'The Island of Doctor Moreau' (Duplicate)

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The Island of Doctor Moreau
'Island of Lost Souls' |
The 1977 Film |
The 1996 Film

The Island of Doctor Moreau was the second of HG Wells' 'scientific romance' novels, one of his most famous books which have led to his frequently being called 'the father of science-fiction'. These novels are

  • The Time Machine (1895)
  • The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896)
  • The Invisible Man (1897)
  • The War of the Worlds (1898)
  • First Men in the Moon (1901)
  • The Sleeper Awakes (1910)

His later novels, many of which contained predictions about the future, increasingly were written to contain social and political messages although these aims were present in his earlier works also.


Edward Prendick, sole survivor of the loss of the Lady Vain, is rescued at sea after spending several days alone in a lifeboat. He is nursed back to health by Montgomery, a passenger who has chartered the ship Ipecacuancha to deliver a cargo of several living animals, including a puma, to a small island. The presence of the animals and strangeness of Montgomery's servant, M'Ling, causes tension with the ship's captain, Davis.

When the ship arrives at an island, Davis throws Prendick off along with Montgomery and the animals. The island belongs to a Doctor Moreau, a name Prendick remembers from ten years earlier when he had left London after being hounded by the newspapers when found guilty of vivisection. Prendick notices that the natives of the island have an animal-like appearance. Spotting Moreau in the middle of an operation, Prendick assumes that Moreau has been vivisecting people to turn them into animals and flees across the island, armed with a broken deckchair. During his flight he is injured.

Prendick discovers the island's inhabitants and their ceremonious saying of the Litany of their Law, and learns that Doctor Moreau has experimented on animals in order to turn them into humans, and created a race of 67 beastmen. These are kept in control by the Litany of the Law and by preventing them from tasting blood. Prendick has shown that he is as weak and vulnerable as any of the beasts, revealing that Moreau and Montgomery too are men, not gods...


Wells had studied under Thomas Huxley1, one of the earliest proponents of the Theory of Evolution and thus nicknamed 'Darwin's Bulldog'. As Huxley had argued that man evolved out of animals, Wells asked, what if mankind attempted to recreate that by making animals evolve into men, while at the same time resorting to animal barbarity?

Wells stayed close to the Huxley family throughout his life. In 1935 he co-wrote The Science of Life with his son George Phillip Wells and Sir Julian Huxley, the older brother of Aldous Huxley who had written Brave New World in 1932. This was a book about biology, showing that Wells retained a fascination for the science at the heart of The Island of Doctor Moreau.

Of course, Doctor Moreau himself is a scientist in the vain of Mary Shelley's modern Prometheus, Doctor Frankenstein. Just as Prometheus brought a sacred gift of the gods, fire, to man, Doctor Moreau, like Doctor Frankenstein, rivals God by attempting to create Human Life, and both are punished for their sacrilege.

A key influence, however, was Swift's Gulliver's Travels. The ending of The Island of Doctor Moreau is almost identical to the earlier novel. Like Gulliver's Travels, The Island of Doctor Moreau was a satire, with the community representing the western world as a whole.


No Man is an Island

From the dawn of literature, there has been something undeniably exciting about islands. Islands are mysterious and magical, unlike the mundane mainland. In fiction, islands are always full of mystery and treasure. Jules Verne did not write Mysterious Mainland, nor did Robert Louis Stevenson write Treasure Continent. On an island, anything can happen, and frequently does. We remember the names of mythical islands with reverence; Atlantis, Avalon, Utopia, Laputa, Lemuria.

If there is something exceptional about islands, then those who dwell on an island must also therefore be extraordinary. To live on an island, you must surely be more in tune to nature and its wonders than other folk, and this is perhaps reflected in legends and myths. And these myths are the ancestors of Wells' tale, The Island of Doctor Moreau.

