This was a thoroughly creepy read. The book follows Edward Prendick, and Englishman who thrice managed to be adrift in the Atlantic in the course of one year. The first was due to a shipwreck that would leave anyone with PTSD, the second due to being the unwanted guest of a drunkard captain, and the third was self-inflicted out of utter desperation to get back to “humanity.”
Just when you think poor Edward’s troubles couldn’t get any worse, they get significantly worse. From nearly dying of thirst and starvation on the seas, to being on the brink of offering himself to the sharks after just two days back on land, the reader witnesses several occasions where Edward is ready to toss in the towel and prays for his own death. There is a great deal of death in the latter half of the story, though Edward comes out unscathed. Some of the death is caused by him directly, but much of it is a result of the island instinctively imploding on itself.
Dr. Moreau, an infamous biologist and megalomaniac, has sought refuge on a tiny island in the Atlantic where he can find peace and privacy for his progressive experiments of “re-shaping” animals into human form. He has a partner, Montgomery, who seems just as mesmerized by the doctor’s power as the creatures they create. Some are crosses between animals (though not by breeding–think instead of grafting a tree branch), while others are a single species altered to walk upright and to speak. Despite his relative success at playing God and making man out of beast, there is one area he can’t affect in the manner he desires:
The intelligence is oddly low, with unaccountable blank ends, unexpected gaps. And least satisfactory of all is something that I cannot touch, somewhere–I cannot determine where–in the seat of the emotions. Cravings, instincts, desires that harm humanity, a strange hidden reservoir to burst forth suddenly and inundate the whole being of a creature with anger, hate, or fear.
In short, Dr. Moreau couldn’t transplant a human soul into the creatures he was ripping to shreds and then piecing back together (all while conscious, of course).
To keep his creations from acting out and reverting to their animal instincts, Moreau trains them to abide by a number of laws. If a law is broken, the penalty is to return to Dr. Moreau’s work station, dubbed “The House of Pain,” for further alterations. If the disruption is severe enough, the creature will be killed as an example to the others. They both feared and worshipped Dr. Moreau. But once the creatures saw that their “god” was a feeble man, all hell broke lose.
I don’t want to give away more than I already have, but I will end with a disturbing quote from Edward Prendick, who managed to make his way back to England after a tumultuous and frightening year.
My trouble took the strangest form. I could not persuade myself that the men and women I met were not also another Beast People, animals half wrought into the outward image of human souls, and that they would presently begin to revert–to first show this bestial mark, and then that.