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Literature / The Island of Doctor Moreau

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"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 Fish or Flesh; that is the Law. Are we not Men?"
"Not to claw the Bark of Trees; that is the Law. Are we not Men?"
"Not to chase other Men; that is the Law. Are we not Men?"
The Law

The Island of Doctor Moreau is an 1896 novel by H. G. Wells. Its story centers on Edward Prendick, the narrator, who is shipwrecked at sea and rescued by Dr. Montgomery. The good doctor takes Edward to the island where he works, a land so ominous that they quickly abandon him. Edward is soon introduced to the island's ruler, the Mad Doctor Moreau, and discovers Moreau's horrifying society of surgically-altered beasts that walk, speak, and struggle to live like men. The more he's around these beast-men, the more uncomfortable he becomes in his own society.

It was adapted several times for the screen; one of the earliest was a loose unauthorized German production in 1921 called The Island of the Lost. Other adaptations include Island of Lost Souls, with Charles Laughton as Moreau, The Island of Dr. Moreau (1977), with Burt Lancaster as Moreau, and The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996) (a full century after the book), with Marlon Brando as Moreau. In addition, it was unofficially adapted twice in the Philippines, as Terror Is A Man (with a single beast-man) and The Twilight People.

This work features examples of:

  • Animorphism: Although the beast people are transformed into anthropomorphic forms, they gradually regress back into animalistic forms, despite Moreau's best efforts.
  • Art Evolution: In-Universe, Moreau seems to have gone through this with his Beast Men. Some are very simply just remolded into human-like versions of what they started out as. Others seem to have features of multiple animals. Given Moreau claims he could have easily turned sheep into llama it is clear these Beast Men did start out as one specific animal and had parts grafted onto them from other animals. His last creation escapes while only partially finished and appears to have only gotten to the first phase.
  • Artificial Animal People: Despite being the Ur-Example, the book does not actually play this trope straight. While Moreau's "manimals" are indeed animals given human attributes through science, Moreau is not interested in merely making an anthropomorphic animal; no, his true goal is to essentially transform an animal into a human through surgery. The manimals are just a stepping stone to this achievement, and even the most human-like of them retain a few animal characteristics and are extremely off-putting.
  • Asshole Victim: Captain Davis, who apparently died a slow death in a lifeboat. Considering that he abandoned Prendick to a similar fate, it's hard to feel sorry for him.
  • The Atoner: Played with. Montgomery was once as esteemed as Moreau was as a doctor, but did something terrible and had to flee London. He firmly believes he deserves to be on the island.
  • Bears Are Bad News: Inverted with M'ling, a dog-bear-ape man who is one of the kindest and more helpful creatures on the island. Played straight with the vile-smelling and evil tempered Fox-Bear woman.
  • Beast Man: One of the earliest examples, and a lampshade hanging on how horrifying this trope would actually be, as the sheer Uncanny Valley nature of Moreau's creations constantly disturbs the main character.
  • Bio Punk: A prototype of the genre, even though it pre-dated the discovery of DNA by 60 years and the idea of genetic engineering by about thirty.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The Beastmen revert back to their animalistic nature and a cycle of killing leaves Moreau, Montgomery and M'Ling dead, along with some of the Beast Folk. Prendick is marooned after he accidentally burns down the compound and Montgomery destroys the boats in a drunken fit from earlier. Prendick uses his knowledge of The Law to keep most of the Beastmen from killing him. After several weeks of living among them, he discovers a small boat with two dead bodies washed up on the beach (possibly the captain who saved him from early in the book). Prendick uses it to escape and is rescued at sea, returning to London. Keeping his story to himself, Prendick fears he might be sent to an insane asylum if nobody believes him. His experiences leave him jaded and traumatised. He sees the Beast Folk in the faces of his fellow Londoners, equating human nature with that of animal. The book ends with him moving to the English countryside, far away from human contact, where he can pursue chemistry and astronomy in peace.
  • Body Horror: In the original book, the creatures aren't mutated, simply mutilated and operated on; anesthetic-free surgery has forced and molded them into human-like forms.
  • Cats Are Mean: Moreau's final experiment, a puma woman, ends up killing him. The other beasts based on big cats tend to be the more savage ones, even compared to the wolf people.
