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The Mysterious Island

mysterious_island coverThe Mysterious Island  was published in 1894 , a product of the mind of Jules Verne. Verne had been writing for  four decades before creating this masterpiece. Verne’s works are characterized by his immense love for science. He would consistently weave a great deal of current scientific theory into all of his works. The backdrop of this book has 5 men stranded on an island. Each of the men have some very enduring characteristics and former occupations, consequently allowing Verne to inform his readers about a variety of scientific study. It seems as though each chapter carries a different scientific theme. For instance,  Chapter 1 goes very in detail about the inner workings of hot air balloons, and yet chapter 2 shifts gears completely and educates the reader about geology and volcanic activity.

Screen shot of the 1961 movie rendition
Screen shot of the 1961 movie rendition

He uses a college-age natural historian named Herbert to explain to readers many of the concepts of the Linnaeus taxonomic system. Verne’s character, Pencroft, is a sailor. Pencroft, inevitably teaches readers  about cartesian map systems and the 19th century views about circumnavigation. As one of the five characters, Verne includes an Engineer. This character is a virtual super hero as he is an expert in metallurgy, chemistry, candles and lanterns, and farming. Verne also addresses the concept of Social Darwinism( Malthusian idealogy) as he introduces an orangutan in part 2 of the book and the orangutan becomes part of their society. He  makes it clear that the orangutan can achieve many of the same tasks as the black servant, Neb.

The book has been reproduced many times over the last century. The abridged version of the book is the best seller, as it is easier for kids to read with far less scientific jargon. Several hollywood movies have been made over the book, including the 2008 film, Journey 2: Mysterious Island. The latest movie was a box office hit worldwide. Regardless of the method that you ingest this work of art, it is fantastic. Many modern inventions and innovation in science and literature come from this novel and others by Jules Verne.

Demystifying Mystery Island

“Lastly, whatever may be the cause, our globe will become cold some day, but this cold will only operate gradually. What will happen, then? The temperate zones, at a more or less distant period, will not be more habitable than the polar regions now are. Then the population of men, as well as the animals, will flow towards the latitudes which are more directly under the solar influence. An immense emigration will take place.”(Verne1894,325)

I shall venture to say that, regardless of what our modern scientist and theorist have concluded about the end of the world, it is merely conjecture and propaganda. Any man, at this point, that goes against the prognostication of Jules Verne will eventually be shown incorrect. After all, how many great events and inventions did Verne dream up and place so systematically into his 58 novels? Many. Among his dragon_apollo11eagle01-lgprophetic ideas are the electric submarine, news cast, solar sails, lunar modules, skywriting, video conferencing, spaceship splashdowns, and the taser.(Nat Geo, 2011) Verne is regarded by many as the father of science fiction and has a nearly cult following of people who refer to themselves as Vernians. spaceship splashdownHis works have stood the test of time because of his smooth writing style, his ability to take readers on amazing adventures, and his use of expansive scientific research conveyed through his characters. Perhaps his greatest compilation of scientific knowledge occurs in his 1894 novel, Mysterious Island. I will attempt to briefly outline the plethora of scientific study that the book eloquently presents to its young readers, thereby allowing you to understand why it has had such an impact on science and innovation around the world.


Jules Verne

Jules Verne
Jules Verne

(1828-1905)Verne is considered by many, myself included, to be the greatest science fiction/adventure writer to grasp a pen.Verne was born to French bourgeois parents. Consequently, his father aspired that he should be trained as a lawyer in order to follow in his footsteps.(WikiVerne) Law school seemed to be going fine, but Verne was far more interested in writing. His Uncle, introduced him in several literary circles, giving way to his future connections and subsequent early success. Verne published his first minor sets of novels in 1851. In developing his unique style he began to spend many hours at Bibliotheque Nationale de France.(WikiVerne) It was there that he researched extensively the scientific theory and recent discoveries in geography that would fuel the amazing descriptions and background for his stories.(WikiVerne)

Original French Cover, Around the World in 80 Days
Original French Cover, Around the World in 80 Days

It wasn’t until 1863 that we see the first of the classic Vernian novels go into publication. Five Weeks in a Balloon is considered by most to be the first of around 20 masterpieces written by Verne. Verne’s works are characterized by amazing scientific and geographic detail. It is like you are reading straight out of a textbook. His levels of detail are second to none. Much of his scientific detail is so great that the reader can get caught up in the scientific jargon and explanations and lose track of the central theme of the book. Journey to the Center of the EarthMost of his books are now available in an abridged version, as to make them more enjoyable to children. Several of these works have been made into motion pictures over the last few decades. Great Vernian novels include, Journey to the Center of the Earth, Around the World in 80 Days, From the Earth to the Moon, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and The Mysterious Island.

HG Wells

Verne is considered a contemporary of H.G. Wells and Samuel Clemens. 20,000 leaguesMuch like Wells, Verne drew on the cutting edge science of his day, in his writing. Simon Lake, Alberto Santos-Dumont, Edward Hubble, and Richard E. Byrd, among many others attribute the origin of their love for science as being the writings of Verne. Verne wrote consistently for beyond forty years before “gradually failed and the end was hastened by a stroke of paralysis” (Washington, 1905) in 1905. His only son, Michel continued to released his works for two years after his death.(WikiVerne)  Michel had been born of the third love to his life. Ironically and in great similarity to H.G. Wells, Verne’s first love was his cousin, which married another man as selected by her parents.


