Moby Dick is keeping me up at night, and, as I’ll explain soon, I think it kept me up once long ago with fear for what it is doing now with pleasure. Moby Dick is great fun to read and this short post is all about my first direct experience with the book.
As I am reading this book, I recall a very distant and yet very distinct memory of Moby Dick. It is so visceral and real that it might even be part of a childhood dream, actually a childhood nightmare.
I remember a story of a ship repeatedly being attacked by a whale. The whale surfaces frequently and each time raises with it a dread that only a very young boy could experience. I believe this is an old film — maybe even a cartoon — that has stuck with me, but I have searched the internet for something that might fit my memory and I cannot find it. One characteristic of this memory is seeing the ship from the perspective of the whale. The whale appears and we ride with him as he builds speed to ram the ship…this is the image that left its mark and taunts me now. What was it?
I don’t know how my first memories of this whale story ends. Probably didn’t end well. Pirates, whales, and crocodiles freaked me out when I was a boy. Too much Disney, I think. Whatever it was, it left me looking for more comfort than I could get from my flannel pajamas. And now, many years later, I am still spooked.
But back to today and Moby Dick.
Earlier this summer I wrote about The Bedford Incident, for example, and it occurs to me now that The Bedford Incident in many ways is a Cold War era retelling of the Moby Dick story. I’ll have to go back and look at what I said about The Bedford Incident again.
I was surprised when a friend saw my copy of Moby Dick and asked me to read to her. I am only aware of one book this person has read — V. C. Andrews, Flowers in the Attic — so I wasn’t sure what to expect. But she insisted that I read on, even stopping me and asking me to re-read passages she found especially interesting. So I read and read, annotating when I thought I should, and found the experience an unexpected treat. Until now I don’t think I would have thought Moby Dick the best place to start if one were looking to pique the literary interests of a young woman from Iowa. Who knew?
And for myself, I love the overlapping themes and the almost progressively modern tone of the novel. I like this historical vignettes, too. A guy can learn something about sea life, but one should be cautious about putting too much stock in the story’s cetological authority. At times Moby Dick is poetic and lyrical, other times directly modernist, a true predecessor of later great American novels. This is fun to experience. And I have that almost uncanny experience of being frightened again by a memory I cannot pin down, too.
So of course I am up at night. I am reading…I am reading Moby Dick! And I am pausing now only to praise Moby Dick and maybe brag some. (I feel a bit smug about reading it.) I thought I would share a little now and share more later.
- The Bedford Incident (1965) (alittletourinyellow.wordpress.com)
- Moby Dick by Herman Melville (sagirlwrite.wordpress.com)