Thursday, September 15, 2016

Moby Dick - Herman Melville

I was beginning to wonder if I would ever write this post.  I started to read Moby Dick last summer.  Actually, at the suggestion of a couple of fellow bloggers, I simultaneously read and listened to it, using the Moby Dick Big Read site.  That was helpful.  When my mind started to wander, the reader's voice brought me back.  Most of the time.

Moby Dick could have been two good books:  one, the exciting adventure of Ahab, the captain of a whaling ship, obsessed with revenge on Moby Dick, the unusually vicious white whale that caused him to lose his leg;  the other, a fascinating and detailed look at the anatomy of whales and the intricacies of whaling  -  for those interested.

Interspersed between the chasing and killing of whales (which was hard for me to read, especially since we now know how intelligent and social whales are), are chapters that are deadly dull.  Do you think that Melville used this technique to reflect the voyage of a whaling ship?  They went to sea for three years at a time, seldom making land, floating around for days or weeks waiting to encounter whales.  Dull, dull, dull, excitement!

Moby Dick is so well known, but is it widely read?  I think it's a difficult book, because of the boring parts, so I suspect that even though many people know the story, they haven't read the book.  Truthfully, I didn't know what the ending was.  I'm sure I've seen the movie, starring Gregory Peck, but even so, I didn't know who won.  I was disappointed with the ending.  The last three chapters are exciting, but I wanted a more dramatic ending.  I wanted Moby to swim off while chomping on Ahab.

I made some notes while I was reading, but I'm not sure you want to read them all.  "..sin that pays its way can travel freely, and without a passport;  whereas Virtue, if a pauper, is stopped at all frontiers", "since Christian kindness has proved but hollow courtesy", "... a man's religion is one thing, and this practical world quite another".  He laments the killing of old, blind whales to light the lamps of churches that preach compassion.  He and I both have a problem with churches and hypocrisy.

Melville encourages conserving the use of whale oil lamps, fearing for the lives of whales because people don't make the connection between lamps and whales.  (Like people often don't make the connection between lamb chops and the slaughter of baby sheep.)  In Chapter 65, he made me wonder if he was a vegetarian because he castigated those who eat animals, wondering why  'civilized' society reviles cannibals when they're no better, and even mentions (the) 'enlightened gourmand, who nailest geese to the ground and feastest on their bloated livers in thy pate-de-fois-gras."  Hmmm.  Just sayin'.

There is some nice writing, sometimes bordering on the Dylan Thomas-esque, but a lot bordering on religious wailing ("Then hail, for ever hail, O sea, in whose eternal tossings the wild fowl finds his only rest", etc.).  Surprisingly, there were parts what were pretty funny.  I giggled when the sailors reefed their jackets into the sails and had to hang there until they sorted it out.  I admit that there were many times when I had no idea what he was trying to say.  There are probably books interpreting Moby Dick, but I'm done.  I got out of it what I wanted to get out of it.

(For Katrina, Ishmael was a Presbyterian.)

Ah, well, it's over at last.  I think I should celebrate.


  1. Woo hoo! congratulations! I've read the book twice, even the boring bits :) It was even better the second time and the boring bits were not as boring. I don't plan on reading it a third time, but then i didn't plan on reading it the second time either so you just never know! I've always wanted to name a pet Pequod :)

    1. I admire you! I really can't imagine reading it again, but, as you say, one never knows. Here, Pequod, here, Pequod! Pequod, sit! (Maybe Pequod's not a dog, but I like the name, too. That's always my test for a dog name: how does it sound when calling it?)