Moby Dick

My Thoughts

I honestly do not think I have read a book with a more exciting ending. Many readers complain about how Moby Dick could be condensed to less than 200 pages and that over 70% of the pages are boring and pointless. I couldn't disagree more, but I only realized it when I finished the book. Allow me to explain.

Melville talked extensively about what the whales looked like from forehead to fluke, their range of vision, how they were condensed into oil, and how they were stored in the hold. He talked about the try-works, the forge, the bulwarks, the gunwale, the forecastle, and just about every aspect of a whaling vessel that can be described. He detailed chasing the whales in the boats, the oarsmen's job, the harpooner and their stance, fatigue in pursuit, and in grizzly detail how the whale was harpooned, killed, and chopped up on the side of the Pequod. He described the carpenter, cook, blacksmith, harpooners, first, second and third mates, and just about every job on the vessel comprising of 30 people.

It all came together at the end in glorious fashion. Every detail of the battle with Moby Dick was crystal clear. The vivid detail that was given throughout the many chapters made the final scene burst with full color and I found myself unable put the book down. I was entranced as I was told about the men standing on the forecastle, leaning against the bulwarks, watched helplessly as Moby Dick seemed to be getting the better of the harpooners and captain Ahab. I intensely read how the whale's fluke smashed into the oarsmen and shattered the boats to pieces. Even after being harpooned several times, the massive beast only seemed to grow stronger. Like a reflection of Ahab's hate and desire to see the whale dead, that feeling was physically reciprocated by the whale. But Moby Dick wasn't just a whale... he became an unstoppable titan almost too fantastic for reality. At the same time, with the guidance of Melville's amazing writing, "humanity" was gently placed into the great white whale, and as much as I had grown to care about the crew of the Pequod, I found myself rooting for Moby Dick in the end.

If you are planning to read Moby Dick, I highly suggest not skipping a single page. Remember the details that are given to you throughout the book. While it may seem like unnecessary details, they will all tie in at the end, and create one of the greatest battle scenes in literature.

Melville's Style

If you think Moby Dick will be an easy read, you are sorely mistaken. Melville has a very large vocabulary and mixed with an older English style it makes for a difficult read. It isn't Shakespeare or even most translated Goethe for that matter, but it still proves to be a challenge to get through. Words like "Hast, ere, thou, thy, aft, avast", etc are used extensively. Here is an example of what you will be reading on every page:

Better and better, man. Would now St. Paul would come along that way, and to my breezelessness bring his breeze! O Nature, and O soul of man! how far beyond all utterance are your linked analogies; not the smallest atom stirs or lives on matter, but has its cunning duplicate in mind.

In my opinion, easier than Shakespeare, but harder than Lovecraft or Poe.

Melville's sense of humor shines through at many points in the book. I love how he personifies so many things, something that I can relate to myself. For example, when talking about the whale oil down in the hold, he states:

... the romantic proceeding of decanting off his (the whale's) oil into the casks and striking them down into the hold, where once again leviathan returns to his native profundities, sliding along beneath the surface as before; but, alas! never more to rise and blow."

The whale is just as it was before, back at home beneath the surface of the water. The difference is that now he is but oil contained in a cask, so he spouts no more. There are many other examples of this throughout the story.

Another example of Melville's amazing writing is in a fart joke made during chapter 1. Yes... the great novel Moby Dick contains, what is probably, the world's most lowbrow fart joke:

Finally, I always go to sea as a sailor, because of the wholesome exercise and pure air of the fore-castle deck. For as in this world, head winds are far more prevalent than winds from astern (that is, if you never violate the Pythagorean maxim), so for the most part, the Commodore on the quarter-deck gets his atmosphere at second hand from the sailors on the forecastle.

Watch for very subtle sparks of genius as they happen very often.

My Rating

If I had read only the first few chapters, I would have given the book a 3.5 out of 5.
If I had read only the first 100 chapters I would have given the book a 2 out of 5.

In the ending chapters, everything pulled together into the perfect storm. All of the details created an intensity that I haven't experience in any other book. I rate the entire book a 4.5 out of 5. Amazing!

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