The Mysterious Island

mysterious_island coverThe story begins with 5 men and a dog being uncontrollably steered, as passengers of a balloon, by  a hurricane off the Eastern American coastline. The passengers had found themselves in the balloon as a form of escape from a Southern encampment during the Civil War. The intent was to ride the balloon across the line to the safety of the Northern side. The hurricane was more than they had bargained for and the escapees now found themselves far out to sea with no sense of bearing of where they might be in the vast ocean. After days aloft, their balloon begins to lose air. The men begin to purge the vessel of all excess weight in order to keep it afloat, in hopes that they might find land. After all of their possessions had been emptied into the ocean, including the basket to the balloon itself, the men spot a land mass in just the nick of time. The men essentially crash-land on the land oasis. Upon arriving they realize that there are only four of them that have survived. It isn’t until days later that they are reunited with the fifth man and his faithful companion “Top”.

Top, the faithful companion
Top, the faithful companion

Verne carefully chose the personality characteristics and occupation of each character as to be able to convey as much scientific knowledge to the reader as possible. Mr. Harding is an engineer and officer in the Northern army. He is extremely smart, logical, and resourceful. Herbert is a young man, of college age, that has studied a great deal into the natural sciences. He seems to remember every single detail about every animal he has seen or heard about. Pencroft is a lifelong sailor who excels in knots,  navigation, and cultures around the world. Spillet is a reporter. He has had several adventures already, is a gifted writer and possesses a great deal of dexterity. Neb is the negro servant of Mr. Harding. He is a skilled cook, very loyal friend, and possesses a high degree of character.

Screen shot of the 1961 movie rendition
Screen shot of the 1961 movie rendition

The book explains, in great detail, how these men “colonize” the island that they have been marooned on. As problems present themselves, the colonists use ingenuity and scientific knowledge to overcome each situation. The men first have to determine whether they are on a colony or an island. The follow-up question to this deals with whether the island is inhabited by other humans. The men scientifically discover that they are on an island, and appear to be its only human inhabitants. Granite bluffThe men accept this new life and quickly develop a very positive outlook on their new situation. They begin to realize that, with the Captain’s vast engineering knowledge, they can create all of the luxuries of home by their own hands. They soon have an extravagant living area that is climate controlled and supplied with fresh running water. The men begin to farm their island by planting crops and capturing wild animals in pens for use as a food and clothing source. Their life is made much easier because of a vast knowledge of metallurgy, chemistry, and animal husbandry.

Part 2 of the book chronicles the men’s experience after they have been locked out of their own dwelling. As it turns out, the perpetrator was an orangutan. Upon once again gaining control of the domicile, the men decide to let the orangutan live and presume that he may actually become an active and useful member of their community.

Buoyancy and hot air balloon mechanics

The first major science explained to the reader in Mysterious Island is that of the mechanics of hot air balloons. This theme was recurring among many of Verne’s works, specifically the central theme in Around the World in 80 Days and Five Weeks in a Balloon. Among his description, Verne writes,

“Are we rising again?” “No. On the contrary.” “Are we descending?” “Worse than that, captain! we are falling!” “For Heaven’s sake heave out the ballast!” “There! the last sack is empty!” “Does the balloon rise?” “No!” “I hear a noise like the dashing of waves. The sea is below the car! It cannot be more than 500 feet from us!” “Overboard with every weight! … everything!”(Verne1874,3)

This is the opening line of the novel! Verne was fixated with human flight via hot air balloons and gas balloons. Just 90 years earlier, “Jean Francois Pilatre de Rozier, along with the Marquis d’Arlandes became the first humans to fly.”(Tretkoff, 2006) The Montgolfier brothers reasoned that if they could create a balloon and passenger carrying system with a total density less than that of the surrounding air, that the object would rise. Early designs of this contraption required riders to drop weight to decrease the density of the balloon as the air inside the balloon cooled or leaked out. It wasn’t until Ed Yost added an onboard heat source in the 1950’s when the significance of the ballast began to decrease.(Wiki, 2014). Verne’s greatest inspiration in studying balloon flight and including it as a part of most of his stories was a man named Felix Nadar. Nadar caused excitement in Verne after he first took photographs from high above the ground and later piloted the largest balloon ever flown, some 200,000 cubic feet.(Paul Lagasse, 2012) Verne writes of the passengers and their struggle to drop any items, inevitably decreasing the weight of the contraption. Their need to decrease the weight of the balloon becomes so drastic that the men actually cut the basket from beneath the balloon. Verne never refers to the concept of density by name, but essentially defines buoyancy and explains the adjustments that the captain makes to the ballast in order to keep the balloon afloat.

Geology and Plate Tectonics

tectonicsThe second major scientific concept that Verne examines in extreme detail is geology and plate tectonics. As the four marooned passengers survey their new surroundings for the first time, Verne notes,

“But on beholding the convulsed masses heaped up on the left, no geologist would have hesitated to give them a volcanic origin, for they were unquestionably the work of subterranean convulsions.”(Verne1874,43)

James Hutton
James Hutton

In subsequent conversation throughout the book, there is constant mention of different rock type and classifications, and the form in which each type comes about. Nearly a century earlier, James Hutton had released 25 years of work to the Royal Society.(Edmond A. Mathez, 2000) Modern geology regards Hutton as the “father of geology” for the findings of this study. Hutton suggested that a great amount of subterranean heat was the cause for rises in the Earth’s surface, rock formations, granite, basalt, and mineral veins. Hutton’s theory further went on to speculate the Earth was far older than the 5,000 years than many Biblical historians claimed.(Edmond A. Mathez, 2000) Though most of the geological knowledge of Verne’s day came from Hutton, it was not his greatest geological inspiration.

