Monday, June 27, 2005


After the success of The Time Machine, Wells hurried to make a name for himself while he was still in the public eye. He wrote and published frantically, producing at least a book a year, and usually two or three.

Ideas came to him, he said, as in a dream: he would think of a subject, and images would float before his eyes. "I would discover I was peering into remote and mysterious worlds ruled by an order logical indeed but other than our common sanity."

So his next novel, "'>The Island of Doctor Moreau" was inspired by a single image---a man drifting in a boat, lost in the Pacific Ocean---and energized by Wells' admiration for the work of his friend, Joseph Conrad. It was also full of images suggesting his childhood nightmares prompted by the brilliantly illustrated pictures of jungle animals in books his father brought him when he was ill, and the screams of animals he never saw, the cattle, sheep and pigs penned up at the butcher's shop next door, awaiting their slaughter.

He plunged into horror on The Island of Dr. Moreau, releasing the demons in science that we have witnessed everywhere from routine massive needless testing of pain-inflicting chemicals on animals, and experiments on humans without their knowledge carried out in several countries, to mutations from nuclear radiation and the control of genes by faceless, relentless corporations.

There are advance echoes in Dr. Moreau of the insane pain the world experienced in the twentieth century's bombing wars, its many regimes of torture and terror, and murderous solutions. "I must confess I lost faith in the sanity of the world," says Well's witness to Moreau's experiments, "when I saw it suffering the painful disorder of this island."

After his experiences with the Beast People that resulted from Moreau's insane science on his isolated island ("perhaps the first really totalitarian regime imagined by Western man," Frank McConnell writes) he found that walking London streets he could not quite "persuade myself that the men and women I met were not also another, still passably human, Beast People, animals half-wrought into the outward image of human souls, and that they would presently begin to revert to show first this bestial mark and then that."

There is an evolutionary aspect to human meddling which Wells also anticipated. Wells' Dr. Moreau was the mything link between Frankenstein and biotechnology. The gene as we think we understand it today was yet in the future, but the idea of mutation was Darwinian. Dr. Moreau's grisly experiments to make animals more human was another way to monkey around with evolution, and for Wells to ask more questions about humanity. Biotechnology has a different agenda, but could have the same unintended effects as nuclear radiation: polluting the gene pool in unforeseen ways. In Wells' tale, the animal proved stronger.

The Island of Doctor Moreau was first filmed as "'>Island of Lost Souls" in 1933 with Charles Laughton and Bella Lugosi, with script by Philip Wylie, author of Generation of Vipers and When Worlds Collide. This is generally considered the best version and the one closest to Wells' novel.

It was remade under Wells' title in 1977 (again, it is the previous film rather than the novel that is adapted in the second version) with Burt Lancaster, Barbara Carrera and Richard Basehart, and again in '>1996 with Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer. In each succeeding version, the creatures makeup and effects got better and the films got worse.

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