Monday, July 12, 2010

I am still working it

So I am on Chapter 86. This one is called "The Tail." The previous one was all about the whale's spout. One before that was on the "crotch" that the harpoon sits in. Another was on Jonah...again!
More famous whale people, even calling the Leviathan that Perseus defeats a whale.

Mr. Melville, get on with the story!!

I'll be honest. Critically, the reader just about forgets who the heck Ahab is by this time. There was more character development in those other two captains who give Ishmael and Queequeg the lays.

Imagine if you will a novel that stops and inserts encyclopedia entries all the time. And it is not every other chapter either. I remember the novel The Grapes of Wrath where every other chapter was about the setting or the world. Yet Steinbeck wondrously came back to the main story every other chapter. Steinbeck could have inserted text about politics and poverty like Melville. Even a book like Tolkien's The Return of the King stayed with a character set for a while, a long while in Frodo's case, and then went back to the other set of characters. But the story moved on. Tolkien could have inserted stuff from his Silmarillion and his other unfinished stuff. Imagine if Tolkien inserted all that stuff from his other books? At least you can say that Tolkien was not afraid to delete.

I understand that some of these become necessary later. The chapter on the rope that whalers used (yes, a whole freaking chapter on rope) makes sense only when incorporated properly. Ishmael, for instance, could have gotten a paragraph's worth of decent information on the rope from Stubb, let's say, while moving on to something else. If I look at a list of the chapters, I figure I can delete at least 20 of the 86 chapters so far.

I am chugging along. However, I can only read one chapter a day if they are going to be like this. Sadly, looking at the chapter titles only, I think I am in for a hard time until at least chapter 106 on "Ahab's Leg." I may be surprised, but I doubt it. I mean, think of the fun I am going to have reading chapter 103 "Measurement of the Whale's Skeleton."

Keep in mind that these are NOT encyclopedia entries. These are Melville's attempts to write down only his learned knowledge of the whale and the whaling industry. He is not a scientist and I feel that some of these chapters are probably contradicted by today's zoological science. That makes it feel extra tedious to me.

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