Dan Sandman

#20 The Island of Doctor Moreau

In Books, Fiction, Science Fiction on 12/05/2017 at 12:00 pm

#20 The Island of Doctor MoreauH.G. Wells second novel is about a vivisectionist whose name gives the book its title. On an island exactly resembling Nobel’s Isle, the obsessive Dr. Moreau (with the help of his alcoholic assistant Montgomery) is guilty of performing cruel experiments on living animals. As part of an autobiographical shipwreck narrative (think Vitctorian Robinson Crusoe), the stranded Pendrick delves into the island’s dark secrets, revealing the terrifying truth: Moreau has made himself Prospero to a host of Calibans.

In similarity to Wells’ other early novels, the grandfather of science fiction combines the tools of the scientific theorist with the tools of The Novelist [caps. to donate stress]. As part of an unsigned contract, the novelist is allowed to lie to his or her readers: making up a story which is a complete work of the human imagination. However, for this contract to work, the novelist must strive to convince the reader that the world imagined (envisioned firstly by the writer and secondly by the reader), is as real as the world perceived by the senses: touch, smell, sight and sound, etc. To achieve a convincing but also a beautiful reality, The Great Novelist [caps. again]–and H. G. Wells is one of the greatest to have put pen to paper–will evoke these senses using the incredible power of language. The great novelist will also employ tools found in other forms of prose; such as autobiography, history and scientific writing to convince the reader of their ability to tell a good lie.

However, unlike the autobiographer, the historian and the scientist, the novelist admits that every part of his or her work is imagined and therefore a complete and utter hoax. In this way, the novelist has much is common with the magician (whose work is to pull a rabbit out of a hat as if by magic). Like a wise person who goes to a magic show, it is the literary critic’s job to make sure that every party that signs the contract is in full and total knowledge that the fiction is a complete and utter falsehood. Whether one is reading H. G. Wells, Daniel Defoe or William Shakespeare; fiction is a work of the human imagination; using magic tricks to entertain our bodies, educate our minds and refresh our souls.

Other forms of writing, including religious and scientific texts, run contrary to this contract and encourage us to believe that they hold the truth within their pages: that Jesus really did walk on water or that time really is relative to space and velocity. For the wise literary critic, the absolute and undivided belief in religion or the power of physics to describe reality is as questionable as the methods employed by Dr. Moreau to convince his Beast People to follow him. Of course, all worthy religious and scientific thinkers would agree with this point to an extent (as would the majority of conscientious historians): at one extreme of the spectrum, our most questionable religious or scientific leaders are Prosperos (i.e. obsessed with a mission–or a commission–to guide the world’s Calibans to religious or scientific enlightenment, using just their powers of persuasion and their knowledge of magic); at the other end of the spectrum, other questionable thinkers, not just in science and religion but in all areas of thought and action (including politics and including business), are constantly questioning and debating what they do. But great artists, some of which write novels, are continually striving to make new works of art as part of a conversation both with themselves and with other artists. This is done by finding the correct balance between certainty and uncertainty; between the assertion of the self (touch, thought, beauty) and the self’s doubts concerning the real world (vivisection, shipwrecks, isolation).

In my personal view, poetry often comes closest to offering us a view of the truth; as do Prospero’s (Shakespeare’s) immortal words of farewell to the island (stage) upon which he walked and loved.

We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

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