“Louis Figuier (1819-1894), a contemporary and compatriot of Verne, was a prolific writer on scientific and technological matters for the general public. His La Terre avant le déluge (1863: The World before the Deluge) sold an “unprecedented” 25,000 copies in four French editions in less than two years. Much of the scientific information in Verne’s novel was taken directly from this work.”(John Breyer, 2003)

Breyer goes on to state, “Exact numbers are duplicated and lengthy lists are reproduced in the same order. The borrowing is widespread and blatant.”(John Breyer, 2003) Breyer alludes to the fact that Verne more or less puts all of the information and statistics into “literary form”.(John Breyer, 2003)


Carl Linneaus
Carl Linnaeus
Chuck Darwin

Taxonomy, the systematic classification of living organisms, is the most widespread and prolific scientific concept found in the book. With each turn of the page, a new species is identified and at least a partial taxonomic classification is given. Carl Linnaeus(18th century) is considered the father of taxonomy. Linnaeus created a system of organizing creatures based on similarities, in an attempt to determine the closeness of relationship between any two given animals. This method of organization was extremely prevalent in Verne’s time, especially given that Darwin had recently published On the Origin of Species. Verne, with the exception of a few Social-Darwinism concepts that I will address later, tends to lead us down a path contrary to evolution in both parts I and II of the story. This is evidenced as the species that are observed throughout the first eleven months on the island are easily identifiable by Herbert, as they are an exact specimen of the animals and plants that he has studied for the previous few years. Citing an example,”in a marshy part of the forest, a bird with a long pointed beak, closely resembling the king-fisher, but its plumage was not fine, though of a metallic brilliancy. “That must be a jacamar,” said Herbert,”.(Verne1874,81) This contradicts Darwinian evolution as the island is 7,000 miles from the point in which they departed  and half way across the globe from the known population of some of the species. The island should definitely allow for speciation and mutation by natural selection because of the isolation of the animals and their limited population. Verne does take a shot at Darwinian evolution as he introduces an orangutan near the start of part II of the book. In time, this orangutan becomes a very close companion of Neb, the negro. It is heavily implied at that point, that the two become very close either because they are more closely related or they are similar in their mental ability. No where, prior to this point of the book, did Verne lend us a notion that the negro was of diminished mind or on any different mental level than the writer, sailor, or student. We must conclude that Verne is essentially making the orangutan a very small step below the humans, very capable of doing most of the same tasks as the average man.


“Now Cyrus Harding wanted iron, and he wished to obtain it as soon as possible. The ore which he had picked up was in itself very pure and rich. It was the oxydulous iron, which is found in confused masses of a deep gray color; it gives a black dust, crystallized in the form of the regular octahedron. Native lodestones consist of this ore, and iron of the first quality is made in Europe from that with which Sweden and Norway are so abundantly supplied. Not far from this vein was the vein of coal already made use of by the settlers.”(Verne1874,227)

Samurai Sword

Yet again, Verne has done his research.Through the intelligence of the captain, Verne is presenting the reader with the basics of metallurgy. Metallurgy is a domain of materials science and of materials engineering that studies the physical and chemical behavior of metallic elements and their mixtures, which are called alloys. (Science Daily, 2014) Proper use of the principles of metallurgy do, in essence allow the colonist to forge weapons, nails, and other extremely useful metal objects. This science was not new during Verne’s epoch, but instead has gradually evolved throughout the history of the world. It has not been a linear progression, but rather a series of ebbs and flows, an obvious consequence of trade secrets, skilled artisans, and war. Among the greatest cultures regarding their metallurgy skills include the ancient Japanese, Germans, and America through the industrial revolution. A societies livelihood often depended upon the skill of their greatest blacksmith. Sword fights would have often been decided by the quality of steel, as would gunfights be decided by the precision of the metal in their barrel. Our modern material scientist have added carbon fiber and nano-tubes to the traditional metals of metallurgy. As technology progresses, we gain a new understanding of the particular properties of each metal and alloy. It would be superfluous to say that our knowledge of the subject and thereby quality of our steel increases with each passing generation. This is primarily because, with the exception of depleted uranium alloys, our steel is not as high quality as that which has been used to make Samurai swords for thousands of years.


