This short novel employs an old device, a bogus introduction to explain how the story that follows was found in the narrator’s papers at his death. The story itself exploits the well-known theme of the shipwrecked castaway, made famous by Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (1719). These are familiar materials, but H. G. Wells updates them by putting them in the context of the controversy over evolution that raged in his day. He presents Dr. Moreau as a cruel, white-haired Old Testament God.
Wells described The Island of Dr. Moreau as “an exercise in youthful blasphemy,” referring to Moreau’s attempts to reshape God’s creatures as humans. In this respect the novel compares to Mary Shelley’s tale of Victor Frankenstein’s unholy accomplishment in Frankenstein: Or, The Modern Prometheus (1818). Both novels are cautionary in warning of the consequences likely to follow when humans play God. The Greek understanding of hubris and Christian warnings against pride should have alerted Moreau to the danger of his game.
Wells himself, however, was not of one mind about the uses of human reasoning in changing the world. In the struggle between religion and science that raged in his day, he was a believer in the power of reason to banish superstition and produce a better world. His novel The First Men in the Moon (1901) dramatizes his faith in science and technology and the ways in which they can change the...
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