There is something to be said for the extremely fine additions being put out at small presses today. An example of such would be the new edition of H.G. Wells’ The Island of Doctor Moreau released by Beehive Books, featuring an introduction by Guillermo del Toro and illustrations by Bill Sienkiewicz.
Herbert George Wells was one of the great pioneers of science fiction. While he wrote on many topics, his works and the social allegories present in them are memorable for the use of extremely basic concepts to challenge the social mores of his time. While the anti-colonial allegory of The War of the Worlds is well-known, the layers of allegory in The Island of Doctor Moreau are more complicated.
While the idea of there being some evils to science come into play, it is notable that the lead starts out a scientist, and ends the book doing research in chemistry and astronomy. This strongly suggests that there is nothing wrong with scientific progress, and instead merely a misuse of science that is possible. It is very much not the kind of Science Fiction that supports some sort of luddite movement.
It is hard not to notice the repeated use of paleness in relation to both the new character and the doctor himself. Given
the disastrous results of the experiments on the Island long-term, and Moreau’s only flippant thoughts about it ( modifying Beast into the image of man solely because it amuses his scientific curiosity) it is hard not to see this story as I do construction of the White Man’s Burden justification for colonialism. Yet the complication of the situation already exists, much as colonial society was a fact of life for Victorian like Wells. Edward Prendick, our lead, finds himself stranded on the island with he’s only other option being drowning early in the book. He finds himself disgusted by the situation he is in, and avoid spelled human and beastman company as much as possible. However eventually Edward finds himself reinforcing certain of the disturbing Concepts imposed in an effort merely to survive. Why older reader is not given the impression that this is a positive behavior, they are given sympathy with him and his desire to survive. As a result and understanding is reached about living in a corrupt Society, and how it inherently requires some level of corruption or compromise simply to survive. Arguably, in a world a world so interconnected that colonization has a very different meaning, this is one of the more important lessons one could learn from this book.
The Beehive books edition of this volume begins with an introduction by none other than Guillermo del Toro, which is short and very effective. Said introduction gets to Del Toro’s favorite themes of The Island of Doctor Moreau quickly, and makes its points most succinctly. He speaks of lanzone in humanity, and does so in the same eloquent voice that allows him to produce the films he does. Overall, the introduction complements the text and presentation extremely well.
On any story as old as The Island of Doctor Moreau the presence of the text itself is not the only factor one will consider. It is here that beehive books truly shines. The volume is gorgeously illustrated by Bill Sienkiewicz, whom provides both sketched and full painted images throughout the collection.
The cover is a large and desolate Seascape, bringing to mind the way our narrator was initially stranded, as escaping. There is a hint of an image of the island, and a fading superimposed image of an animal. This cover is further extremely well incorporated into the slip case design which uses the Beast has its primary imagery,. The primary color of the slipcases a deep red, with a metallic looking finish I thought dark gray highlighting the imagery of the animal, a hole in the side of the slipcase carefully designed to evoke an eye while also spotlighting that lonely boat. It is, again, an effective bit of imagery.
The illustrations feel raw, but not particularly unreal. This is an excellent combination to give the impression of a friend tick, unstable world in which things are not as they ultimately should be. There is an artist’s note, after the full text, which describes Sienkiewicz’s philosophy when illustrating the peace, as well as his love for the works of H.G. Wells in general. Well hardly necessary given the excellent work done, the piece is most Illuminating and reflects very well upon the artist.
In addition there is one more little note written by Guillermo del Toro, in which he complements the artist, and discusses his familiarity with the man’s work. It is a very nice little touch, featuring information that if it is present at all in this kind of volume is often only presented as a small part of an introduction.
This volume is extremely easy to recommend. The book is a perennial classic, one which holds up surprisingly well in the present day. Further the presentation that this book offers is absolutely astounding. The illustrations are pitch perfect with the text, the creative design throughout is impressive, and the biggest arguable structural flaws the lack of a built-in bookmark.
(Beehive Books 2019)