All too human


illustrated by Mike Hoffman

Here’s a quick peek into the point of the upcoming book.

M’Ling is a lot different in the novel The Island of Doctor Moreau than in any version of the films. For thing, he’s made from “a bear, tainted with ox,” and is described as among the three biggest and most dangerous of the Beast Folk (the other two are the Leopard Man and the Hyena-Swine). He proves himself in combat several times and has nothing against the taste of blood.

The Beast Folk do not serve or work for Moreau and Montgomery. M’Ling is the only one who associates with them, having been adopted or trained into serving Montgomery. Each is arguably the other’s only friend, in an abusive way. Step by step, through the story, M’Ling becomes exposed to violence and blood, including licking the latter from his fingers and becoming all too interested in the bodies of fellow Beast Folk he’s killed in Montgomery’s defense.

M’Ling is one of the four textual protagonists in the story, which you can easily see if you read it and only it, rather than imposing films or popular references into it as you go. The other two are named above, and the fourth is given no name, although I call her the Panther Woman. In my upcoming book, I investigate the outlooks of the three human characters, all of them Englishmen who were at the University College of London, all of them scientists or science-trained; but I also examine the events to find the circumstances, problems, decisions, and fates of these four – and here to find the more developed and classical arcs of conflict, which are muted or truncated for the born-human characters.

If this were the “don’t meddle” story which it’s typically described to be, then this process might well end in Montgomery meeting his end at M’Ling’s hands, and teeth. But The Island of Doctor Moreau is not a “don’t meddle” story, and this doesn’t happen. M’Ling doesn’t “revert,” or go berserk toward any of the human characters. Despite these escalating horror-flick indicators, he stands by Montgomery through all dangers. Nor does he die “like an animal,” but all too exactly like a person – sodden drunk, disorderly, brawling over nothing, lacking in dignity.

It’s not the story you may think. In the novel, Doctor Moreau has failed in producing his ideal Rational Man – but he’s completely successfully produced people. All too well.



7 thoughts on “All too human

  1. Over at Facebook, Erik asked:

    In the first post you mention that the human protagonists are “University College of London” graduates. Is there something about this institution that differentiates them from the graduates of Oxford or Cambridge? I suspect that the influence of Jeremy Bentham is there. And the discipline of an institution dedicated to research into and application of science, rather than the theo-philosophical-political disciplines of the older universities. Are they gentlemen of significant leisure, like Darwin, or do they have to earn their pennies through doctoring or teaching or government service? Are there any refractions of what their contemporaries might have learned/begun researching in Paris or the German universities? How do they look at or practice “being a scientist” or “doing science” in a way that is different from “being a professor” or “furthering public knowledge”? I have not read the book since doing a half-assed reading as a 14 year-old after seeing one of the adaptations.

    Facebook post

    You’re right on track with “an institution dedicated to research into and application of science,” and it has everything to do with Thomas Huxley. Unlike Darwin, he was not born privileged and dedicated his life to reforming British education. Some of his best lectures were done for his weekly “For the working-man” public series. He’s almost single-handedly responsible for making science part of general education and for opening up scientific careers to people with the educational background rather than being a “man of leisure” or individually-patronized pursuit. The University College teaching & research lay at the heart of this whole effort and that’s where Wells studied and interacted with Huxley during the last years of the latter’s life.

    Also, by the 1890s the advantages and disadvantages of this endeavor were becoming clear, and “science school culture’s” faultlines were evident. One of the most severe lay between naturalist researchers and physiological researchers, what we’d call E&E (ecology, evolution, and behavior) and medical research today, e.g. the NSF and the NIH in the modern U.S. Another lay between the medical student and the academic world, as the former had become a privileged and motley bunch of semi-desperate, semi-wastrels, with often mercenary ideas about their career choice. Several others as well. These issues were especially harsh and trenchant regarding the treatment of animals in research, in which both Darwin and Huxley played a complex role.

    The human-born characters in the book are almost nothing like they appear in any of the adaptations. Moreau is based on several real-life physiology researchers (that’s also where his name comes from), and his POV is straight from their texts; even his references to evolution are cutting gibes at Prendick. His history with animal research is also topical and accurate. Montgomery is or was the classic fratboy med student. Prendick is the most privileged of them, having majored in Zoology with Huxley and (unlike Huxley) firmly committed to a progressive, rather sunny view of evolution. Through their interactions, which undergo several changes, the novel presents a highly-focused clash among these views toward and goals of scientific training.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I can see why a teen looking for monsters and mad scientists was a little disappointed by the book. I wanted grotesque horror, not a novel of ideas.


  3. And as to the on-going divisions in elite consent manufacturing:
    “Those universities are good. But it isn’t snobbery to point out that they aren’t as good as Oxford or Cambridge — second and fourth respectively in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings.”
    It isn’t Jacobinical to point out the products of those first two institutions have recently been responsible for mass murder abroad and immiseration at home.

    Liked by 1 person

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