Brett Rants

Moby Dick

The Great White Tale

A simple picture of clouds... or if you prefer, the sun hiding behind a bank of clouds, nice, soothing

The Whale, The Book, The Legend

I'm reading Moby Dick by Herman Melville. My High School English teacher would be proud. Odd, how I have a specific English teacher in mind and am happy to overlook the other three, four, or five.

Anyhow, an undertaking that large (and that difficult) should be commemorated somehow. Hence, this webpage.

Let's keep it short, shall we?

Meta Quotes

But first, what did the Herman Melville have to say about Moby Dick, himself?

Chapter XLV
The Affidavit

So ignorant are most landsmen of some of the plainest and most palpable wonders of the world, that without some hints touching the plain facts, historical and otherwise, of the fishery, they might scout at Moby Dick as a monstrous fable, or still worse and more detestable, a hideous and intolerable allegory.
Um, so what it is? Are these bonafide warnings? Guidelines for the reader?

And later in the same chapter:
People ashore have indeed some indefinite idea that a whale is an enormous creature of enormous power; but I have ever found that when narrating to them some specific example of this two-fold enormousness, they have significantly complimented me upon my facetiousness; when, I declare upon my soul, I had no more idea of being facetious than Moses, when he wrote the history of the plagues of Egypt.
So, is he a religious heretic or a pious soul? The world may never know.

Also, one may wish to to note that both of the above quotes are single sentences full of nested thoughts.

Ah, here's another one of those meta-quotes.

Chapter XLVIII
The First Lowering

Then again, Stubb was one of those odd sort of humorists, whose jollity is sometimes so curiously ambiguous, as to put all inferiors on their guard in the matter of obeying them.
Because, you know, when the order to 'pull' is given or else, is it a joke... or not?
He would say the most terrific things to his crew, in a tone so strangely compounded of fun and fury, and the fury seemed so calculated merely as a spice to the fun, that no oarsman could hear such queer invocations without pulling for dear life, and yet pulling for the mere joke of the thing.
And finally, I give you a different sort of quote... describing a school of whales... as an example of fine writing mixed with cutting social commentary... well, this example is not so terribly cutting. Nonetheless...

Chapter LXXXVII
Schools And Schoolmasters

It is very curious to watch this harem and its lord in their indolent ramblings. Like fashionables, they are for ever on the move in leisurely search of variety.

The top of a waterfountain juxtaposed with the clouds beyond, I like the way the light hits the water

Key Takeaways

Somewhere along in the early chapters of reading Moby Dick, I knew I would be doing some sort of write-up. And as follows (and in no particular order except in the order I made them) are the notes that I made, while reading the book and which comprise the main part of this here write-up.

On All Things Whale Related

Chapter CIV
The Fossil Whale

Having already described him in most of his present habitatory and anatomical peculiarities, it now remains to magnify him in an archælogical, fossiliferous, and antediluvian point of view.
If the above comprises the great middle portion of the book that is Moby Dick (being in large part a review of all things whale related, which can be tiresome, at times), then the next sentence (which follows the aforementioned immediately in the text) is the source of much of Moby Dick delight.
Applied to any other creature than the Leviathan -- to an ant or a flea -- such portly terms might justly be deemed unwarrantable grandiloquent.
Ah, such wonderfermentful worditure.

And if an intimate knowledge of the fishery seems a bit dry (which it can be), then rest assured that the lot (nearly every chapter) is anchored (or at least, capped) with some sort of colorful social commentary that directly relates to the rest of the world, the social structure of the day, Christianity, the classics, and all the rest of God's Grand Creation.

A Brief Outline

Going in, I would have thought Moby Dick was the story of one man's (Ahab, the captain's) hunt of a whale. And it is! But to understand all that (and put the story into context), one must first know about men and whales and how the former hunts the later.

As such, as follows is a loose (off the cuff) outline of the story.

Who goes a whaling and why?
    Narrator
        Adventure
    QueeQueg
        Savage, Opportunity
    Both fade in importance 
The Ship
    Outfitting
    Provisioning
    And the profit motive
Hunting
    Search and Destroy
    Rules of the Hunt
        Laws
        Fast Whales vs Loose
        Head to the King, Tail to the Queen... leaves nothing left
The Whale
    A History (literature review)
    Anatomy
    Socialization
        finally, comparing to humans
Getting into the thick of it
    Search
    And Destroy
    A Story Complete
It's not a detailed outline... nor is it expanded ideally. The more specific entries having more to do with when (in my reading) I made said entries than their overall importance to the story. The difference between Fast and Loose whales being of momentary concern to this particular reader.

Just a nice sunset, having nothing to do with Moby Dick at all, unless you want to believe that everyone rides off into the sunset in the end

The Epilogue

It took me (a little over) two months to read Moby Dick. And in the end, I would say it is a Grand Adventure Tale... or one of those almost real Ghost Stories, call it a Tall Tale (or should that be a Tall Tail).

Either way, I enjoyed reading Moby Dick (quite thoroughly). But it was, also, easy enough for me to put down time and time again, taking a week off here, only reading a chapter there. So, I wouldn't call it a page turner. Nor could I understand most of it... or a great deal of it... or at least, some of it. And in truth, I think this lack of full comprehension by the average reader has a lot to do with Moby Dick's mystique: folks don't understand it, so they think it is above them, better than the rest, and worthy of praise. And it might be... or it might not.

That said, I will (still) recommend that you (like, personally) read Moby Dick and here's why:
In the end, I liked Moby Dick.

And if I were to advise one of my younger selves (any of the previous versions of myself, who had picked up Moby Dick and put it down, before even getting through the first chapter), I would simply point out that if one were looking for a narrative frame on which to hang a Dragon Hunt one could do a lot worse than starting with Moby Dick.

One thing you can be sure of is that The White Whale Will Live On!
"And that be in the large part why the Mister should be the more careful about what he be the eating," I can almost hear the Suki, be the saying.
Now if you'll excuse me, I have to figure out what classic I'll read next. There's a book sale coming up at the library. I think I'll work it out then.


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The write-up is like having my own personal book club, where everyone in the world is invited, but I sort of monopolize the conversation... and eat all the cookies.

© copyright 2018 Brett Paufler
Brett@Paufler.net