Never Let Me Go – Whedon’s Dollhouse

by admin on May 29, 2008 · 1 comment

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo IshiguroIn this interview with IGN, Joss Whedon made reference to the novel Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. I want to highlight this because Whedon seemed pleased that actor Tahmoh Pinekett found parallels between the novel and the early Dollhouse script.

I admit, I have never read the book, but I’ve since done a bit of researching and I can see Penikett’s point – the novel does share potential themes with what we know about Dollhouse – just replace the clone angle with the notion of “Actives”. For those of you who like to do your background reading on possible inspirations or connections to the Dollhouse premise,  here’s a brief synopsis of Never Let Me Go (obviously, novel spoilers ahead):

Set in a (barely?) alternate England in the late 1990s, Never Let Me Go is the sum of Kathy’s memories. Kathy is one of many “donors” who have been brought into being for purposes that, while well-intended, can come to no good. Ishiguro’s novel touches on the issues surrounding human cloning and identity and “what if.” Then again, human clones are nothing new. Know any identical twins? They may be clones of one another, but that doesn’t preclude them from having discrete selves. Never Let Me Go doesn’t put science on trial; rather, it takes humans to task on the willful, too-prevalent misuse and misunderstanding of science to further parochial, sad ends.


From the Booker Prize-winning author of The Remains of the Day and When We Were Orphans, comes an unforgettable edge-of-your-seat mystery that is at once heartbreakingly tender and morally courageous about what it means to be human. 

Hailsham seems like a pleasant English boarding school, far from the influences of the city. Its students are well tended and supported, trained in art and literature, and become just the sort of people the world wants them to be. But, curiously, they are taught nothing of the outside world and are allowed little contact with it.


Within the grounds of Hailsham, Kathy grows from schoolgirl to young woman, but it’s only when she and her friends Ruth and Tommy leave the safe grounds of the school (as they always knew they would) that they realize the full truth of what Hailsham is.



Never Let Me Go breaks through the boundaries of the literary novel. It is a gripping mystery, a beautiful love story, and also a scathing critique of human arrogance and a moral examination of how we treat the vulnerable and different in our society. In exploring the themes of memory and the impact of the past, Ishiguro takes on the idea of a possible future to create his most moving and powerful book to date.

So we have themes of ‘memory’, ‘identity’, ‘secret organisations’ and ‘conditioning’ to name just a few of the potential parallels between this intriguing novel and Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse. Frankly, I’m fascinated by this book, just as I am Whedon’s Dollhouse – there is an underlying quality about a premise which is ultimately about the characters. Yes, the scifi-global conspiracy fancy stuff is great, but without great characters then you’re struggling. Both the Never Let Me Go and Dollhouseappear’ to adopt that focus.

Something I’ve been wondering since hearing about Dollhouse concerns the social and human questions that Whedon is trying to provoke through Dollhouse? After all, most writers write because they want to speak to the world (or someone) through their work, no? One aspect I’m already considering is the question of: Do memories define us, or are we defined by the potential to be whoever we want to be? And what of the tools (science) that facilitate progression – can it be regulated? should it be regulated? Who has the knowledge to really decide?

As I said, I haven’t yet read the book and obviously I haven’t yet seen Dollhouse, but I just find the possible themes interesting.

You can read find out more about Never Let Me Go here.

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