  • Cute Mute: The sloth creature doesn't speak or do much else for the matter.
  • The Commandments: The Law.
  • Deserted Island: The eponymous Island was one before Moreau set up shop and started filling it up.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: After Moreau is killed, Montgomery decides to go on a drinking binge with the friendlier beast folk, even giving them alcohol to drink. It ends badly for him after he runs afoul of a faction that isn't so friendly.
  • Evil Redhead: Wells repeatedly mentions the fact that Captain Davis, the drunken, abusive schooner captain, has red hair.
  • Evilutionary Biologist: An unusual aversion; Moreau is more concerned with perfecting his surgical techniques than how the products of his efforts would benefit humanity's evolution. He even remarks that he could just as well have turned sheep into llamas as animals into humans; the latter was simply more artistically-satisfying to him.
  • Face–Heel Turn: Played with. Rather than discuss fully the seriously dangerous situation he and Prendick are in, Montgomery, in Heroic BSoD, insults Prendick and takes his liquor on a drinking binge. He then drunkenly destroys the small boats that are their only means of escape. After he's mortally wounded, he owns up and apologizes to Prendick with his dying words.
  • Failed a Spot Check: Captain Davis justified marooning Prendick on the island on the assumption he is a cannibal, due to evidence of a scuffle in Prendick's lifeboat. One wonders why he didn't consider the lack of bloodstains in the boat of an alleged cannibal. Then again it’s established Davis didn’t like Prendick, seeing him as an annoyance and would have likely made up any excuse to offload him.
  • First-Person Peripheral Narrator: Prendick narrates the story.
  • For Science!: The only real reason Dr. Moreau does what he does. He's devoted years of work perfecting his surgical techniques in the hope of fully and permanently transforming an animal into a human just because.
  • Four-Fingered Hands: The ape-man is exceedingly proud that he averts this trope, unlike most of the other Beast Folk.
  • From Bad to Worse: Once Moreau gets accidentally killed by one of his escaped experiments, things go downhill quickly. Montgomery goes off the deep end, getting drunk and killed by an aggressive faction of beast men, and he and the friendlier beast folk chop up the boats, which were, at the time, the only means of escape. Also, hearing Montgomery's attack, Prendick upends an oil lantern on his way out of the complex to help Montgomery, which results in the entire complex being destroyed by fire. Prendick is left with a pistol or two, a handful of bullets, and a couple of axes to defend himself with. Prendick lives in terror for many months as the beast folk revert back to animal form before he gets another shot to leave.
  • A God Am I: Moreau never outright says it, but the Beastmen certainly view him this way.
  • Have a Gay Old Time:
    "My one idea was to get away from these horrible caricatures of my Maker's image, back to the sweet and wholesome intercourse of men."
  • Heinous Hyena: The Hyena-Swine is by far the most savage and dangerous hybrid on the island, and the thing that causes the most trouble for Prendick.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Moreau ends up killed by one of his animal experiments.
    • Montgomery enjoys drinking, but after Moreau's death, he goes on a drinking binge. When one of the more animailistic factions of beast men attack his "party," Montgomery is no match and is mauled and mortally wounded.
  • Heroic BSoD: Montgomery goes through this for a time after they discover Moreau has been killed.
  • Humans Are the Real Monsters: Upon escaping the island and returning to civilization, Prendick realizes he can no longer live among people for he can see that just like the hybrids, they too are prone to devolving to animalistic savagery.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: Moreau mentions that the monsters he creates can mate and bear young, but the parents usually immediately eat their young after birth.
  • Island of Mystery: The eponymous Island, indeed.
  • Kidnapped for Experimentation: A variant; the animals that became the Beast-men were all purchased by Moreau and sent to his island, where he used them for his experiments (which included several weeks of being vivisected and put back together with no painkillers).
  • Killed Offscreen: It is heavily implied the corpses in the life boat at the end of the book were Captain Davis and one of his crewmen.
    • Also, We last see Moreau alive through Prendick's eyes as he chases the Puma-woman. When Montgomery and Prendick find him again, Moreau and the Puma woman have killed each other.
    • Played with for Montgomery. We hear the attack, and Prendick finds Montgomery near death. Montgomery has a little time to apologize for his actions before he dies.