An island is land, yet its defining feature is that it is surrounded by the sea. Land can be cultivated, controlled and conquered, yet the ocean is untameable and wild. An island is therefore a cross between the civilised and the feral. This is reflected in Greek myths, which often featured islands of wonder inhabited by half-men half-beast creatures, like the Minotaur or the Cyclops. Circe was a sorceress who lived on the island of Aeaea and turned men into animals. Her son Comus leads a band of creatures with human bodies and the heads of animals. The sirens were half women, half creatures who lured men to their doom. If marooned in mythology on one of these islands, the only way to escape was to similarly embrace your inner animal, while remembering your humanity. Odysseus disguised himself as a sheep to escape the Cyclops, while Daedalus became a bird to escape his prison, yet his son Icarus became seduced by his animal side, flew too close to the sun and died as a consequence.

The concept of islands being populated by half-human creatures continues throughout history. Shakespeare's The Tempest features Caliban. Gulliver's Travels have ant-sized people on the island of Lilliput, and Houyhnhnms, sentient horses more human than the people on the island of the, known as Yahoos.

This theme has naturally continued after Wells. Edgar Rice Burroughs' 1918 novel The Land that Time Forgot features an island, Caspak, populated not only by dinosaurs, but different species of ape-men. This later led to the classic 1933 film King Kong, whose central ape character is another half-human, half-beast creation. In love with Ann Darrow, Kong walks on two legs like a man.

CS Lewis, who was very strongly influenced by Wells in his space trilogy beginning Out of the Silent Planet, also published Narnia tale Voyage of the Dawn Treader in 1952. This features islands where men become animals (such as dragons), mermaids, islands populated by invisible one-legged dwarves called Dufflepuds as well as talking animals.

Victorian Gothic Body Horror

The Island of Doctor Moreau was written at the end of the 19th Century, a time dominated by the great works of Victorian gothic body horror, with a similar artistic movement known as Fin de siècle originating in France. The Island of Doctor Moreau was written only ten years after Stevenson's Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886), where a doctor is transformed into a man with a boastful nature. A similar theme is found in Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891), in which a man leads an increasingly debauched lifestyle, with the consequences transformed to a painting. The most famous novel of the period was published a year after The Island of Doctor Moreau, Bram Stoker's Dracula in 1897. This featured an authority figure who is revealed to be a vampire and able to control his victims and transform them into vampires.

The Island of Doctor Moreau plays on the current idea of normal men and women transformed into monsters and beasts by misleading the audience into believing that Prendick is in danger of being transformed into a beast, complete with an attempt to escape. Yet Wells is bluffing. The authority figure, Doctor Moreau, is not turning humans into animals, but instead, and in an act against God, animals are being created in man's image.

A Section on Vivisection

Vivisection is surgery performed on a living organism, usually for experimental purposes such as animal testing. At the time The Island of Doctor Moreau was written, vivisection was a cause célèbre since The National Anti-Vivisection League had been founded in 1875 leading to a Royal Commission on Vivisection. Animals were still routinely cut up in order for medical students to learn about anatomy. In the 1890s the matter was still a hot topic, with heated arguments over whether vivisection should be allowed, regulated or abolished. In 1896, the year The Island of Doctor Moreau was written, Battersea Hospital was founded and famously declared that no vivisection would take place within its walls. The British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection was founded in 1898, a splinter-movement from the National Anti-Vivisection League, which was calling for vivisection to be regulated, while the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection wanted vivisection abolished. Many of Britain's leading suffragettes campaigned strongly against vivisection.

In the novel, Wells predicts the abilities and skills used in cosmetic surgery, which today is used for a variety of purposes. The character of Moreau had been forced to leave London due to a scandal involving a dog he had been operating on, again something which anticipated the Brown Dog riots of 1907, following protests after William Bayliss vivisected a brown dog without sufficient anaesthetic, proving the existence of hormones. Moreau is far more than a mere vivisectionist; If cosmetic surgery can make people look younger (or at least less wrinkled) and perform sex change operations, why can't those skills be used to make animals look like humans?

What a piece of work is man!

