Book Review: The Island of Dr. Moreau

I do not propose to add anything to what has already been written concerning the loss of the Lady Vain. As everyone knows, she collided with a derelict when ten days out from Callao. The long-boat with seven of the crew was picked up eighteen days after by H.M. gun-boat Myrtle, and the story of their terrible privations has become quite as well known as the far more horrible Medusa case. But I have to add to the published story of the Lady Vain another as horrible, and certainly far stranger. It has hitherto been supposed that the four men who were in the dingey perished, but that is incorrect. I have the best of evidence for this assertion – I am one of those four men.

This begins H.G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau – one of the most disturbing and, at the same time, interesting science-fiction novels I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading.

The protagonist, Edward Prendrick, miraculously survives the wreck of the Lady Vain, and soon finds himself stranded on an isolated island. It is on this island that he meets Dr. Moreau, a prominent scientist banished from England years earlier. Prendrick soon learns that Moreau, along with his profane assistant Montgomery, is conducting a series of experiments. Using vivisection, they are changing beasts into man-like creatures.

Events take a sharp turn when Moreau is unexpectedly killed by one of the gruesome hybrids he worked so hard to create. Now alone, save for the unhinged Montgomery, and Moreau’s hostile creatures, Prendrick must find a way of escape from island before time runs out.

Wells often wove social commentary, overtly or subtly, into his novels. And while such commentary exists in The Island of Dr. Moreau, it is more of an undercurrent than a theme. Wells’ primary theme in Moreau is the de-evolution of man. After all, in the mind of an ardent evolutionist such as Wells’, if mankind can evolve “up”, why shouldn’t he just as easily evolve “down”?

I’ve read other fiction by Wells’, but Moreau is by far the most fascinating. There’s so much in it that merits careful consideration. What happens when man tries to “play God”? What is the difference between man and beast? What happens when the pursuit of science trumps ethics? How is Wells’ idea of de-evolution similar to the Christian doctrine of human depravity? How is it not?

All very interesting stuff to think about – especially in light of a Christ-centered worldview.

The Island of Dr. Moreau is definitely a book I’d only recommend for older readers. It deals with very mature themes, and there’s quite a bit of disturbing, violent, and gruesome content. Don’t tackle this one if you’re squeamish or easily unsettled – it might give you nightmares.

In conclusion, I’m not proposing that you read this novel and swallow everything in it piecemeal. Not at all. Wells’ had some very serious issues, both as a man and a writer, and his worldview was thoroughly pagan. None of his work should be read without solid discernment. That said, The Island of Dr. Moreau is riveting, thought-provoking novel that should be on the reading list of every sci-fi buff out there.

8 thoughts on “Book Review: The Island of Dr. Moreau”

  1. I’ve only read The Time Machine by Wells, but I remember expecting some light science fiction novel and discovering it was a lot more. His beliefs were woven into the narrative and I must say that even though I disagreed with most of them, I was fascinated with how effectively he communicated them.

    1. Yeah, Wells certainly isn’t light reading. :)

      I, too, was amazed at how clearly and easily he communicated his beliefs. We need more Christian writers who can do that…

      Thanks for stopping by!

  2. I have to admit I’ve found Wells to be somewhat tedious, but I think that’s an issue I generally have with “classic” lit. Though I though Frankenstein was entirely awesome. Still, I’m intrigued by your review and just might take a run at this one. At least Wells’s books are on the brief side of things.

    1. I’ve found Wells to be tedious at times as well – particularly in War of the Worlds. Time Machine was better, and The Invisible Man was fantastic. The Island of Dr. Moreau is my favorite so far, though, and I think you’d really enjoy it.

  3. I saw the movie years ago and the movie was also disturbing. I have been debating since then whether or not to read the book. Still trying to make up my mind. Good review.

    1. blacklin,

      If the movie your referring to is the one I’m thinking of (1997, with Kilmer and Brando), trust me when I say that it bears little (if any) real resemblance to the book. Wells’ novel is superb. The movie… not so much.

      If you enjoy science-fiction or suspense, then I’m sure you’d enjoy this one.

      Thanks for your comment. I appreciate it!

  4. Nonsense! John Frankenheimer’s movie with Brando + Val Kilmer is thought provoking + vastly underated, particularly the closing sequence, which will stay with you.

    Anon.

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