The Island of Doctor Moreau

The Island of Doctor Moreau
The Island of Doctor Moreau  
First edition cover
Author(s) H. G. Wells
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre(s) Science fiction
Publisher Heinemann, Stone & Kimball[1]
Publication date 1896
Media type Print (Hardcover)
Pages 209 p.
Preceded by The Wonderful Visit
Followed by The Wheels of Chance

The Island of Doctor Moreau is an 1896 science fiction novel written by H. G. Wells. It is told from the point of view of a man named Edward Prendick who is shipwrecked, rescued by a passing boat, and then left at the ship's destination by the crew along with the ship's cargo of exotic animals. The island is home to a scientist named Doctor Moreau, who is conducting bizarre and cruel experiments on the animals he has imported, attempting to create sentient beings out of animals. The novel deals with numerous philosophical themes, including the need to take responsibility for the things we create, the question of what makes a man a man, the cruelty of nature and of man, and the dangers of trying to control nature.


The novel

When the novel was written in 1896, European society was absorbed with concerns about degeneration, and Britain's scientific community was engulfed by debates on animal vivisection. Interest groups were even formed to tackle the issue: the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection was formed two years after the publication of the novel.

It begins with the protagonist, an upper class gentleman named Edward Prendick, finding himself shipwrecked in the ocean. A passing ship takes him aboard, and a man named Montgomery revives him. He explains to Prendick that they are bound for an unnamed island where he works, and that the animals aboard the ship are traveling with him. Prendick also meets a grotesque, bestial native named M'ling, who appears to be Montgomery's manservant.

When they arrive on the island, however, both the captain of the ship and Montgomery refuse to take Prendick with them, stranding him between the ship and the island. The crew pushes him back into the lifeboat from which they rescued him. When they see that the ship truly intends to abandon him, the islanders take pity and end up coming back for him. When they arrive at their island, Montgomery introduces Prendick to Doctor Moreau, a cold and precise man who conducts research on the island. After unloading the animals from the boat, they decide to house Prendick in an outer room of the enclosure in which they live. Prendick is exceedingly curious about what exactly Moreau researches on the island, especially after he locks the inner part of the enclosure without explaining why. Prendick suddenly remembers that he has heard of Moreau and that he had been an eminent physiologist in London before a journalist exposed his gruesome experiments in vivisection.

The next day, Moreau begins working on a puma, and its anguished cries drive Prendick out into the jungle. As he wanders, he comes upon a group of people who seem human but have an unmistakable resemblance to hogs. As he walks back to the enclosure, he suddenly realizes he is being followed. He panics and flees, and, in a desperate attempt at defense, he manages to stun his attacker, a monstrous hybrid of animal and man. When he 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 inner door 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. The leader, a large gray thing named the Sayer of the Law, has him recite a strange litany called the Law that involves prohibitions against bestial behavior and praise for Moreau.

Suddenly, Moreau bursts into the colony, and Prendick escapes out the back into the jungle. He makes for the ocean, where he plans to drown himself rather than allow Moreau to experiment on him. Moreau and Montgomery confront him, however, and Moreau explains that the creatures, the Beast Folk, are animals that he has vivisected to resemble humans. Prendick goes back to the enclosure, where Moreau explains to him that he has been on the island for eleven years now and has been striving to make a complete transformation from animal to human. Apparently, his only reason for the pain he inflicts is scientific curiosity. Prendick accepts the explanation as it is and begins life on the island.

One day, as he and Montgomery are walking around the island, they come across a half-eaten rabbit. Eating flesh and tasting blood is one of the strongest prohibitions in the Law, so Montgomery and Moreau become very worried. Moreau calls an assembly of the Beast Men. He identifies the Leopard Man (the same one that chased Prendick the first time he wandered into the jungle) as the transgressor. The Leopard Man flees, but when the group corners him in some undergrowth, Prendick takes pity and shoots him, sparing him a return to the operating table in Moreau's "House of Pain".

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, but it was also the Hyena-Swine, the other most dangerous beast man on the island. He stays quiet about what he knows. Moreau is furious that Prendick killed the Leopard Man but can do nothing about the situation.