  • The Lancer: Montgomery turns into this for Prendick, and have a much closer and friendlier relationship than Prendick has with Moreau, since Moreau is simply more focused on his experiments than playing friendly host.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Sometime after abandoning Prendick in a life boat near Moreau's island, Captain Davis' corpse is found in a lifeboat that washed up on the very island he wanted to get away from. His corpse is then eaten by the beast men, one of whom he allowed his men to abuse.
  • Mad Doctor: Moreau's doing all this as a way of practicing surgical techniques, or so he claims. These techniques consist of vivisection. Without anesthetics. It is hardly a wonder Moreau's house is called the House of Pain.
  • Maker of Monsters: Doctor Moreau turns animals into beast-men by surgically altering their bodies to be bipedal and anthropomorphic. Over the years he's been doing this, he's created enough such creatures for an entire village of half-man beasts to form in the forests of his island.
  • Meaningful Name: The Beast Folk call Moreau's house the House of Pain, and with good reason.
  • Mercy Kill: Prendick shoots the Leopard-Man to save him from undergoing further operations.
  • Morally Ambiguous Doctorate: Of course, both Moreau and Montgomery have actual PhDs.
  • Mutual Kill: Between Moreau and the puma.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: The House of Pain, Dr. Moreau's dwelling where he surgically alters animals into men—by vivisection, without anesthetics.
  • No Full Name Given: We never are told the first names of Montgomery or Moreau.
  • Noodle Incident: Whatever Montgomery did a decade ago that forced him to leave London. According to him it involved alcohol and a foggy period of ten minutes.
  • No Party Like a Donner Party: Subverted in the opening chapter, when Prendick's fellow castaways fight over who's to be eaten and they both fall out of the lifeboat to drown.
  • Ocean Madness: Prendick suffers from this early on, or at least he thinks he does.
  • Oh, Crap!: Montgomery's reaction when they find out Moreau has been killed by the unfinished puma hybrid. Considering the balance of the island has been kept by setting himself, Moreau, and later Prendick as "gods," and the main "god" is now a mutilated corpse, it's hard to blame him for panicking and shitting himself.
  • Pig Man: Several of the Beast Folk were made out of swine.
  • Savage Wolves: Downplayed. There are several wolf people, and they're not to be trifled with, but they do not seem to be as violent as the feline beasts, or the Hyena Swine.
  • Scavengers Are Scum: The nastiest of the Beast Folk was created from a hyena and a pig, both animals that will scavenge.
  • Secondary Character Title: "The Island of Dr. Moreau."
  • Shout-Out: Montgomery studied on Gower Street in London, which is the street that Charles Darwin lived on.
  • Stumbling Upon the Lost Wizard: The protagonist discovers Dr. Moreau, formerly an eminent physiologist in London, experimenting with the uplift of animals to humans through painful surgery.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Montgomery decides the best course of action after Moreau's death is to get drunk with some of the beast folk and chop up the boats, which are the only remaining means of escape. After they're attacked by a not-so-friendly group of the beast folk, Montgomery realizes his mistake, but can only weakly apologize to Prendick for his actions before he dies.
    • After the puma-hybrid escapes, Moreau goes after it by himself rather than waiting for Montgomery or Prendick to assist him. It ends very poorly for him.
  • Tropical Island Adventure: Set on the titular tropical island.
  • Unbuilt Trope: The novel has a pretty pessimistic view of how uplifting animals would turn out despite being the Trope Maker and Trope Codifier.
  • Undying Loyalty: The dog man remains man's best friend to the end.
  • Uplifted Animal: One of the earliest uses, in the most horrible way possible.
  • Veganopia: Forbidding the consumption of meat is one of the ways Moreau keeps his creations' more predatory instincts suppressed. It doesn't work.
  • Was Once a Man: The main character thinks this is what's going on, but finds out it's actually the other way around, the creatures on the island were once animals, turned into men. Or something like it.
  • Xanatos Speed Chess: After they find Moreau's corpse, which demonstrates that Prendick and Montgomery can be killed, just as Moreau was, Prendick thinks on his feet lightning fast in front of the other beast folk and claims that Moreau isn't dead, he's just ascended to the next level and discarded his body. He later has to do something similar when Montgomery gets killed. The explanation doesn't wash for the more aggressive of the beast folk, but the more docile versions, like the dog man, believe it wholeheartedly, which helps Prendick survive alone on the island for awhile without the complex to hide inside of, until another boat washes up that he can escape in.