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July 16, 2014 6:22 PM   Subscribe

"Moby Dick" can be an intimidating read, so why not whet your appetite with some source material? "Mocha Dick" was a giant sperm whale in the early 1800's who destroyed over 20 whaling ships. You can read the original 1839 article written by explorer Jeremiah Reynolds that helped inspire Herman Melville in the creation of his masterwork. If even that is too much for you, author Brian Heinz and artist Randall Enos have created a striking children's book based on the original story.
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI (32 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite

This is great! If I may add to it: anyone who's interested in Moby Dick should check out the poet Charles Olson's brilliant and lyrical study of the text, Call Me Ishmael, which covers the backstories and Melville's motivations as well as what it means as the greatest American novel.
posted by koeselitz at 6:29 PM on July 16 [2 favorites]

And Philbrick ' In The Heart Of The Sea
posted by the man of twists and turns at 6:37 PM on July 16 [4 favorites]

Reading the "source" for the novel is but taking a peek at an incident...the writing etc is out of Shakespeare and the Bible. The result if far beyond the source.
posted by Postroad at 6:42 PM on July 16 [4 favorites]

For something a little lighter, don't forget the the legendary Wailing Whale, Maybe Dick

Maybe Dick was supposed to be big enough to swallow a whole ship......maybe.

He could swim faster than any vessel in the sea.....maybe.

And he had been seen by sailors whose reputations for sobriety were beyond reproach.....maybe.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 6:42 PM on July 16 [1 favorite]

And also
posted by blaneyphoto at 7:18 PM on July 16

The Wind Whales of Ishmael, science fiction's incredible sequel to Moby Dick!
posted by Herodios at 7:19 PM on July 16

I read it wondering all the way through where the boring part was that I'd heard about, and got to the end astonished. I think the book will strike many readers today as the rude prototype of Pynchon: a semi-informed author using what he knows and what astonishes him to write a disbelieving travelog. I wonder at my luck, that I read the first two chapters while inebriated and so got the joke early, and instead of being intimidated was able to hear through the whole book the same authorial voice that created Bartelby the Scrivener.
posted by ssr_of_V at 7:22 PM on July 16 [12 favorites]

Next time I'm in a Starbucks I need to remember to order a Venti Soy Mocha Dick.
posted by item at 7:32 PM on July 16 [3 favorites]

I was sooooo tempted to do a Starbucks joke for the post title, but I figure a commenter would pull up the slack. Thanks, item!
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 7:36 PM on July 16 [1 favorite]

It is an unexpectedly hilarious book. Ishmael's first meeting with Queequeg is pure slapstick.
posted by maxsparber at 7:56 PM on July 16 [2 favorites]

We did a Moby Dick marathon in tenth grade, reading it aloud all day and all night. I haven't read the book since that class, but I suppose it's time I do.
posted by Songdog at 8:29 PM on July 16

Thanks, item!

That's what I'm here for - to pick up everyone else's slack.
posted by item at 9:39 PM on July 16 [1 favorite]

We had to read Moby Dick in 11th grade AP English. I couldn't get through the first chapter! Thank goodness for Cliff Notes!
posted by SisterHavana at 9:40 PM on July 16

as well as what it means as the greatest American novel.

Oh, my. You went there.

It's a good novel. Maybe even a great novel. Parts of it, including the memorable (and eminently quotable) first sentence, are brilliant.

But the greatest American novel? Hmmm. Not sure I would go that far.
posted by misha at 9:46 PM on July 16

Well, Olson makes the case. And makes it well, I might add. Olson's book is probably the finest work of critical reflection on a novel that I've ever read, at least, although granted it has been some years, and I don't like much literary criticism.

But, yes. There are other great American novels. I mean, even Absalom, Absalom! - which is among a few American novels that's better than Moby Dick, I think - was published eleven years before Olson's essay. Still, it's an essay worth reading, and if Olson has a distinctive voice and perspective, all the better.
posted by koeselitz at 9:58 PM on July 16 [1 favorite]

Reminds me that I need to finish that book one day. I loved the early part, on shore, but started to lose interest once they headed out to sea.

On a side note: Are there any plausible theories as to why whales were attacking whaling ships in the 19th century, but seem to leave modern whale watching ships alone? I mean ... I start to think that whales have agency, that they were consciously fighting back ... but has anyone actually looked into this scientifically?
posted by kanewai at 10:43 PM on July 16 [1 favorite]


for the last of the mohicans
posted by brambleboy at 10:44 PM on July 16

I always root for the whale in these things.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 11:57 PM on July 16 [3 favorites]

Thanks indeed for the story of Mocha.

