Tuesday, June 05, 2007

The Island of Dr. Moreau

H.G. Wells

A while back, I'd come across a set of Dover thrift classics consisting of five works by H.G. Wells, and, since I'd never read anything by Wells (not even The Time Machine or The War of the Worlds!), I picked up the set, but since then it has sat on the shelf, not even opened until yesterday, when I picked out The Island of Dr. Moreau to read.

The Island of Dr. Moreau (Project Gutenberg; also available as a Dover Thrift Edition) is set around the end of the 19th century, and concerns the strange adventure of Edward Prendick, a passenger on the Lady Vain, and what befell him after that ship's wreck. Prendick is saved from starvation and thirst by a passing schooner, which then leaves him marooned on a strange little island with some of the schooner's passengers. He learns that the owner of the island, a Dr. Moreau, after having been forced out of London for performing unusual and terrifying experiments, has set up shop on the island, and is continuing his pursuit of knowledge.

The Island of Dr. Moreau is, as are many others of Wells' works, a seminal work in science fiction, exploring the themes of morality in biological experimentation, "Playing God", and the question of what constitutes 'humanity', very common themes in modern discourse and fiction. The novel doesn't shy away from these ideas, but instead presents them unblinkingly for the reader. Although we are presented with what is a rather stern denunciation of biological experimentation (and, consequently, "Playing God"), the further question of humanity is left undetermined; at the end, Prendick, having lived amongst the creatures of the island, has difficulty re-adjusting to life among humans, even sometimes confusing them for the creatures, making us wonder whether the creatures were closer to humanity than one might expect.

All in all, I recommend this book, not merely because it is a science fiction classic, but, like most science fiction, poses questions that don't have easy answers, or perhaps any answers at all.
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