Wednesday, December 30, 2015

MOBY DICK by Herman Melville

Inspired by the movie In the Heart of the Sea, I decided to read this classic that was not required reading at my high school.  I thought this novel would be more about a marathon battle between man and nature, like Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, but a lot longer.  However, I kept reading and reading and waiting for the big white whale to show up, but Melville kept me in suspense for 400+ pages.  The bulk of the book is actually a history lesson, describing whales and whaling to the nth degree.  Not that that’s a bad thing.  I actually found the anatomy of the sperm whale and its comparison of size, weight, and characteristics to a right whale to be fairly interesting.  Then we have the specifics on how a whale is harpooned from smaller boats and lashed to the side of the ship, where sharks swarm to get a piece of the action.  The biggest butchering task is the decapitation of the sperm whale, since the head contains the valuable spermaceti oil.   I also learned that a storm can disrupt the behavior of a compass needle.  There’s not a lot of action or character development, if you ask me, but the central character is Captain Ahab, who demands that his crew vow to hunt and destroy Moby Dick, the big white sperm whale who is responsible for Ahab having lost a leg.  Ahab’s singular mission is a mad obsession, as his thirst for revenge clouds his judgment, putting the welfare of his ship and crew at risk.  The occasional encounter with another ship breaks up the monotony of several years at sea, for both the crew and the reader.  When the captain of another ship comes requesting lamp oil, Stubb, the 2nd mate, mistakes the captain’s lamp-feeder for a coffee pot.  Stubb tells the 1st mate, Starbuck (what a familiar name!), that the visiting captain must be OK if he’s come to make coffee.  Who knew that the guys who started the ubiquitous purveyors of coffee were Moby Dick readers?

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