The differences between Men and Animals is an important theme in the novel, one that creates much of Wells' satire. Wells uses the way that Moreau treats his animal creations to reflect and comment on colonialism, imperialism and promote his socialist perspective in much the same way that Swift did in Gulliver's Travels.

For Moreau, man can be made, and for Wells, too, mankind is made by society.

The paragon of animals?

A related theme that Man is an animal, restricted from acting like a barbaric beast only by moral training and education. The tooth and claw visceral violence always threatens to overwhelm society's flimsy veneer of responsibility.

Civilisation is seen as the Island of Doctor Moreau on a larger scale. After escaping from the island, Prendick is unable to tell the difference between the beastmen and the people he sees every day in London. He satirically describes Humans as

Perfectly reasonable creatures, full of human desires and tender solicitude, emancipated from instinct, and the slaves of no fantastic Law.

Moreau states,

I can see through it all, see into their very souls, and see there nothing but the souls of beasts, beasts that perish - anger, and the lusts to live and gratify themselves. Yet they're odd. Complex, like everything else alive. There is a kind of upward striving in them.

Moreau sees that his animal creations have souls that strive towards a goal of perfection, yet like the Bible tells us that all mankind have sinned against God, all the beasts have an animal nature that separates them from mankind and corrupts them, restoring them to their original form. Moreau describes this by saying,

Somehow the things drift back again, the stubborn beast flesh grows, day by day, back again... Something that I cannot touch, somewhere – I cannot determine where – in the seat of the emotions. Cravings, instincts, desires that harm humanity, a strange hidden reservoir to burst suddenly and inundate the whole being of the creature with anger, hate or fear.

Yet the humans in the novel behave like animals. Prendick, with his two fellow survivors in the dinghy, considers cannibalism and laughs when they kill each other. Davis, the captain of the Ipecacuanha is introduced with a description befitting an animal. He is a 'heavy red-haired man' who 'gave a yawp', an animal sound rather than intelligent conversation. Davis is a brute and a bully, who attacks Prendick. He is contrasted with the Sayer of the Law and other beastmen by saying I'm the law here, I tell you - the law and the prophets and later Law be damned! I'm king here, showing how shallow his belief in law and order is. His repetition of 'the law' is similar to that of the rote learning of the Sayer of the Law.

Moreau and Montgomery, when first seen, are also described by their hair colour and appearance, just as someone might describe a black dog or ginger cat. Montgomery is 'a youngish man with flaxen hair, a bristly straw-coloured moustache and a dropping nether lip' while Moreau is 'a massive white-haired man... powerfully built... with a fine forehead and rather heavy features'. The port of Arica in Chile is described as a 'seafaring village of Spanish mongrels'.

Montgomery compares Prendick with an animal, 'I injected and fed you much as I might have collected a specimen'. Prendick is more than once called 'an ass' by Montgomery and has the same fight or flight reaction to his predicaments as would an animal. Moreau also informs Prendick, 'You are an animal, thinking a little less obscurely what an animal feels'. In return, Prendick feels that Montgomery is 'half akin to these Beast Folk, unfitted for human kindred.'

Religion and Law

Wells' described his novel as an exercise in youthful blasphemy. The Litany of the Law is a parody of religion, with the House of Pain, where the naughty beastmen are sent, equivalent to Hell. Educating the beasts and getting them to respect the Law is a struggle against animal instinct. Rational life is shown as a facade, before the animals reassert themselves and their bestial brutish barbarity.

Moreau is disappointed in all his creations, considering them failures. He banishes them to the other side of his island. The Bible tells us that God, too, banished mankind from the Garden of Eden for our sins. Just as God gave Moses the Ten Commandments, Moreau gives the creatures he created the Law, punishable by trips to the House of Pain (the vivisection room). His creations always seem to revert to beasts, just as all mankind fail to live up to the sin-free idyll dictated by the Bible. Prendick, in order to survive, encourages the belief in an omnipresent Moreau, who despite having died can judge the good and bad beasts, in order to stay alive. Prendick uses religion as a tool to create social stability and manipulate those around him.

