau, Ed. Steven Palmé. Dover Thrift Editions. New York: Dover Publications, 1996.
- Wells, H. G. The Island of Doctor Moreau: A Critical Text of the 1896 London First Edition, with Introduction and Appendices, Ed. Leon Stover. The Annotated H.G. Wells, 2. Jefferson, N.C., and London: McFarland, 1996.
|Wikisource has original text related to this article:|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to The Island of Doctor Moreau.|
- The Island of Doctor Moreau at Project Gutenberg
- The Island of Doctor Moreau at Internet Archive (scanned books original editions)
The Island of Doctor Moreau public domain audiobook at LibriVox
- A draft of the 1996 films screenplay, dated 26 April 1994
- The Island of Lost Souls (1932) on IMDb
- The Island of Dr. Moreau (1977) on IMDb
- The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996) on IMDb
- Jörg, Daniele (2003). "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly—Dr. Moreau Goes to Hollywood". Public Understanding of Science. 12 (3): 297–305. doi:10.1177/0963662503123008. Compares the three adaptations of the novel, focuses on the scientists and the science in the film, considering the year of the production and what was known about genes and cells at the time.
- Analysis of The Island of Dr. Moreau on Lit React