The Whale

The Whale, or, Moby-Dick
© 1851 Herman Melville
630 pages

The Whale, alternatively called Moby-Dick,  is a comprehensive  19th century guide to whaling and whales from a novelist who decided to take a hand at writing nonfiction. Such a thing was not unusual in those days, as many people were amateur naturalists — Darwin, for instance, originally intended to be a country parson who dabbled in geology.  Melville used his prior whaling experience and considerable passion for the subject as the basis of his research, though — novelist as he was — he could  not help but insert a splash of narrative into the  scientific survey.   It’s an interesting distraction, of course, but even the spectre of an obsessed captain with a pegleg in search of revenge doesn’t cover over the fact that Melville, for all his interest in the subject, is still…off. He insists that whales are fish, for instance.   The fictional element is quite interesting in its own right, of course,   featuring an young chap with a hunger for adventure befriending a strange man from the far corners of the world, and then being thrown into the rough and tumble world of whaling while the ship sails towards its doom, badgering every other ship it meets with queries on whether they’ve seen The Whale or not.  This fictional aspect has a mythic quality about it, especially given the origins of the name Ahab — a king who angered God by turning to idolatry and who was later destroyed and his body tossed to the dogs in judgment.  Returning, however, to the main course — whales, their behavior,  the hunting of them —  I wish Melville had imposed more organization.  While there’s  a great deal of information here, I don’t quite understand why it’s still regarded as a classic of scientific literature, alongside The Origin of Species and On the Motions of the Heavenly Spheres.

Please note that the above paragraph is a thoroughly tongue-in-cheek ribbing of Moby-Dick, a book that would be as short as The Old Man and the Sea if the voluminous content about whales, whaling, whale-boats, and Wales were removed and the story left alone  I enjoyed this book and this review for all the wrong reasons!

About smellincoffee

Citizen, librarian, reader with a boundless wonder for the world and a curiosity about all the beings inside it.
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12 Responses to The Whale

  1. CyberKitten says:

    I keep meaning to read this, I really do….. Maybe one day?

  2. Brian Joseph says:

    For what it is worth, I also loved the whaling and historical education that this book imparted. If one striped out certain parts, it would be a work of non – fiction.I think that there are abridged versions of this book around, I would guess that they are about as long as The Old Man and the Sea.

  3. Stephen says:

    I'd read an abridged version (sans whale taxonomy) in highs school, but wanted to try the full thing. I knew it was HERE, I just didn't know it was most of the booK!

  4. Stephen says:

    Hey, that's what the Classics Club is for…turns those somedays into reality. Some of the books I've read the past three years I'd still be hemming and hawing about had they not been put on the list.

  5. CyberKitten says:

    Well, I'm just coming to the end of a series of 10 modern classics…. More classics to come – just not yet [grin] I do have a copy though. Indeed I can see it from where I'm sitting!

  6. mudpuddle says:

    i read this in high school 60 years ago for a book report (i chagrin because i'm still writing them, haha)… teach liked it but he said i missed the whole point of the book by not taking notice of the Biblical language… i know more now what he was talking about than i did then…

  7. Marian H says:

    I was frustrated by the nonfiction on my first attempt at reading it, but oddly enough, really enjoyed it the second time. It's a book that could only have been written in the 19th century, I think.Have you seen any of the film adaptations?

  8. Stephen says:

    I've seen the one with Patrick Stewart as Ahab, purely for Stewart. I don't remember much about it, though!

  9. Stephen says:

    I've heard Moby-Dick can be read as a metaphor for a mercurial, omniscient God, that sort of thing.

  10. Marian H says:

    That one's still on my to-watch list! I grew up with the 1956 Gregory Peck version, and have to admit it's my favorite way to enjoy the story.

  11. Stephen says:

    Based on the youtube clips I've seen, it's remarkable. Peck also did Horatio Hornblower!

  12. Pingback: Classics Club Run I: Final List | Reading Freely

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