After the trainwreck that was The Madman’s Daughter, the only way to cleanse my palate was to revisit The Island of Doctor Moreau. I enjoy rereading novels like this because I always notice new things the second time around – or in this case, the fourth time around. This time, I was particularly struck by Wells’ outright distrust towards organized religion (perhaps of religion altogether).
Written in 1896, Moreau chronicles the misadventures of a shipwrecked man (Prendick) who finds himself on – imagine this – the island of Dr. Moreau! Moreau’s “biological station” is home to a variety of islanders, all of whom possess an overwhelmingly “grotesque ugliness.” Prendick soon learns that Moreau has been exiled from his home in London due to his questionable use of vivisection. Now that he has his own island (off the coast of Costa Rica…), he can do whatever he wants, and all of those gnarly islanders are really Moreau’s creations. They were originally wild animals, and now they are sculpted to look like misshapen parodies of man.
According to Wikipedia, Wells considered the novel “an exercise in youthful blasphemy.” Since I obtained this quote from Wikipedia, I sincerely doubt that it is something that HG Wells ever said, but it is fitting, nevertheless. The creatures all have deified Moreau as a god-like presence to be obeyed and feared, much like the Christian God of the Old Testament. Even after Moreau dies, Prendick tries to maintain order through convincing the creatures that Moreau can still see and hear everything that they do; that he is not dead, but has only changed forms.
I love this novel. I love this strikingly Victorian idea that when man plays God, man gets in big, big trouble (even if Wells is clearly critiquing the notion of a god in general). Really, no one says it better than Ian Malcolm: “God creates dinosaurs. God destroys dinosaurs. God creates man. Man destroys God. Man creates dinosaurs.” Ok, ok. I’m done with the Jurassic Park references, but without novels like The Island of Doctor Moreau, there would be no Jurassic Park, and for that I am very, very thankful to HG Wells.