Friday, February 1, 2013


By Herman Melville

(Ed. note: Just how much can the reader expect from a book about fish that starts out, “Hi!  I’m Ishmael.”?)

Ishmael, the narrator, has made several voyages as a sailor but none as a whaler.  He takes a Greyhound to New Bedford, Massachusetts, where he stays in a whalers’ inn/gay bar. Since the inn/gay bar is rather full, he has to share a bed with a harpooner from the South Pacific named Queequeg.  At first repulsed by Queequeg’s strange habits and shocking appearance (he is covered with tattoos), Ishmael eventually comes to appreciate the man’s generosity, friendly nature and  scenic body and the two decide to hook up and seek work on a whaling vessel together.  They take a ferry to Nantucket, the traditional capital of the whaling industry. There they secure berths on the Pequod, a savage looking ship adorned with the bones and teeth of sperm whales.  The Pequod’s owners mention the ship’s mysterious captain, Ahab, who is still recovering from having lost his leg in an encounter with a sperm whale on his last voyage.  They warn them not to ask Ahab, “Where did you see it last?” since he has absolutely no sense of humor.

The Pequod leaves Nantucket on a cold Christmas Day with a crew made up of men from many different countries and races.  Soon the ship is in warmer waters, and Ahab makes his first appearance on deck, balancing gingerly on his false leg, which is made from a sperm whale’s jaw.  He announces his desire to pursue and kill Moby Dick, who took his leg.  (Ed. Note: The whale’s name is from the Latin “mobster” meaning “bad guy” and “dick”, which you can figure out.) Ahab nails a couple of bucks to the mast and declares that it will be the prize for the first man to sight the whale.  

The ship rounds Africa and enters the Indian Ocean.  They see several whales but surprisingly few Indians.  From time to time, the ship encounters other whaling vessels and Ahab always demands information about Moby Dick from their captains. One of the ships, the Jeroboam, carries Gabriel, a crazed prophet who predicts doom for anyone who threatens Moby Dick.  His predictions seem to carry some weight, as Tashtego, who also carried quite a bit of weight but was still pretty cute, had exploded while the white whale was attempting to have sex with him.  (Gabriel had warned him.)  

Not long after, Queequeg, who is a hypochondriac, has an allergy attack and has the ship’s carpenter make him a coffin in anticipation of his death.  Business was slow and Queequeg figures he might as well take advantage of the carpenter’s pre-need sale offer. He recovers, however, and the coffin eventually becomes the Pequod’s replacement life buoy.

Ahab receives a phone call from a psychic warning him to stay away from ropes, which he interprets to mean that he will not die at sea where there are no hangings.  Wrong.  While chasing Moby Dick in a small boat, the harpoon rope becomes wrapped around his leg/whale’s jawbone and he is dragged out of the boat and into the ocean, where he drowns.  It is said that his last words were “Glub, glub, damn it!”

There is a storm and a bolt of lightning hits the Pequod, setting it on fire.  Everyone abandons ship, becoming entrees on the neighborhood shark’s all you can eat buffet.  Everyone, that is, except Ishmael, Queequeg and Starbuck, the first mate, who had cleverly hidden three shark costumes in Queequeg’s coffin.  They put on the costumes and safely float on the coffin, since sharks are none too bright, and patiently await the arrival of the Coast Guard.  While waiting, Queequeg and Ishmael sing and lift Starbuck's spirits.  Starbuck tells stories and lifts their wallets.

Upon their return to shore, the men decide that they have had enough of whaling.  Starbuck opens a successful yet overpriced coffee company.  Ishmael and Queequeg marry (it is now legal in Massachusetts) and go on to form “Greenpeace”.  They still keep in touch with Starbuck via email.

I'm reading a book about anti-gravity. I just can't put it down----fishducky

P.S. This post is dedicated to Dee, who probably does not want me to review her books.