Book Review – The Island Of Dr. Moreau

The Tyger (from Songs of Experience)

By William Blake

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare sieze the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art.
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was they brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp
dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,
And watered heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?


I have this very faint memory of watching an animated series where there was a beautiful Panther-Man who was being hunted, not only by the series main character, but also by his own “Father”.  And I remember the betrayal that was sketched into his eyes.  At the end of the episode was William Blake’s poem, The Tyger, being spoken by the voice of the main character.  I think this was my first real visual experience with the novel, The Island of Dr. Moreau.  
The Island of Dr. Moreau is considered a science fiction romance.  I’m not sure of this genre definition.  It is surely a science fiction piece for its time, but I’m not sure where the “romance” comes in.  Perhaps it is the feelings that Prendick, the main character and narrator, displays throughout the story.  He does struggle between horror at the “monsters” roaming the island, to acceptance of some of his fellow inhabitants, to a final understanding that man cannot change nature.
Oftentimes I have a difficult time with works that are a social commentary upon the times that they are written.  I tend to take a work of literature at face value, to see the story being told as being the actual views of the author.  I don’t usually see the subtle nuances that are at play within the story.  In other words, I am a clod sometimes when it comes to interpreting a literary piece.  This was definitely the case when I read The Island Of Dr. Moreau.  

While there are a few themes prevalent in this story, the one I was able to determine immediately, and identify with, was man’s cruelty towards animals.  During the Victorian era there was a school of thought that only humans could feel pain.  It was one of God’s gifts to mankind.  Experts would say that animals could look like they felt pain but they did not have the mental or physical faculties that humans do to actually process those feelings.  Of course today we certainly know better, although there are still a few backwards thinking individuals out there who still hold to this idea.  In the story, Dr. Moreau acknowledged that the creatures he performed vivisection on did feel the pain, however, he was trying to evolve them into a more human nature that could overlook the pain.
This psychopathic cruelty was just about more than I could take.  I physically felt the horrors that were visited upon these poor helpless creatures.  I believe that was the reaction Wells was looking for: that vivisection was not a discipline that should be easily pursued.

In addition, Wells wanted to point out that evolution was not something that could be manipulated by man.  Surgically transforming an animal into a more human like form did not make that animal more human; nor did those transformations continue into the next generation.  Evolution is a slow process over geologic time which occurs and the genetic level, not at the phenotypic level.

Wells also explored how humans can become habituated to certain horrors so that we no longer have a sympathetic response to them.  Prendick exhibited this with his slow acclimation to the cries of pain from the puma.

H. G. Wells has a very easy to read writing style which is quite enjoyable.  However, the story and its themes were far from enjoyable.  I hope that is the final take-away he wanted to leave his readers; that attaining great knowledge (the understanding of biology and evolution) comes with a great responsibility (how we go about getting that knowledge – dissection versus vivisection versus observation).  We can see these struggles still today with genetic engineering and continued animal testing.  I wonder what he would think of our modern ethical behaviors.



About princessdeloso

I do many things. I even write about some of them.
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