As time passes, Prendick begins to deaden himself to the grotesqueness of the Beast Folk. One day, however, he is shaken out of this stagnation when the puma rips free of its restraints and escapes from the lab. Moreau pursues it, but the two end up killing each other. Montgomery falls apart and, having gotten himself quite drunk, decides to share his alcohol with the Beast Men. Prendick tries to stop him, but Montgomery threatens violence and leaves the enclosure alone with bottle in hand. While Prendick waits for Montgomery to return, he resolves to leave the island. Later in the night, Prendick hears a commotion outside; he rushes out and sees that Montgomery has been involved in some scuffle with the Beast Folk. He dies in front of Prendick, who is now the last remaining human on the island.

After the death, Prendick hears a thud behind him and sees that the enclosure is on fire. He realizes that he had knocked over a lamp while rushing out to find Montgomery and that he has no chance of saving any of the provisions stored in the enclosure. Prendick then realizes that during the night Montgomery had destroyed the only boats on the island.

Because of his paralyzing despair at losing his escape routes, Prendick misses his opportunity to claim Moreau's vacant throne on the island,and instead settles for living with the Beast Folk. He lives on the island for 10 months after the deaths of Moreau and Montgomery, during which he attempts to build and provision a raft with which he intends to leave the island. 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 also gradually cease to follow Prendick's instructions and eventually kill his faithful companion, a Beast Man created from a dog. Luckily for him, eventually, a boat that carries two corpses drifts onto the beach. (It is heavily implied that these are the bodies of the captain of the ship that picked Prendick up, as well as a sailor, because it had been revealed in the introduction that said ship sank, and one of the corpses had ginger hair.) Prendick dumps the bodies, gets supplies, and leaves the next morning.

He is picked up by a ship only three days later, but when he tells his story, the crew thinks that he is mad. To prevent himself from being declared insane, he pretends to have no memory of the year he spent between the first shipwreck and his final rescue. When he gets back to England, however, he finds that he is rigidly uncomfortable around other humans because he has an irrational suspicion that they are all Beast Folk in danger of having a sudden and violent reversion to animalism. He contents himself with solitude and the study of chemistry and astronomy and finds peace above in the heavenly bodies.

Main characters

  • Edward Prendick - The novel's narrator and protagonist
  • Doctor Moreau - A scandal-hit vivisectionist who has relocated to a remote island to pursue his experiments
  • Montgomery - Moreau's assistant and Prendick's savior from drowning. He is an alcoholic, and is sympathetic towards the Beast Folk
  • Beast Folk - Animals upon which Moreau has experimented in order to give them human traits. They include:
    • M'ling - Montgomery's dog-based servant.
    • Sayer of the Law - An unidentified Beast Man who is the keeper of the Law (a code of "non-bestial" behaviour by which Moreau insists the Beast Folk abide).
    • Leopard Man - A leopard-based rebel who, in killing and eating a rabbit, breaks the Law.
    • Hyena-Swine - A carnivorous hybrid of hyena and pig who becomes Prendick's enemy in the wake of Moreau's death.
    • Dog-Man - A Beast Man created from a St. Bernard, who, near the end of the book, is Prendick's faithful companion.
    • Ape-Man - A monkey or ape creature that considers himself equal to Prendick, who refers to himself and Prendick 'Five Men' because they both have five fingers on each hand which is uncommon among the Beast Folk; the first Beast Man, other than M'ling, that Prendick speaks to. He has what he refers to as 'Big Thinks' which, on his return to England, Prendick similarizes to a priest's sermon at the pulpit.


The novel has been made into a movie on five occasions:

An amateur adaptation of Wells' novel, The Island of Doctor Agor (1971 film), was made in 1971 by a then-13-year-old Tim Burton. The Simpsons also devoted a segment of their Treehouse of Horror XIII as a parody. Instead of transforming animals into men as Dr. Moreau does, Dr. Hibbert instead transforms the residents of Springfield into animals.


Further reading

  • 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.

External links

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