Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Island of Dr. Moreau - Review

Sarah and I just finished reading The Island of Dr. Moreau by H. G. Wells.  Amazingly, it was first published in 1896.  It is an extremely interesting and kind of dark science fiction novel.
Spoiler alert:  I can't really say much about the book without giving away its main twist.
The main character, Prendick, becomes lost at sea.  He is picked up by a boat going to an out of the way island run by Dr. Moreau.  He quickly sees that Moreau's assistants are strange and awkward in their movements.  Eventually, he discovers that they are half-human, half-beasts. 
In Moreau's secret lab on this deserted island, he is reshaping animals into human forms.  In the process, he is also able to reprogram their brains to develop some higher form thinking - such as speaking and some reasoning. 
However, the major problem is that the Beast Folk's beastly flesh is more powerful than Moreau's reformatting.  Left to their own, they continually revert to their beastliness.  Moreau combats this by installing The Law - a set of commands to keep the Beast Folk on the human path (no eating meat, no walking on all fours, etc.).  Without giving the whole story away, the end result is that the beastly flesh wins out in the end.
One one level, this is a simple science fiction novel.  Even on this level, it is worth a read.  Its teasing unfolding of the plot is captivating.
On another level, it is a critique of religion and religious morality.  The idea is that we are beastly people and that religion's manifold rules are simply intended to keep our beastliness in check. 
However, I'm not sure Wells is trying to say that we should let our animal nature run wild.  Prendick is appalled by the Beast Folk, and the Beast Folk society finally self-destructs.  Perhaps this is the future Wells sees for humanity.  Or perhaps, Wells is trying to direct our attention beyond the priests and religious representations of God to the great unseen God himself.
Either way, this is a good read, and I recommend it.  I'm starting to believe that anything that people are still reading after 100 years is probably pretty good.  This book holds true to the rule.   The Josh rating: JJJJ.
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