“When the heap of pyrites had been entirely reduced by fire, the result of the operation, consisting of sulphate of iron, sulphate of alumina, flint, remains of coal, and cinders was placed in a basinful of water. They stirred this mixture, let it settle, then decanted it, and obtained a clear liquid containing in solution sulphate of iron and sulphate of alumina, the other matters remaining solid, since they are insoluble. Lastly, this liquid being partly evaporated, crystals of sulphate of iron were deposited, and the not evaporated liquid, which contained the sulphate of alumina, was thrown away.”(Verne1894,263-264)

Svante Arrhenius

As the book progresses, we find that the Engineer’s knowledge really knows no limits. Verne explains so many concepts of basic reaction chemistry through the words and actions of Mr. Harding. Chemistry of this era was centered around reaction chemistry, the general nature of ionic salts, and production of the salts as a means to drive the industrial revolution in Europe. Verne’s contemporaries made this era of history a true gold mine for scientific innovation and discovery. Among these great ideas was Ion Theory, which was developed by Savante Arrhenius in 1883, modified by Van’t Hoff in 1885 and ratified again in a paper by Arrhenius in 1887. Arrhenius used, as a header in his 1887 paper, “MODERN THEORY OF SOLUTION”.(Svante Arrhenius, 1887) His theory has stood the test of time as it has given the following characteristics to all solutions:

  1. Heat of Neutralization in Dilute Solutions
  2. Specific Volume and Specific Gravity of Dilute Salt Solutions
  3. Specific Refractivity of Solutions
  4. Capillary Phenomena
  5. Conductivity
  6. Lowering the Freezing Point (Svante Arrhenius, 1887,59-66)

Verne was well versed in his study of Arrhenius and Van’t Hoff at the time of this writing and his knowledge of the subject is very evident throughout the book. It can be discerned that Verne felt that nearly all aspects of human life could be advanced through the study of and knowledge of chemistry.

 Modern Adaptations

Verne’s novels are amongst the most widely translated literature in history.  The modern era has seen several of his greatest works converted into movies. Mysterious Island is no exception. The most recent adaptation was produced in 2008 by New Line Cinema. The movie, starring Dwayne Johnson, is centered around a boy and his stepfather and their quest for the island of Vernian lore.  Once the family and two other passengers find the island, Dwayne Johnson reasons that the island is sinking into the sea. He makes this conclusion based on his previous work on soil liquefaction, the process where soil loses its strength and stability because of tectonic shifts. Based on this small scientific inclusion into the movie, the group hastily leaves the island aboard Nemo’s submarine. The movie is a great adventure, and wholesome family fun, but is completely void of the romanticism of science that is found in the original book.

Mysterious Island is the greatest piece of scientific romance ever produced. Verne has given us a book that is eloquent in its language, complex in its content, and effective in its conveyance of these topics. No other book, both leads a reader on an amazing adventure and educates them on some of the great scientific topics. Verne wrote for the pure romance he found in science, not for a political statement or a hidden agenda. The impact of his writings are seen over the last century through different innovations in science and in literature. With everyday that goes by, more Vernian ideas come to fruition. Make sure you’ve got a good coat, Vernian winter is coming…

For more reading on current Vernian society in our part of theworld, please visit:

For a full list of Jules Vernes published materials, please visit:

A free digital copy of this book is available for your convenience:


Works Cited

2013. Jules Verne.

Jules Verne. 1874. The Mysterious Island. Goodbooks Classics.

Paul Lagasse. 2012. The Man Who Inspired Jules Verne.

Ernie Tretkoff. 2006. November 1783: Intrepid physicist is first to fly. American Physical Society.

Edmond A. Mathez. 2000. James Hutton: The Father of Modern Geology.

John Breyer & William Butcher. 2003. Nothing New Under The Earth: The geology of Jules Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth. Earth Sciences History 22: 36-54.

2014. Hot air balloon.

1905. Jules Verne is Dead. Washington, D.C.: Washington Post.

2014. Metallurgy. Science Daily.

Svante Arrhenius. 1887. On the Dissociation of Substances Dissolved in Water. 47-55.

National Geographic. 2011. 8 Jules Verne Inventions That Came True (Pictures).

Atomic Comic : Atoman

Picture the scene. February, 1946…Little Joey Smith walks into the local drug store with his dad. It’s a bustling time, Harry Truman had been sworn in to the Oval Office months ago, following the death of FDR. Dad has a great job, working the assembly line in the ammunition factory down the road. Today is a special treat, Joey’s dad has promised him a comic book if he did well in his studies first semester. He looks in bewilderment as his eyes scan the shelf for that one amazing journey. Then he spots it…ATOMAN.

ATOMAN Vol 1, Feb 1946
ATOMAN Vol 1, Feb 1946

Now that looks like a real hero. He lays the pennies on the counter and smiles excitedly as he exits the store. He opens the book to find a picture of his favorite scientist, Dr. Albert Einstein, in the middle of the page. The story begins as the president has commissioned a government agency to collect the greatest scientist and researchers to work toward developing nuclear power. According to the government

Nuclear power could be great if used correctly
Nuclear power could be great if used correctly

agents, this power could be so great that we would not even have to pay our electric bills again, but in the wrong hands it could cause a great deal of death and devastation. The family had heard the man on the radio talking about “Little Boy” and “Fat Man” and Joey wondered if this was the type of death and destruction the agents warned of.

