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Moby-Dick, Chapters 45-50

Chapters read: xlv. The Affidavit, xlvi. Surmises, xlvii. The Mat-Maker, xlviii. The First Lowering, il. The Hyena, l. Ahab's Boat and Crew. Fedallah

Page reached: 224 of 522 (42.92%)

Status Report: I'll say this much for Melville: he's done a good job of compartmentalizing this novel, segregating "story" and "info-dump" into distinct chapters. Ishmael doesn't break away in the middle of the action to spend eight and a half pages explaining why white is the scariest of all colors; oh no, that bit of pontification goes into a chapter all its own.

After a while, you get so you can intuit which category of chapter you are about to read based on the first paragraph alone. Here, for instance, is the opening of one chapter:

It was a cloudy, sultry afternoon; the seamen were lazily lounging about the decks, or vacantly gazing over into the lead-coloured waters. Queequeg and I were mildly employed weaving what is called a sword-mat, for an additional lashing to our boat. So still and subdued and yet somehow preluding was all the scene, and such an incantation of reverie lurked in the air, that each silent sailor seemed resolved into his own invisible self...
And here's another:
So far as what there may be of a narrative in this book; and, indeed, as indirectly touching one or two very interesting and curious particulars in the habits of sperm whales, the foregoing chapter, in its earlier part, is as important a one as will be found in this volume; but the leading matter of it requires to be still further and more familiarly enlarged upon, in order to be adequately understood, and moreover to take away any incredulity which a profound ignorance of the entire subject may induce in some minds, as to the natural verity of the main points of this affair...
Can you guess which is going to be The Boring One?

There have been half a dozen motion pictures based on Moby-Dick. When I started the book, I wondered how anyone could put this rambling narrative on film. Now I know how they do it: they shoot the entire thing, assemble the three hours of story into the theatrical release, and cobble the remainder of the footage together into a four-hour, two-part "Whales: Leviathans of the Sea" special for the Discovery Channel.

In fact, when I'm done with this, I may publish a list of the "story chapters" only, allowing y'all to read an abbreviated version of the novel (not unlike my guides on how to Fast-Forward Through The Star Wars Prequels. It's nice that Melville made such a thing possible, by courteously keeping the exciting parts and the dull parts of Moby-Dick separate, thereby creating the McDLT of American literature.

Words looked up:

  • Phrensies: Archaic variant of "frenzies."
  • Gudgeon: A socket for a rudder pintle. (Pintle: A usually upright pivot pin on which another part turns)
  • Exordium: A beginning or introduction especially to a discourse or composition
  • Tyro: A beginner in learning; novice.

Posted on November 24, 2006 to NaNoReMo


FWIW, this is exactly what my high school English teachers did. sort of. They made us go buy a copy of Moby Dick and gave us a list of chapters to read. The list included a "Whales: Leviathans of the sea" chapter and a "Ships and the sailor who sail them" chapter, just so we'd know what we were missing, but by cutting out about every other chapter, they distilled it down to just story. I've been grateful for about 15 years.

Posted by: rkimedes on November 25, 2006 8:14 PM

The idea of cutting out all the non-plot chapters makes me think of both the alternate trailer for The Shining and the Jefferson Bible. But I heartily approve of both of these (for different reasons), so go ahead!

Posted by: Doug Orleans on November 25, 2006 10:07 PM

Actually, you could read just the "story" bits, and it might make a good novella.

I read "War and Peace" while skipping Tolstoy's discussions of military strategy, and didn't feel I was missing anything. Of course, other long books (Ulysses, Gravity's Rainbow) aren't so compartmentalised.

I like long books, because they let you into a world. Reading them is like certain relationships.

Posted by: Jack Ruttan on November 26, 2006 8:46 AM

I've been reading along with you and have come to feel that reading Moby Dick is a lot like hiking. With hiking, it isn't the destination, it is the journey. And with Melville, it isn't the plot, but his prose that is entertaining.

I'd like to point out the following line, which I wish I had noticed when my High School English teacher was discussing the symbolism of the white whale.

"So ignorant are most landsmen of some of the plainest and most palpable wonders of the world, that without some hints touching the plain facts, historical and otherwise, of the fishery, they might scout at Moby Dick as a monstrous fable, or still worse and more detestable, a hideous and intolerable allegory."

Posted by: Rob on November 26, 2006 1:31 PM

It was the Discovery Channel of 1851!

It only seems boring to us because we're spoiled citizens of the Information Age.

Hang in there and keep an eye out for some great "sperm" quotes coming up...

Posted by: Emily on November 26, 2006 2:55 PM

I think the second example suggests the MORE boring chapter. But, they both sound like they might both be terribly boring.

Obviously ... I have no class or appreciation for literary greatness.

Posted by: delmer on November 26, 2006 3:10 PM

I haven't, nor do I ever plan to, read Moby Dick, but reading the paragraphs above made me think of a quotation I read in Stephen King's "On Writing". "Kill Your Darlings" was a suggestion given to writers, which advised them to remove the excess ramblings from their work. According to Wikipedia, this advice was given by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch. The second paragraph (the prelude to "The Boring One", right?)neatly demonstrates that Herman Melville should have followed this sage advice.

Posted by: Robin in San Jose on November 26, 2006 5:43 PM

Perhaps you'd be more interested in this:


A picture is, after all, worth 1000. And so much easier to appreciate than all that troublesome literature.

Posted by: pjcamp on November 26, 2006 8:21 PM

I visited a very interesting site, they have a vast collection of books which have been categories and are presented to viewers in an easy-to-search format. You should check it out.


Posted by: Donald on November 27, 2006 2:18 AM

Man. The McDLT was great.

Posted by: LizRM on November 27, 2006 1:34 PM

Dude. You're killin me. Seriously. This book sucked dead donkey dick the first time I was forced to read it. Why are you torturing me with this crap again?

I'm gonna go check out your archives for something written before your brain turned to "mush by melville." Toodles.

Posted by: susan on November 27, 2006 2:02 PM

There's something about a story so full of "sperm whales" and "seamen" that keeps me from reading Moby Dick. Even in the Portuguese version, which is the most usual for my country.
I love reading your posts on the experience, though. Keep going... You can do it!!!


Posted by: Marcelo on November 27, 2006 5:29 PM

Just goes to show that everyone needs an editor...badly! I think from reading this you would make an awesome editor.

Posted by: ozma on November 27, 2006 10:23 PM

Wow. Susan, you are a totally evil, dried-out comment monkey. You also have no idea how to use quotation marks.

Toodles to you too!

Posted by: Sus N' H8ter on November 29, 2006 6:15 AM

I enjoy all your writings, but don't usually comment, just because I'm not much of a commenter. But man, nice work on the McDLT analogy!

Posted by: Glendon on November 29, 2006 1:11 PM