The Island of Dr. Moreau

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The Island of Dr. Moreau: A Possibility, an allegorical science fiction novel by H. G. Wells, first published by Heinemann in April 1896, is the earliest novel with intelligent animal characters written for an adult readership. It presents the possibilities of the biological sciences to improve animals to a human level, at the same time that it warns against the dangers, both physical and moral, of reckless and cruel vivisection.

The novel is presented as the narrative of Edward Prendick, an Englishman whose ship sinks in the Pacific in 1887. He is rescued by a schooner taking supplies including caged animals, in the care of a man named Montgomery who has a strangely subhuman servant, to an unnamed island. There Prendick meets Montgomery's employer, a biologist named Moreau who has even stranger servants.

   
The Island of Dr. Moreau
The white-haired man I found was still regarding me steadfastly, but with an expression, as I now fancied, of some perplexity. When my eyes met his, he looked down at the staghound that sat between his knees. He was a powerfully-built man, as I have said, with a fine forehead and rather heavy features; but his eyes had that odd drooping of the skin above the lids which often comes with advancing years, and the fall of his heavy mouth at the corners gave him an expression of pugnacious resolution. He talked to Montgomery in a tone too low for me to hear.

From him my eyes travelled to his three men; and a strange crew they were. I saw only their faces, yet there was something in their faces-I knew not what-that gave me a queer spasm of disgust. I looked steadily at them, and the impression did not pass, though I failed to see what had occasioned it. They seemed to me then to be brown men; but their limbs were oddly swathed in some thin, dirty, white stuff down even to the fingers and feet: I have never seen men so wrapped up before, and women so only in the East. They wore turbans too, and thereunder peered out their elfin faces at me,-faces with protruding lower-jaws and bright eyes. They had lank black hair, almost like horsehair, and seemed as they sat to exceed in stature any race of men I have seen. The white-haired man, who I knew was a good six feet in height, sat a head below any one of the three. I found afterwards that really none were taller than myself; but their bodies were abnormally long, and the thigh-part of the leg short and curiously twisted. At any rate, they were an amazingly ugly gang, and over the heads of them under the forward lug peered the black face of the man whose eyes were luminous in the dark. As I stared at them, they met my gaze; and then first one and then another turned away from my direct stare, and looked at me in an odd, furtive manner.

   
The Island of Dr. Moreau

Prendick remembers sensational newspaper accounts of how Moreau was driven out of England after exposure of his vivisection experiments. He and Montgomery have continued and carried them further on the island, turning animals into intelligent "Beast Folk" (Prendick identifies Swine Men, Ape Men, Sloth Men, Leopard Men and many others, as well as animal combinations such as a wolf-bear) which he tries to control through a series of semi-religious "Laws" with a Beast-man called the "Sayer of the Law," a sort of high priest, and himself as a divinity ruling through his laboratory, known as the "House of Pain":

   
The Island of Dr. Moreau
"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?"
"And so from the prohibition of these acts of folly, on to the prohibition of what I thought then were the maddest, most impossible, and most indecent things one could well imagine. A kind of rhythmic fervour fell on all of us; we gabbled and swayed faster and faster, repeating this amazing Law. Superficially the contagion of these brutes was upon me, but deep down within me the laughter and disgust struggled together. We ran through a long list of prohibitions, and then the chant swung round to a new formula.

"'His is the House of Pain. His is the Hand that makes. His is the Hand that wounds. His is the Hand that heals.'"

   
The Island of Dr. Moreau

The forced evolution of the animals into humans is only temporary; the jungles of the island are full of partly-devolved Beast Folk that try to maintain their humanity. Eventually the carnivores among the Beast People revert to killing and eating meat ('tasting blood'). Once the Law is broken, all of the Beast Folk turn upon Moreau and Montgomery while Prendick escapes back out to sea. An exploration of the island by British sailors a few years later reveals only a few feral animals.

One of the enduring images from the novel is of Moreau and Montgomery maintaining their authority among the semi-wild Beast People with heavy whips. This was emphasized in the first motion picture adaptation of the novel, as The Island of Lost Souls in 1933, which featured Charles Laughton portraying Moreau as a whip-cracking sadist less interested in science than in torturing animals. A second movie, as The Island of Dr. Moreau in 1977, was so different that its script was novelized separately by Joseph Silva(Ron Goulart). This version advances the year to 1914, replaces Prendick with Andrew Braddock, and renames the Beast Folk as humanimals. Burt Lancaster played Dr. Paul Moreau closer to the intellectual but amoral scientist of Wells' novel, but has him experimenting on Braddock to turn him into a humanimal. A third movie adaptation, in 1996 with Marlon Brando playing the doctor as a grotesque mad scientist, updates the plot with DNA injections replacing vivisection.

The Island of Dr. Moreau has served as an inspiration to many works of fiction, especially in science fiction where several authors have written unauthorized pastiches or sequels such as Moreau's Other Island, by Brian W. Aldiss (1980), and Dr. Franklin's Island, by Ann Halam (2001), or the novels of S. Andrew Swann who calls his anthropomorphic characters "moreaus" as homage. In many modern roleplaying games, such as d20 Modern, moreaus are used again to name species of genetically engineered anthro beasts.

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