As Joey flips through the pages, he comes upon an evil man, Mr. Twist.  The villain was wanting to get his hands on the secret formula for nuclear power. Mr. Twist was developing an evil plan to steal these secrets by putting a bug on one of the scientists that was working in the top secret lab. His plan is a success. The diabolical character then attempted to blackmail the scientist into coming to work for him in order to create a nuclear power plant. When the scientist refuses, the evil henchmen throw him from the top of the sky scraper. As the scientist falls to the ground, he realizes he has landed on his feet and is still alive. The scientist rationalizes that  he has imagesomehow developed some sort of special power, which includes amazing strength and the ability to move at the speed of light. He speculates he has become radioactive, just like the famous scientist Marie Curie. The heroine quickly sews together a suit, as to keep his identity a secret from villains. The hero then goes back to Mr. Twist’s penthouse to retrieve the secret documents. Upon arrival, he rescues a female scientist by traveling, essentially, at the speed of light. The scientist, now turned superhero, is able to move imagearound exactly as Einstein had explained in his theory of relativity several years ago. An explosion happens in the penthouse and he is able to reach and shield the damsel before the explosion and flame travel to her.  Atoman saves the girl, keeps the secrets of nuclear power intact, and kills all the bad guys in his first day on the job. Truly, a new superhero has been born….Joey excitedly wonders what next month’s issue will bring.

Atom: Clash of the Titans

This video was produced by the BBC in 2010. It is narrated by  Jim Al-Kahlili, a nuclear physicist who knows his stuff and is an awesome public speaker. The video is meant as an overlook of Atomic Theory, but more importantly it is a historic look over the wrestling of some of the greatest minds in history , over some of the key concepts of the atom. The video details the 1927 Solvay Conference,the greatest meeting of minds our world has ever seen. The conference was divided into two camps, one led by Einstein, and the other by Heisenberg and Schrodinger.


It is a bit lengthy, but definitely worth your time.

Vivisecting The Island Of Dr. Moreau

H.G. Wells

H G Wells     Herbert George Wells came into this world in the year 1866, September 21st to be exact. He came from humble beginnings, with a mother who was a lady’s maid and a father who was a shopkeeper and professional cricket player. Needless to say, Wells’ family was far from rich. Consequently, he often endured the hardships of poverty as a child. With his mother being a modern day house-maid, she took up a strict view of puritanical religion and forced it, with its ideas of condemnation for sinners to hell, upon Herbert as a child. With this scary idea of burning in hell vivid in Wells’s imagination, he quickly deserted the idea of God and religion claiming when he was twelve that “suddenly the light broke through to me and I knew this God was a lie.” (WellsExper) With financial burdens on his family due to his father’s inability to play cricket, Wells’s mother forced him into being a draper’s apprentice, which he sincerely hated (Online-Lit). After serving as a draper’s apprentice for a few years, he eventually quit because he could stand it no longer. He was fortunate to get a scholarship to the Normal School of Science in London in order to further his education .(Online-Lit)
Thomas Huxley

H.G. Wells life was basically transformed by the professor Thomas Huxley, whose views on Darwinian evolution shaped the foundation of Wells beliefs for the rest of his life. Wells even claims, “that year I spent in Huxley’s class, was beyond all question, the most educational year of my life.”(WellsExper) Although it would seem that H.G. Wells would go on the be a scientist, Professor Huxley retired after Herbert’s first year of college and he lost interest in science, becoming interested in literature instead. Literature did not seem to be a strength for him either, as he ended up failing out of the Normal School of Science after his third year. Wells struggled to make ends meet and the only teaching job he could find was at a boarding school in Wales that was rather inferior (Harris 19). While teaching he was accidentally hit by a student in a soccer game, which crushed his kidney and pulverized a blood vessel in his lung (Harris 19). While recovering from this accident, he was diagnosed with Tuberculosis and informed that he would soon be dead. He didn’t end up dying and through his recovery period he had the opportunity to read a large amount of literature from a library he had access to through his mothers work as a house maid (Harris 20). His exposure to old literature is what set the stage for his ideas of writing scientific literature in a literary prose. This writing style would be evident for the remainder of his life and secure his place in the pages of history. His first major success in science-fiction writing (not actually referred to as science-fiction at this point but actually scientific romantics), proceeded directly after his exposure to this literature. It was entitled, The Time Machine. This first work was an instant success and his writing career seemed to take off from there. His roots in the scientific community, as well as the involvement in the literary culture of his present day are what propagated the influential effect that his writings had on the public and on science as a whole (Harris 22). In this book in particular, Wells expresses both his views on evolution, as well as his ideas about the effectiveness and importance of vivisection. Although it may seem that through the eyes of Prendick, H.G. Wells was not in support of vivisection. In all actuality though, Prendick’s views can be seen as analogous to the ideas of the world view as a whole, while the ideas from Dr. Moreau reflect Wells personal feelings on the matter, as well as the work of Claude Bernard. Wells’s views on vivisection are slightly hard to decipher, but from his Text-Book of Biology the he published in 1893 you can see his hostility towards the enemies of vivisection (WellsText).

“ As a master of poker-faced fantastic narrative, Wells could start off with a serious discussion of a curious aspect of some contemporary scientific subject—for example the fourth dimension or the habits of deep-sea squid—and then modulate effortlessly into a tale of exciting events that might have seemed rather improbable if the read had not already been hooked by his sober, well informed presentation of scientific fact and theory.” – Mason Harris

The Island of Dr. Moreau novel begins as Edward Prendick finds himself shipwrecked. After days afloat upon the ocean, a ship, the Lady Vain, fortuitously approaches and he is saved by a doctor aboard named Montgomery. While aboard, he learns that their destination is a small island where Montgomery and his slew of strange animals will be docking. Upon arrival to the island, both the captain of the Lady Vain and Doctor Moreau, who we learn is Montgomery’s mentor on the island, refuse to take responsibility for Prendick. Consequently, he is forced back into the same life raft in which he had been previously rescued and the Lady Vain sails into the horizon. The islanders soon realize he has nowhere to go and take pity on him. Rescued, yet again, he is then officially introduced to Doctor Moreau and given a room in an outer portion of the inhabitants enclosure. Immediately, Prendick realizes that the inner door of his room is locked, preventing him from exploring further into the enclosure. This discovery leaves him curious and a bit unnerved.

