Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Bio-Art: The Island of Doctor Moreau (novel).

Last week, I covered the 1977 film adaptation of H.G. Wells's The Island of Doctor Moreau. Having not read the book yet, I could not comment on the differences. If you want to see an island with beast people descend into chaos, this is the movie to watch.

Now I have read the book. I want my own copy of it for Christmas. It makes the movie look like crap by comparison, and I am not saying that simply because I have a vivid imagination. It is just that powerful. Anyone wanna donate? No? Oh well, onto the review.

First off, I was totally right to pick the 1977 version of Dr. Moreau when it came to film adaptations. If the afterword at the end of my edition of the novel was any indication, it is the only remotely watchable adaptation out there. Even then, there were some important differences from the book. In the book, the protagonist does not become a manimal, there was no sexy panther-woman, and the implications for society are clear as day. The added romance and the protagonist's regression were clearly there to make it more audience-friendly. So, too, was the blanket statement about human beings descending into bestiality (not in THAT way, but still). In short, a lot of what Wells was trying to get at was either distorted or lost entirely.

The basic story is still the same: Shipwrecked man finds himself on an island with beast-people, a mad scientist named Moreau, and his ambiguously gay associate Montgomery. The protagonist learns that Moreau has been creating human-animal hybrids and tries to talk Moreau into seeing some semblance of ethics. The manimal kingdom descends into anarchy once Moreau dies, and the protagonist leaves the island on a makeshift raft.

Moreau is the first mad scientist to operate entirely without remorse. He sees nothing wrong with what he is doing. He makes the rules for the monsters. In his own mind, he is GOD. The protagonist tries to reinforce his rules by the end of the story by, in the novel, saying that Moreau is not just an ex-person - he's still watching the manimals from above. (This was changed slightly in the 1977 movie.) Deep stuff like that rarely comes around nowadays.

The freaks on Moreau's island are not meant to be attractive, period. The book describes them as having several digits missing, distinct slouches,  being stupider than regular humans, and overall not being very good dates at all. Although Prendick, the protagonist in the novel, does affectionately mention that the female manimals are more modest than their male counterparts, it's not like he makes out with one or anything. These freaks are more akin to Frankenstein's monster than anything remotely beautiful. As the novel goes on, they become more and more feral thanks to their "stubborn beast flesh."

The movies all seem to miss the more personal perceptions of the strange island. At one point in the novel, Prendick and Montgomery comment about how normal or strange the manimals seem to them. To Montgomery, who has been on the island for years, humans are the weird ones. It really throws one's perception of 'normal' into perspective.

When the protagonist journeys back to London, he cannot help but see the humans there as manimals. He notes the similarity of most people going about their daily lives to herbivorous beasts (specifically cattle; compare 'sheeple.') During his brief time as king, he taught a monkey hybrid to repeat whatever he said with small distortions; this he compares to a priest spouting "Big Thinks," just like the monkey-man. The ending reads almost like something out of Nietzsche: much in us is still worm.

The Island of Dr, Moreau is to furries what Lolita is to pedophiles: HORRIBLY misinterpreted by the very fetishists it was trying to prevent to the point that it has its own cult within the subculture. (Note: I am NOT saying that all furries are pedophiles. I am just showing how far a fanbase can skew the author's intent.) I love blurring the lines between humans and animals as much as the next person, but after reading Dr. Moreau, any furry should thoroughly reconsider his/her position on the story. There's nothing good about letting one's inner beast loose according to H.G. Wells...no matter how inevitable the descent may be. 

I want to teach a class with this book. It is one seriously powerful piece of bioethics and horror. "Science gone horribly wrong" should be its own genre. Can we call it "biohorror," maybe?  I'll make a poll about it.

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