Questions denote a lack of understanding, and people tend to fear what they do not understand. Why do animals act the way they do? What of the variations we see among plants, animals and human beings?
These conundrums have provoked many (often notorious) individuals to make attempts at taming the natural world. H. G. Wells addresses the possible ramifications of such tenacious — if at times wanton — acts in one of his many classic and chilling tales, “The Island of Dr. Moreau.”
Set on a tropical volcanic island, protagonist Edward Prendick finds himself cast off of a ship run by a drunken captain that had rescued him only a few pages before.
Conversely, we have the seemingly noble, yet taciturn Montgomery, another passenger who is in the process of bringing a wide variety of animals (dogs, rabbits, a llama, and a female puma) to the strange island.
Prendick befriends Montgomery, and is taken to the island headquarters and virtual fortress, with doors locked and high walls raised against the onslaught of the island’s mysterious dangers. Here lives Moreau, a famous vivisectionist in self exile after society rejected his terrifying experiments on living animals.
Prendick discovers that Moreau has been continuing his operations in tropical seclusion. He does not, however, realize the true extent of the madness.
Wells paints a morbid picture that rings with truth and brilliance, illuminating the depths of human behavior, from the jabbering monkeylike speeches of religious preachers, to the lumbering and subdued spirits of day laborers, to the swift rodentlike qualities of street urchin children of his time.
He shows that we are all susceptible to the transformation of the human spirit, to its depths and heights. He also reveals that being truly human means more than mere survival, explaining through his characters that the only way to fully accomplish this is to hope.