        The next morning on the island, Prendick is awakened by the cries a creature being tortured. The pain and suffering that Prendick hears in those cries forces him as far away from the enclosure as possible. Deep into the jungle and quite distanced from the disturbing noise, he begins to observe creatures that resemble humans but have an uncanny animalistic quality as well. Prendick returns to the enclosure and confronts Montgomery about the unnatural creatures he has witnessed.

        The next day, Prendick awakens and discovers that the inner door of his room has been left unlocked. He enters the room only to find the mysterious creature, who is now in a half-human/ half-animal form lying heavily-bandaged on the table. Prendick’s first conclusion is that Moreau is vivisecting humans and further speculates that he is to be the next victim of Moreau’s research. Running for his life into the jungle, he soon meets up with many of these half-human/ half-animal creatures. He learns of the strange law that governs all of their lives and is soon interrupted by Moreau and Montgomery. He to the jungle hiding as best he can from whom he believes to be a crazed scientist performing experiments on humans. Moreau and Montgomery again catch up with him and explain the creatures, or Beast Men, to him. Prendick learns that the animals have been vivisected to resemble humans, not vice versa, and returns with them to the enclosure to learn of Moreau’s past and motivation for experimentation.

Some time passes on the island until one day, while out, Montgomery and Prendick come upon a half-eaten rabbit. This finding is very worrisome to the men because Moreau’s law strictly prohibits these types of actions of beast men. A meeting is soon called in which all of the creatures assemble to discuss this offense. Leopard Man is identified as the culprit in the slaughtering of the rabbits and escapes into the jungle where he is ultimately hunted down and shot by Prendick. This angers Moreau, nonetheless Prendick feels he made the right decision by not allowing Moreau to take him back and try to operate and remove the animal instinct that the Leopard Man exhibited.

Time passes by quickly and one dreadful day the puma that Moreau had been working on, breaks free from its restraints and flees into the jungle. Moreau runs frantically after his latest creation in hopes of catching the beast, but is soon found dead in the jungle alongside the puma man.

After the death of Moreau, Montgomery becomes irrational and speculates in his drunken state that the only way to fully turn the into men is to let them drink as men drink. He leaves the enclosure to find the Beasts while Prendick stays behind. Later that night, Prendick is awoken by a noise outside. When he leaves the enclosure he sees that the Beast Men and Montgomery have built a bonfire on the beach and have then proceeded to get into a drunken fight. As Prendick rushes to the scene, Montgomery dies right before his eyes. He is now alone on the island with the Beast Men.

For a while, Prendick lives on the island with the Beast Men who slowly begin to revert back to their animalistic ways. Not satisfied this way of living, or confident that the Lady Vain will return for him, he formulates a plan to build a raft and sail away from the island and its strange inhabitants. While doing this, a small boat carrying only two dead men, drifts onto the beach. He prepares himself to leave the awful island of Dr. Moreau and sails the next day.

The story ends as Prendick is picked up a mere three days later. Prendick’s account of the island and chronicle of the previous year lead everyone to believe he has gone mad. Trying to prevent being charged with insanity, he tries to forget the horrid year he spent on the Island of Dr. Moreau and lives the rest of his life in a state of complacency.

Vivisection instruments

Vivisection is essentially the experimental surgical processes that are usually performed on living creators, especially on animals. The term “vivisection” is derived from Latin; “vivus” (alive) and “sectio” (cutting), thus is vivisection.

“It is a clumsy and misleading name for experimentation on animals for the sake of the knowledge to be gained thereby. It is clumsy and misleading because it means literally cutting up alive and trails with it to most uninstructed minds a suggestion of highly sensitive creatures, bound and helpless, being slowly anatomized to death.” (Wells 221-30) experimental surgeries are performed on living creatures with ambition to discover a new cure for disease, or with intentions to benefit those of the human race in some way. Ethical concerns of its practice have been largely debated for centuries, even to this day. In most cases, vivisectionists inflicted great pain on their fully awakened specimen(s) and many people view this as cruel and inhumane in nature.


Applications of Vivisection time, the fight against sickness and disease has continued incessantly. Medical research has proven to be essential, rather than relying on miracle or chance, in achieving optimum human recovery, health, and wellness. To do this, it is necessary to study the human body’s cells, tissues, organs, and how all of these parts work and interact with one another first. At the same time, the elucidation of the mechanism and cause of the disease is required to be examined. Consequently, these two factors have spurned further developed of medical technologies and pharmaceutical drugs. This is further complicated as we have a moral and scientific  obligation to determine whether or not side effects will develop and diminish or eliminate these possibilities to the best of our abilities

