05 July, 2010

Moby-Dick: Or, The Whale

Moby Dick (1956 film)Image via Wikipedia
I just finished Moby-Dick. With the new whale Leviathan melvillei, I figured I may as well see what Mr. Melville was so darn famous for.


We've all seen direct or indirect mentions of the story about crazy Capt. Ahab, and there's the famous first line "Call me Ishmael" which many people have used. Even Between the Lions had short pieces with a giant white duck.

Now, I don't hate this book. Nor do label it as one of my favorites. It's a little long (the version I have is 724 pages) and a lot of that bulk are descriptions of everything you could possibly know about whale anatomy.

The beginning starts off well enough. Ishmael (the main character and the narrator of the story) sets out to Nantucket to find a whaling ship to sign on to. Then Queequeg appears as the mad, crazy cannibal and somehow they become "bosum friends". If that I had been in Ishmael's position, I would have hightailed it out of there, but hey, I'm not him. Then they find the Pequod. (I may as well tell you; the ship sinks in the end.) They both sign on to a three-year contract or whatever it's called, and then the ship leaves port with Captain Ahab onboard.

Then there's a series of long and elaborate descriptions about Ahab's leg, his motives, the "Whiteness of the Whale," whale physiognomy/phrenology, skeletal structure, as much anatomy as you could possibly want, and a whole bunch of other stuff. There's an entire chapter devoted to the different types of whales and where they live; highly incorrect scientifically, which bugged me.

A lot of the central part of the book is almost boring. There are chapters thrown in here and there that are interesting (like the chapter "Midnight, Forecastle") and sometimes there's action, but nothing really gets going until the last, say, ten chapters. Then the full scope of Ahab's monomania really appears. He's genuinely nuts at the end, and it gets a little over-dramatic. I didn't want quite that much drama, thank you very much.

Another thing: this book is extremely heavy with symbolism. Bible references, places, allusions . . . it's all there. My edition has footnotes on every page since there are so many of them. I found it a little tiring to have to check back and forth to see just what Melville was referring to, and I found that I didn't know many of the bible phrases/stories that were in there. There's also Shakespeare and many other authors thrown in, and if they hadn't been explained, I would have been seriously confused. Well, not confused, but certainly missing parts of the story.

On whether or not to actually read Moby-Dick . . . that depends. I finished it in five days, but this is during the summer and I have time on my hands. The language is, you know, dotted with words like "hitherto," "ye," "nay," "yonder," and there are tons of nautical terms such as "leeward," "mainsail," and the lingo of the whaling trade. I read since it's been on my TBR list for about a year (I planned to do it last summer, but then balked) and I was studying American Literature for the schoolyear. It's an educational experience, I suppose, since there is a lot of information not just about whales but also about the whaling ships.

However, if that type of information doesn't interest you, the style doesn't sound engaging, and long books are a drag, avoid Moby-Dick, since you'd just have to suffer through it.

If you do want to read it, click HERE. It's not complete, but it gives you a fairly good chuck of the story. Actually, it cuts out the end, but you might decide to stop reading before then :P

-----The Golden Eagle
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1 comment:

laughingwolf said...

grats on completing that trash of a novel... no, i never finished it... just as well, from all i've heard/read about it