Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Not a Vacation Spot

Cross posted at A Work in Progress

For all my talk of the romance of seaside villages and deserted islands, there is one place I would not like to visit--Noble's Island. H.G. Wells created a horrific place when he wrote The Island of Dr. Moreau (as a small side note, Penguin is reissuing many of Wells's works in lovely new editions with very helpful and detailed introductions).

The story of what happened to Edward Prendick when the ship he was in collided with another and sank, and the events that followed are written down in narrative form for us to read. And a dire story it is from beginning to end. How much shall I tell you? Was Edward lucky when after many days in a boat, starving, he was picked up by the Lady Vain? And what cargo was she carrying? Poor unfortunate creatures. Edward is saved by Montgomery and nursed back to health. When the ship drops Montgomery and his animals off, Edward is forced to go with them, much to his chagrin.

He isn't going to like what he finds there. And as in every story or movie where you know there are nasty things happening, what does our trusty narrator do? For sure he goes off to investigate. Actually what initially sets him off are the cries of utter pain from an animal behind closed doors. Edward cannot take it any longer, and who can blame him. However he is in for more of an education than he bargained for when he sets off across the island in search of peace and quiet. There are the most unusual people inhabiting it. Who are they and how did they come to be the way they are? What he doesn't know is that they are not humans who have been tampered with. They were once animals that have been reconstructed in man's image.
Vivisection. It is one of those words that I have heard and imagined that I knew what it meant.

viv-i-sec-tion (viv-uh-sek-shuh n) - noun.
1. the action of cutting into or dissecting a living body.

2. the practice of subjecting living animals
to cutting operations, esp. in order to advance physiological and
pathological knowledge.

I was actually enjoying this book, frightening though it may be, up until when Dr. Moreau explained and tried to justify his actions.

“But,” said I (Edward), “I still do not understand. Where is your justification
for inflicting all this pain? The only thing that could excuse vivisection to me
would be some application—”

“Precisely,” said he. “But, you see, I am differently constituted. We are on different platforms. You are a materialist.”

“I am not a materialist,” I began hotly.

“In my view—in my view. For it is just this question of pain that parts us. So long as visible or audible pain turns you sick; so long as your own pains drive you; so long as
pain underlies your propositions about sin,—so long, I tell you, you are an
animal, thinking a little less obscurely what an animal feels. This pain—” I gave an impatient shrug at such sophistry.

“Oh, but it is such a little thing! A mind truly opened to what science has to teach must see that it is a little thing. It may be that save in this little planet, this speck of cosmic dust, invisible long before the nearest star could be attained—it may be, I say, that nowhere else does this thing called pain occur. But the laws we feel our way towards—Why, even on this earth, even among living things, what pain is there?”
As he spoke he drew a little penknife from his pocket, opened the smaller blade, and moved his chair so that I could see his thigh. Then, choosing the place deliberately, he drove the blade into his leg and withdrew it.

“No doubt,” he said, “you have seen that before. It does not hurt a pin-prick. But
what does it show? The capacity for pain is not needed in the muscle, and it is not placed there,—is but little needed in the skin, and only here and there over the thigh is a spot capable of feeling pain. Pain is simply our intrinsic medical adviser to warn us and stimulate us. Not all living flesh is painful; nor is all nerve, not even all sensory nerve. There's no taint of pain, real pain, in the sensations of the optic nerve. If you wound the optic nerve, you merely see flashes of light,—just as disease of the auditory nerve merely means a humming in our ears. Plants do not feel pain, nor the lower animals; it's possible that such animals as the starfish and crayfish do not feel pain at all. Then with men, the more intelligent they become, the more intelligently they will see after their own welfare, and the less they will need the goad to keep
them out of danger. I never yet heard of a useless thing that was not ground out of existence by evolution sooner or later. Did you? And pain gets needless.

“Then I am a religious man, Prendick, as every sane man must be. It may be, I fancy, that I have seen more of the ways of this world's Maker than you,—for I have sought his laws, in my way, all my life, while you, I understand, have been collecting butterflies. And I tell you, pleasure and pain have nothing to do with heaven or hell. Pleasure and pain—bah! What is your theologian's ecstasy but Mahomet's houri in the dark? This store which men and women set on pleasure and pain, Prendick, is the mark of the beast upon them,—the mark of the beast from which they came!Pain, pain and pleasure, they are for us only so long as we wriggle in the dust."

And then it made me a tad bit sick. You should be careful what you do in life, sometimes it comes back at you and (well, to be blunt) bites you in the ass. I won't tell you about the demise of Dr. Moreau, or what happens when everyone is dead save Edward and the Beast Folk. You'll need to read the book yourself to find out and fill in the details. And I do recommend this book. While it wasn't always pleasant reading, it was a very good and a very sort of--edge of your seat story.

For a slim, little volume, and a very quick read, this book is packed with ideas. But then Wells, himself was packed with ideas. I would love to read more about him. Last year I read his The Time Machine, which was just as bleak, and now I will have to follow up with War of the Worlds (they were written in this order). This is a book that screams for discussion, which you can follow here (once the forum is set up), and you can read all the Slaves's posts here.


Stefanie said...

I had to laugh Danielle, Moreau's creation bit him in the ass and a few other places too!

Rebecca H. said...

I'm interested in his other books too -- Wells writes about things that seem so ... fundamental, basic, like what it means to be a human.

Anonymous said...

Stefanie--I guess I could have said it in a more literary way, but I was tired last night when I worked on this. It is descriptive though and rather fitting as well.
Dorothy--He does, doesn't he. And I never really considered reading him just thinking it was science fiction-y stuff which I would not be into. Must eat my words. I want to read more about him. I think Susan was reading about him and Rebecca West, so I hope she shares some of her thoughts.

Mike B. said...

Though Moreau's explanation was ridiculous and cruel, I think it was needed. We needed to see the rationale behind the 'madman' to realize that we were sane. (Whatever that means!)

I was going to make my post on Wells's writing and not the story. He had such perfectly crafted sentences that I would never have thought about in such a book.