Book Review: The Island of Doctor Moreau
Mamma Bear Book Review
*A bear trundles in with a book under one, fuzzy arm*
The Island Of Doctor Moreau by H.G. Wells
Before I read The Island of Doctor Moreau, my entire understanding of the story came from a movie that I'd found interesting but ultimately mostly confusing. After watching the documentary about the film's making, I have a much better idea of why that was. Still, the movie intrigued me enough that I wanted to read the book, if for no other reason than to find out what all this human animal stuff was supposed to be about.
*This Review Contains Spoilers*
Moreau is enough of a classic, and has been widely adapted, so that I feel comfortable with a more spoiler-y analysis. If you plan to read it and don't know the story already, you might want to scroll to the end for my star rating and point by point review.
The story premise is fairly classic, our hero, Edward Prendick, is adrift at sea, the only survivor of a sunken vessel, and is rescued by a boat carrying a bevy of questionable characters who eventually deliver him to the title island. Here he meets Dr. Moreau, a notorious scientist who was run out of England due to his experiments in vivisection. Prendick is not opposed to vivisection, but soon discovers that Moreau's work on the island involves attempting to so manipulate animals that they become human.
Okay, that's the setup. Well's writing is fairly dry and decidedly dated, but the book was captivating just the same. The questions Moreau poses about morality, humanity, and creation, are woven into every aspect of his work, Prendick's reactions to it, and the behaviors of the animal-men populating the island.
Prendick's arc is a sort of descent from logical, detached observer, to participant, to victim, all mirrored on a backdrop of beast characters who, oftentimes in the book, show far more humanity than the humans involved. The pacing is solid and suspenseful until the point of Moreau's death. After what seems like it should be the climax, animal rebellion, and destruction of their maker, the story continues on long enough that it drags a bit.
For me, depth is the book's true treasure. The reader is led to question right alongside Prendick, to both admire Dr. Moreau and abhor him, to feel sympathy for the animal creations and fear them just as strongly as Prendick does. By the end, the message has been well delivered and the reader is left with a strong impression that while the obvious themes about creation and playing god are floating on the surface, the real meat of the book revolves around what makes a man and what makes a beast.
I was held as captive as Prendick by the story, and though there are parts of the book that felt distinctly dated, I put it firmly in the "must read" category. Especially for furries who already address the line between human and animal. Moreau is a classic that we, of all people, will appreciate.
After I finished the book I endeavored to watch the three most prominent movie adaptations, all of which differ from the book in several ways. Most striking of these is the inclusion of the iconic cat woman, one of the very few ways I feel the movies improved on the book, which had zero female characters in it. Overall, the book is a massive improvement over the film adaptations, and has yet to be done justice in my opinion.
I give The Island of Dr. Moreau a solid FOUR CLAWS, but qualify that as still being a must read for furry fans.
Character: No furry reader is going to be disappointed with the variety of animal characters in Moreau. The humans are all quirky and intriguing, if a bit flat/stereotypical. The only real complaint I have is the complete lack of female characters aside from bystander-level beast people.
World-building: Moreau's island is surreal and creepy. A backdrop of pain and danger oozes through even the most passive scenes and keeps the reader right on the edge of horror in a very intentional way.
Pacing: The story gets a little slow toward the end. I felt that Prendick's saga petered out instead of ending with a big bang. There's a definite and marked drop in tension long before we reach the last page.
Shiny: Theme is the real beauty in Moreau. The questions addressed openly or only hinted at are laid out simply and beautifully for the reader to examine, to ruminate, and to take away with them long after finishing the book.
For the furry fandom, Moreau is particularly lovely, relevant, and packed with beasts of all sorts, though the vivisection, in particular at the beginning, could be off-putting to a squeamish reader.
For anyone intrigued by darker fiction, however, Moreau is a delight.