Moreau considers himself a religious man rather than a dispassionate scientist, saying,

I am a religious man, Prendick, as every sane man must be… I fancy I have seen more of the ways of this world's Maker than you – for I have sought his laws, in my way, all my life.

yet this does not prevent his supreme blasphemy in trying to create man in his own image or by creating a religion with himself as the centre. After his death, Moreau undergoes his own resurrection; Prendick informs the beastmen he calls the 'Children of the Law', who are questioning whether or not there is still a Law if Moreau is dead, that Moreau is not dead, that he has
changed his shape - he has changed his body [and gone] where he can watch you. You cannot see him, but he can see you. Fear the Law.


Doctor Moreau

Once a noted physiologist, Moreau had been forced to leave Britain when his vivisection of animals was discovered. Wishing to create life in the human shape, he attempts to turn animals into people inside his lab, which is also known as 'The House of Pain'.

Wells has said that Doctor Moreau had been inspired by the trial of Oscar Wilde.


Montgomery is Doctor Moreau's alcoholic assistant who rescues Prendick, eager to speak to a fellow Englishman about his home since he saw it last. Montgomery also longs to eat meat, yet this desire inadvertently causes carnage and corruption when the beasts taste blood.

Montgomery genuinely cares about the animals under his care, but has turned to alcohol to enable him to cope with the cruelty he sees performed on the animals each day.

Edward Prendick

A wealthy biology student from the Royal College of Science who survives shipwreck to find himself trapped on Doctor Moreau's island. Prendick has nothing for disgust for Moreau's creations, shooting the Leopard Man, but is not afraid to manipulate the beastmen to his own advantage. Prendick often acts before he has fully considered the consequences, such as building a raft miles away from the sea. He also antagonises the captain, leaps to conclusions and accidentally destroys Moreau's home. Prendick lives on the island for 10 months only to shun human society after his rescue for fear that people are really beasts in disguise.


Montgomery's loyal servant, a cross between a bear, dog and ox servant. M'Ling is the beast most devoted to Montgomery and Moreau.

The Sayer of the Law

The Sayer of the Law has little personality of his own, merely repeats what he has learned by rote, the creed and code of Moreau's law. He is described as being white haired, does this symbolise a judge's wig? Or old age, a factor often associated with bishops and archbishops?

The Law

The Law is such a vital part of the novel, and all film adaptations of it, that Moreau's Commandments are worth listing:

  • Not to go on all-Fours; that is the Law. Are we not Men?
  • Not to suck up Drink; that is the Law. Are we not Men?
  • Not to eat Flesh or Fish; that is the Law. Are we not Men?
  • Not to claw Bark of Trees; that is the Law. Are we not Men?
  • Not to chase other Men; that is the Law. Are we not Men?
  • His is the House of Pain
  • His is the Hand that makes
  • His is the Hand that wounds
  • His is the Hand that heals

Wells and the Cinema

From the dawn of cinema, the scientific romance novels of HG Wells have inspired works of cinema. In 1901 HG Wells published First Men in the Moon, about two men who actually land on the moon. The following year Georges Méliès' film Le Voyage dans la Lune, also known as A Trip to the Moon, combined Wells' novel with Jules Verne's Voyage to the Moon2. First Men in the Moon was adapted by Ray Harryhausen3 in 1964 in a faithful retelling of Wells' novel, only adding a female character as well as bookending the tale with a sequence set in modern Britain.

Wells' stories have proved time and time again able to capture the imagination in any conceivable media. A visionary writer ahead of his time, his ideas have proven to be remarkably easy to adapt to the modern day, especially his most famous work, The War of the Worlds. Orson Welles' famous 1938 radio adaptation caused a real invasion panic in America when first broadcast. Numerous film adaptations have been made by some of the most respected directors of the day, including George Pal in 1953 and Steven Spielberg in 2005, although both adapted the story to set it in present day America. To date the most faithful adaptation has been Jeff Wayne's classic musical album released in 1978.

