by Patch O'Furr
Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
The Island of Dr. Moreau: A Possibility, by H. G. Wells. Frontispiece by C.R.A. [Charles Robert Ashbee]. London, William Heinemann, April 1896, x + 219 [+ 1 + 34] pages, 6/-.
This is arguably the first “furry” adult novel, not counting the talking animals of children’s literature such as Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. (Or the adult Metamorphosis/The Golden Ass of Lucius of Apuleius, which was caused by a magic salve and the gods.) It was intended as an anti-vivisection polemic, and it made quite a stir when it was published, although not entirely for the reason that Wells intended. According to the introduction by Alan Lightman in a later edition (Bantam Classic, 2005), “Ranked among the classic novels of the English language and the inspiration for several unforgettable movies, this early work of H. G. Wells was greeted in 1896 by howls of protest from reviewers, who found it horrifying and blasphemous. They wanted to know more about the wondrous possibilities of science shown in his first book, The Time Machine, not its potential for misuse and terror.”
The public focused less upon the animal-men than upon Dr. Moreau’s callous vivisection experiments. In the novel, the physiologist comes across as an obsessed sociopath who cares only for his scientific research, and is oblivious to the pain he causes to his animal subjects. But to the public, he was a crazed monster. This image is clearly emphasized in the second motion picture adaptation, Island of Lost Souls (1932), in which Charles Laughton plays Dr. Moreau as a whip-cracking sadist who seems interested in his experiments only as a justification for his cruel tortures of his victims, and to create subjects whom he can rule as a god.