Saturday, March 9, 2013

Call me Ishmael.

Five weeks, 724 pages, and 135 chapters later.... I did it. I finished Moby Dick. And this is my review.

(Me, at the ocean, reading Moby. Don't steal.)

Title: Moby Dick.

Author: Herman Melville.

Synopsis: "Call me Ishmael. Some years ago - never mind how long precisely - having little or not money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world."
In the first 40-50 chapters: When land gets too boring (or too expensive) Ishmael, the story's narrator (well, sort of... but I'll get to that later) likes to get hired to a ship and sail the seas for awhile. Previously he's only been hired to merchant ships. But this time, however, he wants to experience whaling.
So Ishmael goes to Nantucket, an island off the coast of Massachusetts, and the whaling headquarters - so to speak - of the United States. In Nantucket he meets Queequeg, a cannibal, and they become friends.
They get hired to the ship Pequod and thus the adventure begins.
The next 50-60ish chapters are filed with facts of whales and whaling, with the storyline thrown in occasionally. Ahab, the captain of the Pequod, who is out to get revenge on the White Whale Moby Dick for eating his leg, is introduced; as well as Starbuck, Stubb, and Flask, the first three mates; and the harpooners, Daggoo and Tashtego (Queequeg is also a harpooner).
We get to learn our way around a whale, inside and out, and we learn how a whale is caught, killed, and made into oil.
We also get to see Ahab rile his crew to his cause - catching Moby Dick.
Along it's way, the Pequod meets with other whaling vessels but only stays long enough to inquire if they've seen the White Whale.
The last 10-20ish chapters of the books are mostly about the voyage - conversations between the crew, gamming (meeting) with other whaling vessels, the making of Ahab's new ivory leg (since his other one broke), and finally, in the last three chapters, Moby Dick is spotted and chased!

My rating: 8/10 stars.

My thoughts (because they are too jumbled to be put into good and bad categories): First of all, This book is not for everyone, and certainly not for young people because I was even having a hard time understanding some of the stuff in the book.
That being said, I did enjoy Moby Dick, however tedious it was to read.
For one, it was a LOT funnier than I expected it to be. The first 50 chapters or so (before they get on the whale ship) are really, really funny in their own way. Ishmael bemoans the fact that he has no money and no place to sleep for the night and then he says, "But enough blubbering, we are going whaling and there will be enough of that later."
My favorite part, though, is when Queequeg is getting hired to the Pequod. Ishmael has already been hired, and the staunch Quaker owners of the ship are wary of letting a savage on board. Peleg, one of the owners, didn't quite catch Queequeg's name so he goes around calling him Quohog (and Warthog once) for a few chapters. A 'quohog' is a type of clam. It's really funny.
This book is very philosophical and spiritual.... Herman Melville, the author, grew up Dutch Calvinist, and really, really knew the Bible. He's all the time making allusions to passages in Moby Dick. He gave a lot of his characters Biblical names as well (Ishmael, Ahab, Bildad, Elijah, Gabriel, Jonah....) and they all have meaning behind their names. Ishmael, for example, in the Bible was the first son of Abraham (Abram, then) with Sarah's maid servant Hagar. When Isaac was born to Abraham and Sarah, Abraham exiled Hagar and Ishmael into the desert. The Ishmael in Moby Dick is similarly left alone at the end of the book.... as he is the only survivor after Moby sinks the Pequod.
Though Melville really knew the Bible, I do not think he was a Christian. In the book he kind of puts all religion as one - like, all religions are good and fine and just respect everything. It was kind of disturbing.... In one part Ishmael takes part in worshipping Queequeg's pagan idol and there are many mentions of the devil. Several of the characters are seen as being possessed (although that could be sailor's superstitions out on the sea).
The book is very deep in that way.... Some of the philosophical stuff was way too deep for me to understand, at least right now, since I'm so young.
The characters were really good. You don't really get to know them very well.... I would say the character you most get to know is Ahab, though he certainly isn't the hero. This book doesn't really have a hero.... Ahab is more like an anti-hero. He's after revenge and you can't reason with him, which eventually costs him his life, as well as his ship and his crew's lives.
I still felt a connection to the characters, though. I didn't want them to die at the end of the book. I knew it was coming, but I couldn't help but shout in my head "DON'T FOLLOW AHAB! MUTINY! LEAVE! DON'T LET HIM KILL YOU ALL!"
Strangely enough, the one character I didn't feel too much for was the one that survived - Ishmael. Ishmael is the narrator of the book and has been compared to Melville himself. Both didn't really have a set job; they both went from one job to another, trying to find their place in society. They both tried out sailing (though Ishmael lasted longer than Melville, who deserted his whaling voyage after a few weeks). A lot of the book is actually done in third person. It's as if we were listening in on secret conversation of different crew members... Ahab telling the carpenter to get a new leg, Starbuck fighting with himself over whether to kill Ahab in his sleep, Ahab talking with Pip.... Ishmael wouldn't have been able to hear all these private conversations. Plus he doesn't say, "I snuck down near the Captain's cabin and listened at his door." The narrative is just put down. Occasionally Ishmael will pop back into the story. "I stood on the mizzenmast in a deep reverie... Now that we're here, though, let me tell you about baleen and their use in women's skirts." Personally, I think Ishmael IS Melville. The first line of the book is "Call me Ishmael" which could imply, my friend pointed out, that Ishmael isn't his real name. Call me Ishmael. It reminds me of in Tintin when he says, "My name doesn't matter, but back home they call me Tintin." So, if Ishmael isn't his real name (because I don't think any characters ever say, "Ishmael do this!" or "Ishmael do that!"), his real name could easily be Herman Melville. And since Herman Melville is the author, he has access to all his character's private conversations. So I think Ishmael is Herman Melville (that explains how he survived the wreck at the end as well).
Melville was obviously a genius. He read a tremendous amount about whales and whaling, and also knew the Bible very well, and also knew Shakespeare and other old writings very well. He is constantly making allusions to this whale book, or that Bible verse, or Plato, or a statue in a foreign country, or a painting on the wall of his friend's house. He added so much into his book. It is really amazing how well-read this man was. He was very smart.