Even more frequently translated onto the screen, both cinema and television, has been The Time Machine, with Wells' phrase now used to describe any fictitious device capable of travelling through time. This too has been filmed, with an Oscar-winning version by George Pal in 1960. A notable version starring Isle of Wight born Oscar-winning actor Jeremy Irons was directed in 2002 by HG Wells' great-grandson Simon Wells. Both these films were set in Victorian times, although the 2002 version was set in New York. The Invisible Man has been the most frequently updated and adapted for television and film.

Film Adaptations

To date there have been three film adaptations of The Island of Doctor Moreau. The first, in 1932, was filmed as Island of Lost Souls, with the 1977 and 1996 versions filmed using Wells' original title.

Characters1932 Film1977 Film1996 Film
Men:Edward PrendickEdward Parker
Richard Arlen
Andrew Braddock
Michael York
Edward Douglas
David Thewlis
Doctor MoreauCharles LaughtonBurt LancasterMarlon Brando
MontgomeryArthur HohlNigel DavenportVal Kilmer
Kathleen Burke
Barbara Carrera
Fairuza Balk
Sayer of the LawBela LugosiNick CravatRon Perlman
M'lingTetsu Komai
Marco Hofschneider
Richard BasehartMark Dacascos
Fumio DemuraDaniel Rigney
Vixen-Bear Witch
Clare Grant
Temuera Morrison
Ape-ManHans Steinke
Peter Elliott


HG Wells would himself revisit many of the themes of The Island of Doctor Moreau in his later 1928 satirical novelz, Mr Blettsworthy on Rampole Island in which the hero is shipwrecked, awakes on an Island populated by giant sloths and is adopted by the strange natives with incomprehensible laws and customs as the Sacred Lunatic. Another of Wells' works is The Croquet Player, in which the animal instincts of man's ancestor, Neanderthal Man, are seen to still exist inside man's nature today.

Brave New World

His family friend Aldous Huxley published Brave New World in 1932. This includes a character named Dr Wells after HG Wells. Many of the themes of Huxley's work reflect Wells' novels. In Brave New World men are manufactured in bottles, rather than created from animals, and in both societies are conditioned to obey the law through hypnosis. Islands also have the traditional role of being populated by outcasts in Brave New World, who the World Controller describes as all the people who, for one reason or another, have got too self-consciously individual to fit into community-life. All the people who aren't satisfied with orthodoxy, who've got independent ideas of their own. Everyone, in a word, who's anyone. The character of Marx in Brave New World has echoes of Montogomery; both leave civilisation for a life on a remote island as a consequence for misdemeanours against society.

Una: The Perfect Creature

'Una', also published as 'The Perfect Creature', is a John Wyndham short story that was published in his anthology Jizzle in 1954 and had previously appeared in Argosy magazine4 in 1937. 'Una' is a tale about strange animals which Wyndham implies have been created by vivisection. Wyndham's story mentions 'brutes in human form', turtle-like humans, a doctor performing strange experiments and the word 'vivisection' appears several times. One character even says,

'I've read The Island of Doctor Moreau, too. You expect to go up to the Grange and be greeted by a horse walking on its hind legs and discussing the weather; or perhaps a super-dog will open the door to you and inquire your name?'

That character also later says, 'do try to remember that our host's name is Dixon, and not Moreau'. This proves that over fifty years after first publication, Wells' novel was still popular enough to be referred to, and used to subvert readers' expectations to distract them from the nature behind Wyndham's story.

The Island of Doctor Moreau
'Island of Lost Souls' |
The 1977 Film |
The 1996 Film
1Thomas Huxley was particularly fascinated by dinosaurs, often hunting for dinosaurs on the Isle of Wight. He was the first to propose that dinosaurs evolved into birds.2It is an oversimplification, but Jules Verne inspired the journey to and from the moon, while Wells inspired what actually happened on the Moon.3In his book An Animated Life, Ray Harryhausen states that he had considered making a version of The Island of Doctor Moreau, but this project never developed as far as a screenplay.4A magazine that published pulp fiction between 1882-1978.

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