When I was younger I was terribly fascinated by chimeras, though at the time I didn’t know the term. I’m not exactly sure how my interest was piqued – perhaps I picked the idea up from a book I read or a television show (creatures fabricated in fantasy are often described to readers as crosses of animals for familiarity’s sake, so that may explain it). Regardless, the concept kept periodically showing up throughout my life, primarily through video games. Many monster-collecting RPGs encourage the player to fuse or mate their monsters together to create superior party members (Jade Cocoon, Shin Megami Tensei, and Monster Rancher all spring to mind). A classic creature encountered throughout the Final Fantasy series offers a variation on the chimeric mythos, an incredibly durable beast and frustratingly unforgiving foe featuring the triplet heads of bull, lion and eagle and the venomous serpent as a tail to top off the grotesque quartet.
But when I was 11 or 12 I stumbled across the game that took this vague curiosity for a nutty ride. Titled Impossible Creatures, players were cast in the role of a marooned scientist searching for his father on a seemingly deserted island, armed with only the DNA of a few select species of animals and the technology capable of combining this information to form your own personal army of, yes, impossible creatures. An army, because as it turns out, you’re not alone here; a rival group of scientists unfailingly impede your progress, and you must obliterate them to discover your father’s fate. It was a lot like the love child of The Island of Dr. Moreau and the Lost television series.
Anyway, it was great. I could take an armadillo and a hammerhead shark and not only capriciously toss them together and see what came out, but also customize the attributes to my liking – the head of the shark for the sensitivity to electrical impulses coupled with the durable shell and land-capable (albeit stubbly) legs of the armadillo. I spent the majority of my time conjuring the craziest hybridizations I could and enjoying the fruits of my labor. Bat-whales. Giraffe-skunks. Electrical eel-hornets. I never actually beat the game, never discovered the cause of my in-game father’s disappearance. Frankly, I didn’t care. I was having the time of my life putting the legs of an ant on an elephant.
Looking back, I imagine myself as some sort of mad scientist a-la Doctor Moreau. Some may not agree with my questioning of his sanity. The way I see it, anybody who denies the plausibility of pain and pleasure to the point that he serenely stabs himself in the thigh to prove it is not exactly the model of rationality and mental health. Whatever your opinion, the both of us were just interested in how far we could push our experiments. I personally know that there wasn’t any other validation for my escapades in the game. I never got the feeling that there was any valid reason for Moreau’s experiments either, other than to satisfy a personal curiosity. In the event that he created a humanoid beast man that managed to retain its “enhancements” over time…then what? What was the point?
At the end of the book, we find Prendick taking up astronomy to escape the beastly shadows he senses lurking even in the civilized world. “There is, though I do not know how there is or why there is, a sense of infinite peace and protection in the glittering hosts of heaven,” he says. “There it must be, I think, in the vast and eternal laws of matter, and not in the daily cares and sins and troubles of men, that whatever is more than animal within us must find its solace and its hope.”
Having read War of the Worlds, I find Wells’ aliens callously contradictory to Prendick’s closing words. Cold and supremely calculating, viewing Earth as if under the microscope of their superior intellects (as I recall the opening pages of the novel stating), these more highly-evolved individuals are frighteningly devoid of any apparent humanity in both mind and body. They are determined to rid the Earth of its inhabitants and start life anew on our planet. It is with this knowledge that I, in some ways, see Wells promoting Dr. Moreau as some sort of more highly-evolved human, or at least more attuned to a philosophy that is both beyond his time and his world.
I’d hope that they are but among these impossible creatures.