the island of dr. moreau
I finally finished H.G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau. It had been mentioned by Colson in a BreakPoint email some months back because of the ethical issues it raises, and I needed a few bucks on an Amazon order recently to save on shipping and so I gave this book a try. Overall it’s probably not on par with some of Wells’ more famous stuff but it’s a good (and short) read nonetheless.
The story takes a while to pick up steam, but the final third or so of the book is worth the wait. The plot is basically the narrator’s retelling of his experience on an island filled with "vivisected" creatures and men who create the brutes. The details are something you’ll have to read the book to get, but it does bring up many questions concerning science and its impact on the world for both good and bad.
Wells was very obviously not a Christian and some of the symbolism he employs -- such as someone’s claim that a dead man is actually still alive and watching from "above" -- is likely a mockery of Christianity. It is also clear that he intended the primitive society on the island to reflect his view of religion. The brutes are portrayed as mindlessly adhering to "the Law", a code of sorts that requires them to act like humans and deny their animal impulses. The doctor has set himself up as their absolute ruler and uses force and brainwashing to maintain his power over them. The implication of a religion that controls and manipulates its adherents is certainly there.
Interestingly, though, one of the major themes I took away from the story supports a Christian worldview. When the island creatures begin to realize what has been happening and stop following the Law, all hell breaks loose. And this is very similar to what happens at any level of society when people decide they no longer need to abide by higher standards or laws than what their own desires dictate. When a society turns its back on the principles it was founded upon, it can expect to fade into oblivion in short order. This is exactly what’s happening in most of Europe today and, to a slightly lesser extent, here in the states as well. I think Wells does a great job of illustrating this process in his book.
Another theme Wells focuses on is the effect of science on society. In Wells’ day, and still today, it is generally assumed that any scientific advancement must be good for the masses. After all, it makes our lives easier and brings us conveniences our ancestors could have never dreamed of. But Wells shows that science, when pursued and applied for the wrong reasons, can have a damning effect on those who come in contact with it. Dr. Moreau had managed to fill an island with half-men of sorts, creatures who lived a "mock-human existence" with a "fear that never died" due to the pain of their creation and the constant threat of Moreau, the results of Moreau’s twisted scientific pursuits. But for Moreau this poses no moral dilemma, for he lives for the dream of one day creating human beings. Moreau says it himself: "I have gone on, not heeding anything but the question I was pursuing."
There are several other themes and such I could discuss, but then you might not read the book. So go find a copy and start reading. It won’t take long and it’s a good read.