1683333Studies using humans as test subjects are quite restricted. So, unavoidably researchers will seek to sacrifice animals for testing purposes and vivisection. It is similar to why we would use an animal as food, in the way humans live at the expense of animals. studies are very useful in the study of medicine. The main reason for the pursuit of knowledge obtained from animals is so that it can also be applied to human beings for our benefit. example, during the 20th century, reduction of child mortality and life expectancy have improved significantly. Over various fields of medicine, the treatment of vitamin deficiency, bacterial infection antibiotic treatment, management of diabetes, discovery of insulin, vaccination for smallpox, diphtheria, measles, etc. have been improved. The development of new drugs, anesthesia, cancer treatment, heart disease, development of pacemakers, management of high blood pressure, arteriosclerosis, organ transplants, care of Parkinson’s disease, and treatment for AIDS and viral diseases. There are too many to list in this short blog.  Advances in medicine and medical care have had numerous breakthroughs and it may not be an exaggeration to say that there is no medical treatment that has not been based on animal experimentation in some form.


Claude Bernard
Charles Bernard

Claude Bernard was a French Physiologist who made several very important discoveries in the field of experimental medicine and physiology. The reason he is extremely relevant in association with The Island of Doctor Moreau, is because of his use of vivisection. His practice of vivisection without the use of anesthetics is essentially depicted as the role of Dr. Moreau in this fictional story. Bernard was persecuted and often times ridiculed for the practice of vivisection, nonetheless he stuck to his guns by always using scientific research and medical discoveries of importance for justification of the testing on live animals. Claude clearly states in his work, An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine, “without this mode of investigation, neither physiology or scientific medicine is possible; to learn how man and animals live, we cannot avoid seeing great numbers of them die, because the mechanisms of life can be unveiled and proved only by knowledge of the mechanisms of death.” (Bernard) Bernard’s passion for scientific research was fueled by finding answers to questions about different mysteries of our everyday life. Claude’s fascination with experimental medicine led to many personal discoveries including the idea of milieu interieur (principle grounds for homeostasis), the importance of the pancreas to the  digestive system, and glycogen production in the liver (Wiki).

“A physiologist is not a man of fashion, he is a man of science, absorbed by the scientific idea which he pursues: he no longer hears the cry of animals, he no longer sees the blood that flows, he sees only his idea and perceives only organisms concealing problems which he intends to solve. “ ~ Claude Bernard

Louis Pasteur
Louis Pasteur

Louis Pasteur, the famous biologist famous for creating the germ theory, was also an avid vivisectionist. In order to test his antiseptic agents and disinfectants on currently infected tissue, he would often times inflict wounds and surgical lesions on animals. Pasteur was also a good friend of Claude Bernard, and in association the two came up with the idea of Pasteurization, which is used to kill microorganisms in food. Although friends, Pasteur and Bernard varied in the way they practiced vivisection. Pasteur was much more partial to the ethical treatment of the animals, always recommending anesthesia to ease the suffering of subjects if possible (Franco 253) Pasteur was still criticized by anti-vivisectionists, but it was much less than the criticism Bernard received from his vivisections without anesthetics.

Evolution of Mario
Jean-Baptiste Lamarck

Evolution is a major theme presented in this book. The idea of evolution dates back to the ancient Greeks, however, during the time that this book was written, two ideas regarding evolution were prominent. Jean-Baptiste Lamarck was a French naturalist that believed that evolution was driven on a need-based system. example, if a giraffe’s neck were not long enough to reach certain leaves, then it would stretch out its neck, which would cause its neck to elongate. The giraffe would have a longer neck after stretching it, and that trait would be passed on to its offspring. Lamarck also believed that evolution has led up to humans. Lamarck’s ideas influenced people for years, and were widely accepted until the 1950’s.'s%20Finches.gif
Darwin’s Finches

Charles Darwin’s idea of Natural Selection also changed how people viewed evolution. Darwin developed his theory of Natural Selection while on a voyage on the HMS Beagle. While on the voyage, he observed several species of finches on the Galapagos Islands. Darwin noticed that the finches had different types of beaks. He also observed that each beak type was specialized for a certain type of environment. The observations that he made on the island helped him develop this theory of natural selection. Natural selection is the process by which animals that are more acclimated to an environment are able to reproduce more. Darwin also believed that the finches he observed all evolved from a common ancestor. Darwin constructed a tree in which branches on tree represented species that we see today, and the nodes on the tree represented extinct species.

Today, evolution is described as the changes in allele frequencies overtime in a population. Evolution is a very slow process, and many factors affect the outcome of evolution (Britannica). Although Lamarck and Darwin were not entirely accurate with their ideas of evolution, their research laid down the foundation for future scientists.  The animals that we see today are the product of millions of years of evolution. Every animal that we see today is here because they have adaptations and behaviors that allow it to be successful in its environment. In the book, Dr. Moreau takes certain animals and vivisects them. Moreau changes the animals both physically and mentally. He changes the animals to give them a more human-like appearance, and also changes them mentality so that they also act more human. Essentially Dr. Moreau was attempting to undo what millions of years of evolution had created.  Moreau was unsuccessful in his attempts to alter the behavior of the animals because the animals eventually returned to their animalistic ways.  Moreau had a very similar view as Lamarck in regards to evolution.  Moreau believed that humans were at the top of the taxonomic chain, and that all other animals were evolving to be more human like.

