Thursday, 18 May 2017

The Island Of Doctor Moreau - H G Wells


Jung called it 'synchronicity', meaning the underlying connection between disparate people, events, objects and places. The pattern of coincidences. I was listening to an album called Search And Destroy: A Punk Lounge Experience by a Swedish singer called Sofia and on it was an ambient version of the song Mongoloid by Devo who were mentioned in a book I was reading at the time called New York Rocker by Blondie bassist Gary Valentine where he said the line "Are we not men?" by Devo is taken from the 1930s film of H G Wells' novel The Island Of Doctor Moreau.
The following week I was talking to Stacia Blake, who used to dance on stage with Hawkwind and she pointed me in the direction of a second-hand bookshop I'd never been to before. In that bookshop I found a whole load of Michael Moorcock books who was, of course, once very involved with Hawkwind himself. But whilst there I also found a copy of Heart Of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, and a copy of The Island Of Doctor Moreau by H G Wells which, naturally, I bought. It felt as if I should.

I take it everyone knows who H G Wells is and some of the books he wrote? The Invisible Man? War Of The Worlds? The Time Machine? A fair few of us may have seen the film versions of these works but how many of us have actually read any of the books? I for one have never done so, for sure. I acknowledge there's not enough time in the world to read everything that's ever been written, but H G Wells? He's a classic, world-famous writer. I thought then, that it was time to put this right and it seemed as if Jung's theory of synchronicity (along with Stacia, the nude dancer from Hawkwind) was coming into play to make this happen.

The first thing to do was obviously to check out the "Are we not men?" line and the connection to Devo. And well, well, well. Gary Valentine wasn't wrong. There it was:
'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 Flesh nor Fish; that is the Law. Are we not Men? Not to claw Bark of Trees; that is the Law. Are we not Men? Not to chase other Men; that is the Law. Are we not Men?'
These lines are chanted-out by the Beast People, a tribe of crippled and grotesque animals who have been transformed into half-humans via the vivisection experiments of a scientist by the name of Doctor Moreau.
Cast out by his peer group in the scientific community of London due to his unethical methods, Moreau has set up camp on an isolated island in the Pacific where he is free to continue his pursuits without interference. Into the mix comes Edward Pendrick, a lone survivor of a shipwreck who, finding himself stranded on the island bears witness to the last days of Moreau's self-made, jungle kingdom.

Seeing as how The Island Of Doctor Moreau was first published in 1896, H G Wells was obviously years ahead of his time and for good reason is cited as 'a father of science-fiction'. The book entertains such themes as morality, man's relationship to animals, science, vivisection and - most importantly - the subject of pain in regard to man's perception of it applying to himself, other creatures and its role in the universe.
It's interesting to remember that Charles Darwin's The Origin Of Species had only been published just over thirty years earlier so the theory of evolution and natural selection was still relatively new when Wells wrote his book. The significance of this is shown in the way Wells looks at the link between animals and men purely through the prism of science, without bringing god and religion into the equation.

It's easy to see a lot of metaphors in The Island Of Doctor Moreau though whether they're intentional metaphors created deliberately by Wells is another question. Does Moreau symbolise God? Is Moreau's laboratory (referred to by the Beast People as 'The House Of Pain') a metaphor for the world? Is the whole book a critique of vivisection and a warning of what could happen if science is given free rein to do as it pleases?
There's a creeping feeling of sickness throughout the whole book and you realise once you've finished it that what you've just read isn't so much science fiction but a horror story. This then leads to an unspoken link between it and Joseph Conrad's Heart Of Darkness (published three years later) that has that same creeping sickness feel about it. In Conrad's book, Kurtz (as played by Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now, of course) like Moreau has also had free rein to create his own jungle kingdom; ending with Kurtz' dying words of 'The horror! The horror!'
Of the two, Conrad's is the better book but an underlying connection is there.

Swedish ambient Punk, Devo, Blondie, H G Wells, Hawkwind, Michael Moorcock, Joseph Conrad.
Synchronicity, in other words.
John Serpico

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