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Article ID: 14357

VoxAcct: 364018

Section: words

Age Group: Adult

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The Question of Dr. Moreau

Author: James Bulls
Posted: April 10th. 2011
Times Viewed: 2,735

I recently bought a copy of H.G. Wells’ classic “The Island of Dr. Moreau“. When I purchased the book, I thought it would be a fun trip in the way-back machine to the horror of yester-year, but the novel turned out to be both much better and much more than I expected. I anticipated Wells’ use of the novel to compare and contrast “human” and “animal” nature and also explore the relation of God to morality, but what I discovered is that the questions he presents through his writing are multi-faceted and defy a simple dichotomy of “human and animal” or “god and man.”

For those unfamiliar with the story, his novel tells the history of an English scholar and medical student, Edward Prendick, who is lost by tragedy at sea and then picked up by a merchant vessel sailing to an unnamed and uncharted island. Mr. Prendick is deposited on this island in the company of a shamed biologist Mr. Montgomery with the cargo of the ship: a gaggle of dogs, several crates of rabbits, miscellaneous cargo, and a caged puma.

Mr. Prendick discovers shortly that not everything on the island is as it seems and begins to doubt his hosts’ hospitality after accidentally witnessing Dr. Moreau vivisecting and physically rebuilding the previously caged puma into a form resembling a man. In horror, Mr. Prendick flees his hosts and runs into the island jungle where he finds himself in a primitive village.

This village is where all Dr. Moreau’s failed surgical reconstructions live and pass their days. These forsaken, cast-out creatures assume that Mr. Prendick is a new arrival and proceed to teach him the laws that support their society. In a pseudo-religious ritual, Mr. Prendick is made to sing in cadence the law as given to him by a particularly old and grotesque outcast named the Sayer of the Laws:

"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?"

Mr. Prendick remarks on this ritual:

"And so from the prohibition of these acts of folly, on to the prohibition of what I thought then were the maddest, most impossible, and most indecent things one could well imagine. A kind of rhythmic fervor fell on all of us; we gabbled and swayed faster and faster, repeating this amazing Law. Superficially the contagion of these brutes was upon me, but deep down within me the laughter and disgust struggled together. We ran through a long list of prohibitions, and then the chant swung round to a new formula: His is the House of Pain. His is the Hand that makes. His is the Hand that wounds. His is the Hand that heals. His is the lightning flash. His is the deep, salt sea. His are the stars in the sky."

After the ritual is completed, the Sayer of the Law gives Mr. Prendick a measure of explanation for the law as well as motivation to remember and follow the it:

“For every one The Want is bad, ” said the grey Sayer of the Law. “Some want to go tearing with teeth and hands into the roots of things, snuffing into the earth. It is bad. Some go clawing trees; some go scratching at the graves of the dead; some go fighting with foreheads or feet or claws; some bite suddenly, none giving occasion; some love uncleanness. Punishment is sharp and sure. Therefore learn the Law."

An outcast steps forward at this moment to tell a short story about how he refused to speak words and would only use animal sounds but was punished with a burning brand, at which others concur that “The Law” must be followed. Looking at this sequence in context to the obvious God-Mortal relationship established between Dr. Moreau and the pitiful inhabitants of his island, there are a number of intriguing questions, observations, and propositions that can be made:

The first is the nature of the outcast village. Here are these “manimals” living by a law that forbids and forcibly punishes their essential nature. Through no fault of their own, what were once natural animals living a presumably happy life, are now forced into an aberrant state and compelled to live by an unnatural law. From whence does this law come? Just because a law is given, is it just? Just because others follow the law, does that mean it is moral? Just because the law is supposed to be divine, does that make it righteous?

Human and animal natures are compared explicitly and implicitly several times, which leads the reader to ask, “Just what is human nature? Are we the same as animals? Better, worse, or just different?” Some groups – such as Anton Szandor LaVey's Church of Satan have already provided an answer to that question.

Dr. Moreau laments at great length that the bestial nature of his creations always returns and consumes the imprinted human mark. When the bestial qualities of the original animal begin to show through the sham human frame, Dr. Moreau casts the animal out of his compound and into the jungle to live with the other failed attempts; the comparison to Adam's and Eve's expulsion from the biblical “Garden of Eden” should be obvious.

In the Gnostic view of the Bible, Satan is interpreted as a force that exists from before creation. Satan brings enlightenment to Adam and Eve, thus freeing them from Yahweh’s jealous grip and forced state of ignorance. In this sense, Dr. Moreau casts his creations out into the jungle, away from his presence, because their bestial nature (akin to the forbidden fruit of legend) naturally compels them to disobey by failing to conform to his “human” standards.

Finally, the glaringly obvious comparison of Dr. Moreau to Yahweh leads one to ask if the God of Abraham is in fact a just and moral deity. If, as many claim, the Bible is the inerrant word of Yahweh, then one may presume to think that he is not a just and moral deity. Yahweh is described many times as a jealous, vain, vindictive spirit who kills entire nations to punish one person. He kills those who sin but blesses those who commit the same in his name – if you don't believe me, consider the story of the witch of Endor and her service to King Saul. Hypocrisy isn’t a divine virtue I would attribute to a supreme creator, but Yahweh flips (Matt. 26:52) and flops (Luke 22:36) to suit his needs.

Mr. Prendick does eventually return to his home in the United Kingdom, but returns a different man who sees the violence of animals in every person and the kindness of humans in every animal – and vice versa. The yelling crowds seem too much like the unsettled herd, and the only solace he finds is in nature and the contemplation of the natural, undisturbed order of things. Who or what is the God of Abraham to Mr. Prendick at the end of the novel? The question isn't precisely answered, but the reader is encouraged to imagine that the infinite, omnipotent, omniscient creative force does not suffer human frailties.

Like Wells’ novel, this article isn’t about proving a point but asking a question. After reading his novel, I have many questions and am forced to examine my own position on a number of issues. As a Reiki practitioner, I believe that there is a higher order than that which is known or perceived and that the world is innately good; however, after reading “Moreau, ” I ask myself the logical question: if the world is by default righteous, then why do wicked people choose behave so bestially?

Until the day when I transition and learn what lays across the veil, I have no conclusive knowledge if my beliefs in righteous choices and the purity of the spirit of life count for anything, but I can choose. Unlike the animals cruelly removed from their natural state and forced into an artificial mold of conformity, I can choose what I will do and how I will live. For now, I choose to be myself – nothing more, nothing less.


James Bulls

Location: Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario


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