Posts Tagged ‘genetic mutation’

Book #70: The Island of Doctor Moreau

I’m not sure what I was expecting when I started H.G. Wells’ The Island of Doctor Moreau. I knew it would be science-fictiony, but I wasn’t prepared for brutal genetic mutation and human experimentation.

It was definitely creepier than I expected, and much closer to something that could happen in real life than I typically prefer my creepy science fiction to be. A shipwrecked Edward Prendick winds up being rescued and brought to an island inhabited by Doctors Montgomery and Moreau.

Doctor Moreau is a vivisectionist trying to form animals into humans, complete with coherent thoughts and humanlike features. He has been largely successful, except for one thing – he can’t stop the half-men he’s created from reverting back to their natural, beastly state, no matter how hard he tries. Some will become “civilized” for a short amount of time, even able to speak and communicate, before reverting.

The island is a scary in-between place, with creatures struggling to remain men and men struggling to control and manipulate the creatures they have created. The pseudo-society on the island places Moreau as a malevolent god, ready to shoot any beasts who break his strict rules and revert back to their natural states, breaking with civilization.

The “civilized” society on the island is in a constant state of near-collapse; at any point, something could break, and all the Beast Folk, as they’re called, could revert to their animal state and overrun the island.

In a way, The Island of Doctor Moreau reminds me a little of a creepier, more unreal Lord of the Flies. In both, you can have a society that can easily degenerate into anarchy, with humans throwing off the mores of civilization and becoming like animals. The civilizations in both of these books ultimately do fall apart. The difference is that in Moreau, it’s animals becoming animals again. The trouble is that in the middle, those animals looked an awful lot like men.

For the scientific-minded, Wells’ book can call into question many moral questions about genetic manipulation, as well as the nature of humanity and science’s impact on society.

Rating: ****

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