Now just a couple things you should know.... There is one chapter, near the beginning, when Queequeg and Ishmael meet. The inn is full and Ishmael has a choice between sleeping on a hard wooden bench, or sleeping in the same bed as a savage (because back then, men shared beds at inns. It happens in Robin Hood by Howard Pyle as well. Poor Robin has to share a bed with the Sheriff of Nottingham if I remember correctly! Back then it was no big deal). Ishmael doesn't want to risk being eaten in the night, so he opts for the bench. It is, however, too small for him and he can't sleep. He decides that maybe the cannibal isn't so bad... and tells the innkeeper to take him to the room. Ishmael gets into bed (Queequeg is out at the moment. Selling shrunken heads) and is almost asleep when Queequeg comes back. They soon become friends. My point is, Melville alludes to them as being almost like a married couple and in the morning, Ishmael wakes up with Queequeg's leg thrown over him. It is quite awkward to read... even though I'm sure Melville didn't mean anything by it. If I had been forewarned about it, maybe I would have been more at ease.
There are also a couple of swear words... of course, since the majority of the book takes place on a whale ship!
And then the spiritual stuff I mentioned above.

Have I read Moby before: No.

Will I read it agian: Yes, definitely. When I'm older.

Would I recommend it? I would, actually.

There is soooo much more I could talk about but I think I'll only pick one last thing, so as not to bore you all.
The ending.
So, Moby Dick is mentioned throughout the whole book but doesn't actually make an appearance until the last three chapters. The last three chapters are spent trying to chase him and kill him.
In the last chapter, Moby smashes Ahab's whale boat, sending him flying to his death, and then proceeds to attack the Pequod. Moby smashes the hull of the Pequod several times and ends up sinking the ship. Everyone dies except for Ishmael who is saved by the ship's live buoy (which is actually Queequeg's coffin altered to be a buoy. Queequeg had a coffin made for him earlier in the book when he thinks he's going to die of a fever). Everyone dies and Moby Dick isn't even killed!
724 pages for NOTHING!
And what's worse, Moby Dick is still out there, in the ocean, just ready to attack innocent ships..... Beware. Beware!!

Live long and prosper.


  1. I am very glad I read my friend's abridged children's story version of this book, because I really don't care for this style of book that doesn't have much propellation (is that a word) in its plot. Still, I am glad that you enjoyed it quite a bit!

  2. Jack says she will comment later on the book but since I have the computer now I will say...I'm glad I'm a hedgehog and not a whale. I don't think I like water enough...and I'm glad Jack is an author and not a sailor person. I don't want to be always on a ship I think, it would be wet and up and down and tossing all over. And fishy....

  3. I've had different thoughts on Moby Dick. I've never read it, not caring much for long books which go into a lot of detail on sea life. And reading your view I am now certain I will be very unlikely to pick up the book...and at the same time I am now wondering even more if I should.
    The general story isn't one I would care for. Men talking about whales and sea life. Yet, the things behind the story do sound interesting and the things one might learn have got my interest.

    And on that note I will add....THEY SHOULDN'T HAVE KILLED ISHMAEL IN THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN! He was cool in that movie. Though they did stick him with Captain Nemo instead of Ahab. Maybe it is because Ahab was already dead...

    Anyhow, even though I have differing thoughts on the book I enjoyed your review a lot and believe I can better understand the story now.