In H.G. Wells’s The Island of Doctor Moreau, he does more to engage the reader’s mind than by utilizing science fiction. Consider this story from a fairy-tale perspective: the tale does not always have a happy ending, but it maintains a means of providing some sort of message. In The Island, Wells uses traits of science fiction as a vessel to carry the message of human nature: evolution occurs in its own time, and any individual who attempts to hasten it, in turn, hastens his own end.
Many other science fiction novels portray images of fantasy and the like, but Wells chooses to stay closer to something more realistic. Remember that there are scientists that believe human beings are the epitome of evolution, and that human beings are as close to perfection as a living creature can be. Doctor Moreau agrees with this, but he takes it one step further: he believes that our rational nature can recreate other animals to be just as rational. He even says that “a pig may be educated” (51) as though moral education, “an artificial modification and perversion of instinct” (52), is one way to be considered human. This is evidence in his declaration of “the Law”, resembling much of what is our idea of religion.
True, this message is still a scientific one, but the message is not what makes the fairy tale, but the presence of a message and a means of projecting it through the characters’ actions. By using the “creatures-turned-human” as a way to characterize the attempted hastening of evolution by Doctor Moreau, Wells can establish a means to illustrate his message by bringing both Doctor Moreau’s (initiator of attempt) and Montgomery’s (conspirator of attempt) lives to an end.
I would consider this underlying message an accurate one since the only character to survive the Beast Men of the island is Prendick. Even as they are regaining the majority of their instinctual behaviors from which he should have died shortly after their deaths, he nonetheless is able to protect his own life because he was not one of the men who tampered with the lives of these natural born creatures. For this, Wells makes it so that Prendick is allowed to live his life off the island as the human being he once was in London.
The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells is a difficult book to place squarely in one genre. There are many different facets within this story, therefore, it is impossible to place one label upon it and move on. It’s important to realize that the very fact that this story cannot be categorized is important and gives it a unique place in literature. Although this story has many aspects of different genres, I believe that it can be most squarely placed in the genre of science fiction, with some aspects of fairy tale writing included.
The reason that The Island of Dr. Moreau fits at least to some degree within the genre of science fiction is based mostly upon the concept of vivisection that occurs on the island. There are experiments being done on the animals of the island and Dr. Moreau is pushing the limits of vivisection beyond its boundaries by trying to create humans out of animals. This is such a far fetched idea that it clearly aligns itself with genre of science fiction.
However, there are also some of the characteristics present in the written fairy tales we read. During the same time that H.G. Wells wrote this story there was a great debate going on in Britain and Europe at large about vivisection and whether or not it was ethical. By creating a “little establishment…[that] is a kind of Blue-Beard’s chamber” (Wells 19) H.G. Wells is creating a parallel to fairy tales that served a similar purpose once they were written down. Specifically, Bluebeard was one fairy tale that offered a way for women to explore the more menacing aspects of marriage in a way that allowed much to be decided by the reader. Similarly, The Island of Dr. Moreau offers a means for exploring the negative and dangerous aspects of vivisection. By combining these two genres, along with aspects from others, Wells makes it possible to create and interesting science fiction story along with creating a means for reflection.
I believe H.G. Wells’ The Island of Doctor Moreau undoubtedly falls under the category of science fiction. Science fiction is, as defined by Merriam Webster, “fiction dealing principally with the impact of actual or imagined science on society or individuals”. During the Victorian era in which the story was written, many scientific discoveries were being made, and the literature of the time demonstrated the wonder they had for the scientific advances for the time, and the hope for the limitless bounds of those advances.
In The Island of Doctor Moreau, the title character uses a science known as vivisection to transform animals into humans. He does this repeatedly, and to his creations, he gives a set of laws, rules to keep them human-like: “Not to go on all-Fours”, “Not to suck up Drink”, “Not to eat Flesh or Fish”, “Not to claw Bark of Trees”, “Not to chase other Men” (Wells 43). With these rules, he binds them into their own society on the island – the creatures build dens and even marry. Thus, in one manner, Moreau’s experiments impact a newly formed society, that of the Beast-Men. They also impact the humans who live on the island, and must maintain a careful balance with the creatures. But they also pose a possibility for change in rest of society: there is an unspoken question in the novel of what would result were Moreau’s experiments to succeed 100%.
Though not officially a part of the science fiction genre, I believe all good science fiction, by introducing fictional beings, also makes the reader think about what makes us human, what separates us from all non-humans, real or imagined. The Island of Doctor Moreau certainly does that. In his explanation to Prendick, Moreau complains that despite his best efforts, there is “something I cannot touch, somewhere – I cannot determine where – in the seat of the emotions” (Wells 58). There is something not entirely right with his creations, something that keeps them separate from humans, and it is by the introduction of these creatures that we are made to consider why we are so different.
H. G. Wells’ The Island of Doctor Moreau depicts the experience of Prendick, who upon being rescued, is sent onto another island where he is faced with a new breed of citizens. The story is centered on animal vivisection performed by Dr. Moreau and how Prendick faces these “morbid growths.” (Wells 22) Because of the grotesque theme of animal vivisection and experimentation, The Island of Doctor Moreau fits the science fiction genre.
Upon his arrival on the island, Montgomery warns Prendick of the strange happenings on the island. Dr. Moreau goes on to say that “our little establishment here contains a secret or so, is a kind of Blue-Beard’s chamber.” (Wells 19) At first, Dr. Moreau and Montgomery leave Prendick in the dark about their experimentations with animals on the island. Obviously curious, Prendick goes exploring on the island where he see creatures described as “human beings with the strangest air about them of some familiar animal.” (Wells 28) Dr. Moreau eventually explains his creations to Prendick, who compares the human-animal creatures with having the “mark of the beast” (Wells 28)
Dr. Moreu’s imaginative innovations of these animals convey ideals similarly contained in science fiction novels. When viewing the novel as belonging to the sci fi genre, the rather absurd concept of animal vivisection is somewhat given justice. At a time when animal vivisection was a concern in Britain, H. G. Wells attempts to explain the reasoning and thoughts behind such abnormal behaviors by showing how the creation of this breed was a passion of Dr. Moreau’s. By reading this novel in relation to the scientific fiction genre, the theme of animal vivisection and experimentation is shown as a largely imaginative ideal that is being explored and not necessarily frowned upon, but rather accepted due to the creative process.