Moby-Dick (with or without hyphen) fully deserves the title 'flawed masterpiece' IMO. There are some absurd bits, but also some tremendous passages. It's intensely about whaling and also not really about whaling at all, rather the way those oriental monks devote themselves to mastery of archery or gardening for reasons that completely transcend those skills.
posted by Segundus at 1:18 AM on July 17

I always root for the whale in these things.

Well, you're in luck with this one.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 2:01 AM on July 17 [2 favorites]

Is gladly concede greatest American novel to Moby Dick. There are more than a few chapters in the middle of the book (from about page 125 (most editions) on) that are as vibrant, trenchant surprising pick an adjective as any written English, ever. The 'plot' is a bit of a hodge podge, but if you can get around that the book is as wildly rich in incident, character and insight as you can find.
posted by From Bklyn at 2:15 AM on July 17 [2 favorites]

Those children's book illustrations are wonderful. I think Melville's book is one of the greatest things created by a human ever.
posted by marxchivist at 5:37 AM on July 17

Have to say my favorite part is the chapter devoted to explaining that the whale is a fish, while simultaneously giving all the reasons it can't possibly be a fish, concluding that it's a fish because the whalers say it is, so it surely must be. It would be easy to read that and assume Melville was an ill-informed fool, when really he's telling those in the know that the whalers are wrong, without stating it explicitly, allowing him to let the whalers save face. The absurdity of that section never fails to amuse the hell out of me.
posted by caution live frogs at 5:47 AM on July 17 [2 favorites]

Never understood people who say MD is a tough read. I was gripped from page one until the end. I even found the long bit about whales and whaling interesting. I've re-read it a couple of times and been just as hooked by it. It's a terrific yarn.
posted by Decani at 6:01 AM on July 17 [4 favorites]

I remember reading it in high school, and that goddamn chapter on knots made me just loopy. But it finally ends and we get back to the chase.
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 6:09 AM on July 17

Also recommended, at least for aficionados of Moby-Dick or weird fiction: Railsea, China Miéville’s preposterously trippy YA sendup of Moby-Dick. It’s not a patch on Miéville’s other books but if you know/love M-D there are a lot of clever reworkings to roll around in.
posted by miles per flower at 7:27 AM on July 17

Great timing, I just finished reading it for the first time. I found listening to Leviathan in between readings helped keep my passion alive through the slower chapters.
posted by popaopee at 7:34 AM on July 17 [1 favorite]

kanewaiOn a side note: Are there any plausible theories as to why whales were attacking whaling ships in the 19th century, but seem to leave modern whale watching ships alone? I mean ... I start to think that whales have agency, that they were consciously fighting back ... but has anyone actually looked into this scientifically?

I have a half-baked theory about that, which also applies to wolves: Once humans got really good at killing (or really really good, if you will), the boldest whales and wolves got killed off. Only the shyest, most cautious survived.

That's why some scientists studying wolves became convinced that wolves were harmless. The scientists arrived after the hunters and the poisoners, after the aggressive wolves had been eliminated. One scientist - the world's foremost expert on moose, as it happens - describes his shock on meeting aggressive wolves for the first time, and then time and time again after that as human hunting of wolves declined. His early experiences had been with "painfully shy wolves that on occasion even panicked over my scent," but later he realized that the area he had encountered them in had been subject to massive poisoning of wolves a decade earlier.

Whales have much longer lives and memories. Could the effect of killing off all the aggressive whales last a century or two?
posted by clawsoon at 8:17 AM on July 17 [1 favorite]

"Moby Dick" kicks ass. I couldn't put it down.
posted by jetsetsc at 9:53 AM on July 17 [1 favorite]

kanewai, I'm guessing it's a lot easier for a whale to outrun, fight off or even damage a wooden, sail-powered 18th-century vessel than a steel-plated, diesel-powered modern one.
posted by gottabefunky at 10:34 AM on July 17

I don't get the people who have a problem with the bits about whales and whaling. Um, it's MOBY DICK. YES IT HAS WHALE STUFF IN IT.
posted by Cookiebastard at 8:35 PM on July 17

Well, people have a problem with those bits because there is this thing called a plot that is going along quite well and drawing the reader in and then all of the sudden WHAM! FUN FACTS ABOUT WHALING!

This lengthy section interrupts the narrative and doesn't move the storyline. That's without even pointing out the, you know, 'facts' that are just plain wrong. It's basically like someone cutout some oages and inserted their own OMGWHALESRFISHAMIRITE fanfiction
posted by misha at 3:02 PM on July 18

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