When the novel was written in 1896, European society was absorbed with concerns about degeneration, and Britain's scientific community was engulfed by debates on animal vivisection. Interest groups were even formed to tackle the issue: the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection was formed two years after the publication of the novel.
It begins with the protagonist, an upper class gentleman who was named Edward Prendick, finding himself shipwrecked in the ocean. A passing ship takes him aboard, and a man named Montgomery revives him. He explains to Prendick that they are bound for an unnamed island where he works, and that the animals aboard the ship are traveling with him. Prendick also meets a grotesque, bestial native named M'ling, who appears to be Montgomery's manservant.
When they arrive on the island, however, both the captain of the ship and Montgomery refuse to take Prendick with either of them, stranding him between the ship and the island. The crew pushes him back into the lifeboat from which they rescued him. When they see that the ship truly intends to abandon him, the islanders take pity and end up coming back for him. Montgomery introduces him to Doctor Moreau, a cold and precise man who conducts research on the island. After unloading the animals from the boat, they decide to house Prendick in an outer room of the enclosure in which they live. Prendick is exceedingly curious about what exactly Moreau researches on the island, especially after he locks the inner part of the enclosure without explaining why. Prendick suddenly remembers that he has heard of Moreau, and that he had been an eminent physiologist in London before a journalist exposed his gruesome experiments in vivisection.
The next day, Moreau begins working on a puma, and its anguished cries drive Prendick out into the jungle. As he wanders, he comes upon a group of people who seem human but have an unmistakable resemblance to hogs. As he walks back to the enclosure, he suddenly realizes he is being followed. He panics and flees, and in a desperate attempt of defense he manages to stun his attacker, a monstrous hybrid of animal and man. When he returns to the enclosure and questions Montgomery, Montgomery refuses to be open with him. After failing to get an explanation, Prendick finally gives in and takes a sleeping draught.
Prendick awakes the next morning with the previous night's activities fresh in his mind. Seeing that the inner door has been left unlocked, he walks in to find a humanoid form lying in bandages on the table before he is ejected by a shocked and angry Moreau. He believes that Moreau has been vivisecting humans and that he is the next test subject. He flees into the jungle, where he meets an Ape Man who takes him to a colony of similarly half-human/half-animal creatures. The leader, a large gray thing named the Sayer of the Law, has him recite a strange litany called the Law that involves prohibitions against bestial behavior and praise for Moreau. Suddenly, Moreau bursts into the colony, and Prendick escapes out the back into the jungle. He makes for the ocean, where he plans to drown himself rather than allow Moreau to experiment on him. Moreau and Montgomery confront him, however, and Moreau explains that the creatures, the Beast Folk, are animals he has vivisected to resemble humans. Prendick goes back to the enclosure, where Moreau explains to him that he has been on the island for eleven years now, striving to make a complete transformation from animal to human. Apparently, his only reason for the pain he inflicts is scientific curiosity. Prendick accepts the explanation as it is and begins life on the island.
One day, as he and Montgomery are walking around the island, they come across a half-eaten rabbit. Eating flesh and tasting blood is one of the strongest prohibitions in the Law, so Montgomery and Moreau become very worried. Moreau calls an assembly of the Beast Men. He identifies the Leopard Man (the same one that chased Prendick the first time he wandered into the jungle) as the transgressor. The Leopard Man flees, but when the group corners him in some undergrowth, Prendick takes pity and shoots him, sparing him a return to the operating table in Moreau's "House of Pain". Prendick also believes that, although the Leopard Man was seen breaking several laws such as drinking water bent down like an animal, chasing men (i.e. Prendick) and running on all fours. The Leopard Man was not responsible for the deaths of the rabbits, but it was the Hyena-Swine, the other most dangerous beast man on the island. He doesn't, however, tell anyone this. Moreau is furious that Prendick killed the Leopard Man but can do nothing about the situation.