The book illustrates a very extreme example of humans attempting to alter what evolution had created, however, humans attempt to modify and change organisms more often than one thinks. For example, all the dog breeds we see today are the outcome of humans artificially selecting for certain traits. H.G Wells does an excellent job of illustrating how humans can take things to an extreme in order to go against nature.


 Darwin’s Influence
Chuck Darwin

Darwin’s life work, On the Origin of Species, was first released in the 1850’s. Within decades, much of the scientific community had accepted his paper as being the best explanation for the observations made about the world around them. H.G. Wells, was no exception. Wells main scientific character, Dr. Moreau practiced vivisection. This had been a common practice since “the dawn of medicine”(Franco239). Prior to Darwin’s work, there had been no great notion that humans were the most sophisticated of the animals. Instead, people saw animals and humans as two very distinctly different groups. It was fairly easy to justify medical testing on a live animal, rather than a live human, since the animals were in no way related to us. Along with the acceptance of Darwinian theory, many people began to sympathize with the animals that were being used in scientific tests.  “In 1875, the first animal protection society with the specific aim of abolishing animal experiments was founded: the Victoria Street Society for the Protection of Animals Liable to Vivisection. “(Franco251)These groups would pop up throughout Europe and even in America. Wells held a certain compassion for animals as well as a drive for scientific knowledge, which allowed him to agree with vivisection but with the use of anesthetics. Even though heredity and adaptations had come to light in the scientific consciousness, genetics and chromosomes were still behind the veil of ignorance. The inter-relatedness of the species, as outlined by Darwin, gave Wells enough ammunition to lead readers to the conclusion, that if left unchecked, the process of vivisection could easily produce creatures that were both human and animal. Wells addressed the societal tendencies of such a population in the book, but did not go as far as to speculate, literally or figuratively, whether these new altered traits would be passed on to offspring.


Modern Day Implications for The Island of Doctor Moreau

In the time of publication, vivisection had been around long enough that people had begun to disapprove and often times were outraged at the barbarity of it. This novel and its implications along with vivisection informed the public of some of its down sides, as well as its good things. Only two years after the publication of The Island of Doctor Moreau, Anti-vivisection movements like that of the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection began, and this book no doubt played some role in helping to shape the argument for different negative reasons for vivisection (Conceptual). Vivisection is often times still used today in Physiology classes to understand how different hormones cause changes in the heart rate as well as different functions of living tissue. Although we cannot say that this book directly has had an impact, the process of vivisection outlined from the work of vivisectionists like Claude Bernard no doubt laid the foundations for our modern day plastic surgery and different body altering surgeries that many people around the world undergo today.

Concerning the ideas of Darwinian evolution, this book caused backlash with its groundbreaking idea that man and animals derive from a common ancestor, they may potentially be given human traits through surgical processes. The ideas laid out through  Dr. Moreau, concerning the lack of differences between animals and humans, have been used in many arguments regarding the theory of evolution and is still used today in those same arguments. The idea that animals and humans are one-in-the-same both helped and damaged the concept of the antivivisectionist movement. It campaigned to the argument of antivivisectionist in the aspect that since we are no different from the animals it would be logically unethical to perform vivisection. Vivisectionists touted the idea of equality of origin making the research directly helpful/applicable to human advancement in medicine.



Works Cited

Wells,H.G., “Popular Feeling and the Advancement of Science. Anti-Vivisection.” The Way the World Is Going: Guesses and Forecasts of the Years Ahead. London: Ernest Benn, 1928. 221-30

Franco, Nuno Henrique,” Animal Experiments in Biomedical Research: A Historical Perspective. Animals, University of Porto, Rua do Campo Alegre, 2013

Wells,H.G., Experiment in Autobiography: Discoveries and Conclusions of a Very Ordinary Brain (since 1866). 2 Vols. London: Gollancz and Cresset Press, 1934

“Introduction.” The Island of Doctor Moreau Edited by Mason Harris. Ed. Mason Harris. Toronto: Broadview Editions, 2009. Page 19-22.

Wells,H.G., Text-Book of Biology [University Correspondence College Tutorial Series]. 2 vols. Intro. G.B. Howes. London: W.B. Clive & Co., University Correspondence College Press, 1893

Bernard, Claude, An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine. Paris [1865]. Trans. Henry Copley Green. New York: Dover 1957

“evolution.” Encyclopaedia Britannica. Encyclopaedia Britannica Online Academic Edition. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2014. Web. 18 Jun. 2014.



Cosmic blunders that have held back science

This is a link from the “The Giant’s Shoulders”.
The author looks into the false or incorrect theories that have dominated Science/Natural History throughout different time periods. Some of these theories were the best explanation for the observations of the era, given the available technology and previous study. Many of these inaccuracies slowed down the progression of scientific knowledge, similar to the effect of a false clue in a murder mystery.

This article brings to mind several questions:
How will future generations look back on Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, Darwinian Evolution, Nash’s Game Theory, or the life work of Steve Jobs?
What concepts, that I teach every year, will students laugh at in 400 years?

Modern day Dr. Moreau

This was the cover of TIME magazine for Mar 10, 1997. This issue chronicled the first cloning of a mammal recorded by mankind. This process has sparked many conversations regarding ethics and morality similar to vivisection experiments conducted by the contemporaries of H.G. Wells. The process of cloning was an often used subject in science-fiction books and movies. After the science became a reality,many governments banned the process and further study for fear of the Pandora’s box that this technology could open.