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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; the earliest was in 1932 as Island of Lost Souls, starring Charles Laughton as the eponymous doctor. Other adaptations include 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 got artificial parts of other animals just like the human parts. His last creation escapes while only partially finished and appears to have only gotten to the first phase.
  • 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.
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  • Bears Are Bad News: Inverted. The bear man is one of the kindest and more helpful creatures on the island.
  • Beast Man: One of the earliest examples, and a lampshade hanging on how horrifying this trope would actually be, as the sheer Uncanny Valley 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 Beastmen. 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 Beastmen 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.
  • Evil Redhead: Wells repeatedly mentions the fact that Captain Davis, the drunken, abusive schooner captain, has red hair. Admittedly he is a bully.
  • Everything's Better with Monkeys: Moreau first experimented on a gorilla to produce his first Beast Man. Later on, Prendick meets an Ape Man.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 beastfolk.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 grafting them human organs and 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 men 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.
  • 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.
  • Pig Man: Several of the beast men were made out of pigs or related animals.
  • Savage Wolves: Downplayed. There are several wolf people, but they do not seem to be as violent as the feline beasts.
  • Scavengers Are Scum: The nastiest of the Beast Folk was created from a hyena and a pig, both animals that will scavenge.
  • Shout-Out: Montgomery studied on Gower Street in London, which is the street that Charles Darwin lived on.
  • 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.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Moreau has hints of this.


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