As time passes, Prendick begins to deaden himself to the grotesqueness of the Beast Folk. One day, however, he is shaken out of this stagnation when the puma rips free of its restraints and escapes from the lab. Moreau pursues it, but the two end up killing each other. Montgomery falls apart, and having gotten himself quite drunk, decides to share his alcohol with the Beast Men. Prendick tries to stop him, but Montgomery threatens violence and leaves the enclosure alone with bottle in hand. Later in the night, Prendick hears a commotion outside; he rushes out, and sees that Montgomery appears to have been involved in some scuffle with the Beast Folk. He dies in front of Prendick, who is now the last remaining human on the island. After the death, Prendick notices the sky behind him grow brighter and sees that the enclosure is on fire. He realizes that he had knocked over a lamp while rushing out to find Montgomery and that he has no chance of saving any of the provisions located inside the enclosure. He suddenly decides to flee from the island but notices that Montgomery has burnt the only boats, in order to prevent their return to mankind.
He does not attempt to claim Moreau's vacant throne on the island, but he instead settles for living with the Beast Folk as he attempts to build and provision a raft with which he intends to leave the island. He lives on the island for 10 months after the deaths of Moreau and Montgomery. As the time goes by, the Beast Folk increasingly revert to their original animalistic instincts, beginning to hunt the island's rabbits, returning to walking on all fours and leaving their shared living areas for the wild. They also gradually cease to follow Prendick's instructions and eventually kill his faithful companion, a Beast-Man created from a dog. Luckily for him, eventually a ship inhabited by two corpses drifts onto the beach (it is heavily implied that these are the bodies of the captain of the ship that picked Prendick up, and a sailor, due to it being revealed in the book's introduction that said ship sunk, and due to one of the corpses ginger hair). Prendick dumps the bodies, gets supplies, and leaves the next morning.
He is picked up by a ship only three days later, but when he tells his story the crew thinks he is mad. To prevent himself from being declared insane, he pretends to have no memory of the year he spent between the first shipwreck and his final rescue. When he gets back to England, however, he finds that he is rigidly uncomfortable around other humans, because he has an irrational suspicion that they are all Beast Folk in danger of sudden and violent reversion to animalism. He contents himself with solitude and the study of chemistry and astronomy, finding peace above in the heavenly bodies.
- Edward Prendick - The novel's narrator and protagonist
- Doctor Moreau - A scandal-hit vivisectionist who has relocated to a remote island to pursue his experiments
- Montgomery - Moreau's assistant
- Beast Folk - Animals upon which Moreau has experimented in order to give them human traits. They include:
- M'ling - Montgomery's dog-based servant.
- Sayer of the Law - An unidentified Beast Man who is the keeper of the Law (a code of "non-bestial" behaviour by which Moreau insists the Beast Folk abide)
- Leopard Man - A leopard-based rebel who, in killing and eating a rabbit, breaks the Law.
- Hyena-Swine - A carnivorous hybrid of hyena and pig who becomes Prendick's enemy in the wake of Moreau's death.
The novel has been made into a movie on three occasions:
- Island of Lost Souls (1933 film) with Charles Laughton and Bela Lugosi.
- The Island of Dr. Moreau (1977 film) with Burt Lancaster and Michael York.
- This was turned into a novel by Joseph Silva and published by Ace.
- The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996 film) with Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer
- The Art of H. G. Wells, by Ricardo Garijo, is a 2006 trading card adaptation of three stories by Wells, the second of which is The Island of Dr Moreau.
- The third story in the Simpsons' Halloween episode Treehouse of Horror XIII (season 14 Ep. 1) spoofs the entire novel.
- The twenty-fifth and final episode of Sliders third season, This Slide of Paradise is based on The Island of Doctor Moreau
- Australian author Jack Heath wrote a short prequel to The Island of Doctor Moreau which suggested that Montgomery might be one of Moreau's creations. Heath's story (entitled Flesh) was first published on The Book Post in 2010.
- The Island of Dr. Moreau (stageplay) written by playwright Tira Palmquist.
In popular culture
- In a one-shot comic, Van Helsing: From Beneath the Rue Morgue, Gabriel Van Helsing battles with the creatures of Dr. Moreau. At the end of the book, Moreau escapes with one of his creations, stating that "the world lacks vision", and that he should "move to an island perhaps. Somewhere drastic, like... the South Seas...".
