‘There it must be, I think, in the vast and eternal laws of matter, and not in the daily cares and sins and troubles of men that whatever is more than animal within us must find its solace and its hope.’
I wasn’t sure on opening the book what sort of story I was letting myself in for – I didn’t even know what vivisection was and I supposed I imagined some island with strange monsters akin to Planet of the Apes. The fact it was written by HG Wells was enough for me, and there were times as in his other works, when his flair for description really increased the pace of the story and got across the character of things: ‘over the taffrail leaned a silent black figure, staring at the waves …’
What’s the story about?
I thought it was about cruelty, foremost, and I wasn’t sure I agreed with the author: the thought that a human could be ‘vivisected’ is seen as abhorrent in the book, but less tragic if it were an animal, which was a presumption I did not feel I agreed with. There were other instances displaying the superiority of man, with a whip or weapon, next to lowly beasts. Until after the end of the story, when I felt I’d missed the point. Perhaps author HG Wells was challenging these assumptions about the superiority of ‘man’, showing us we’re no less fallible than those creatures we seek to control. What are our primitive instincts when seen from another?
‘That another’ in the story is main character Prendick, who on arriving on the island observes the bizarre creations of notorious Doctor Moreau, often fearing for his life or succumbing to rapid pacing or fitful rages; a characteristic I see as typical of HG Wells’ main characters.
Some of the initial descriptions of the monsters and Prendick’s response to them could have been more snappy and impactful. I think the reason was that the general descriptions were meant to provide an air of mystery and the unknown, which the author did elaborate on afterward.
The end was the reason for the entire book, covered in less than four pages, and proved, in case you had any doubt, you were not simply reading wild fascinating adventures on an island with beasts, but a classic story with a powerful end. It contained a quote I found to be meaningful and special: ‘There it must be, I think, in the vast and eternal laws of matter, and not in the daily cares and sins and troubles of men that whatever is more than animal within us must find its solace and its hope.’