- The 1983 Oingo Boingo song "No Spill Blood" refers to the island's laws against animalistic behaviour and appears to directly quote Erle C. Kenton's 1933 film adaption of the novel, Island of Lost Souls.
- According to Devo's Mark Mothersbaugh, the call and response chorus from "Jocko Homo" ("Are we not Men? / We are Devo!") is also inspired by Island of Lost Souls.
- Monster Island, a playable area in the MMORPG Champions Online, features Dr. Moreau's son Phillipe who continues his father's research creating beast men (referred to as Manimals) of his own including a super-intelligent Gorilla named Dr. Silverback. Silverback has rejected his creator's ways and become a hero. The animals he created are more humanoid than the ones from the book and have included Stag Men, Bird Men, Cat Men, Rat Men, Gorilla Men, a Bear Man, a Rhino Man, and the game's version of a Hyena-Swine.
- Irish-American hip-hop band House of Pain take their name from Dr. Moreau's lab/surgery/torture room in the novel.
- The second series of Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill's comic series The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen features Doctor Moreau prominently. Moreau, having survived the events of the novel, has relocated to England at the behest of British Intelligence. He is revealed as the creator of anthropomorphic characters from Rupert Bear, Wind in the Willows and the stories of Beatrix Potter, among other series, and performs anachronistic research in biological warfare, one of which is used to kill the Martians. Prendick also appears and is shown to have gone insane due to his experiences on the island, still fearing humans to be Beast-Men in disguise. He developes the weapon that defeats the Martians ,H-142, made from anthrax and streptococcus.
- The tabletop roleplaying game d20 Modern features animal-human hybrid creatures called Moreaus.
- In The Simpsons episode "Treehouse of Horror XIII", there is an elaborate parody on the story, called "The Island of Dr. Hibbert". It involves multiple Simpson charactors becoming animal hybrids. It ends with Homer allowing himself to become a walrus as all animals do is mate and eat.
- Canadas, Ivan. “Going Wilde: Prendick, Montgomery and Late-Victorian Homosexuality in The Island of Doctor Moreau.” JELL: Journal of the English Language and Literature Association of Korea, 56.3 (June 2010): 461-485.
- Hoad, Neville. “Cosmetic Surgeons of the Social: Darwin, Freud, and Wells and the Limits of Sympathy on The Island of Dr. Moreau”, in: Compassion: The Culture and Politics of an Emotion, Ed. Lauren Berlant. London & New York: Routledge, 2004. 187-217.
- Reed, John R., “The Vanity of Law in The Island of Doctor Moreau”, in: H. G. Wells under Revision: Proceedings of the International H. G. Wells Symposium: London, July 1986, Ed. Patrick Parrinder & Christopher Rolfe. Selinsgrove: Susquehanna UP / London and Toronto: Associated UPs, 1990. 134-44.
- Wells, H. G. The Island of Dr. Moreau, Ed. Steven Palmé. Dover Thrift Editions. New York: Dover Publications, 1996.
- Wells, H. G. The Island of Doctor Moreau: A Critical Text of the 1896 London First Edition, with Introduction and Appendices, Ed. Leon Stover. The Annotated H.G. Wells, 2. Jefferson, N.C., and London: McFarland, 1996.
|40x40px||Wikisource has original text related to this article:|
- The Island of Doctor Moreau at Project Gutenberg
- Reading of The Island of Doctor Moreau
- A draft of the 1996 films screenplay, dated April 26th, 1994
- The Island of Lost Souls (1933) at the Internet Movie Database
- The Island of Dr. Moreau (1977) at the Internet Movie Database
- The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996) at the Internet Movie Database
- Jurassic Park: Horizontal Evolution by Harrison Mujica-Jenkins at latephilosophers.com
- Jörg, Daniele (2003). "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly—Dr. Moreau Goes to Hollywood". Public Understanding of Science 12 (3): 297–305. doi:10.1177/0963662503123008. Compares the three adaptations of the novel, focuses on the scientists and the science in the film, considering the year of the production and what was known about genes and cells at the time.