Thursday, June 30, 2011

Moby Dick in today's news

I have Yahoo message alerts set up so I get any news that gets published with the keyword "Moby Dick." This one came through today. "Moby Dick moment relived."

"National Parks and Wildlife Service spokesman Lawrence Orel said Drew and his parents were extremely lucky not to have been more severely injured."

A humpback whale attacked a small fishing boat of three people off south of Brisbane, Australia. First of all, the whale in the story is a humpback, not a sperm whale.

Second, I can't figure out if the whale actually "attacked."

"But neither saw the 12 to 13 metre humpback as it approached their vessel, striking Drew with its tail and smashing the windscreen and shade cover on the boat."

There were just "whales in the area," it said. Was it being protective? Was it just a bump?

Fascinating that it is called "Moby Dick moment relived." Relived, as in the original instance that caused Ahab to get all obsessive. No where else does the article talk about Moby Dick either. Actually, upon further analysis of the website, there was a previous article and in this second one, "relived" may reference just the retelling of the incident.

This is just another example of calling any whale Moby Dick, regardless of the circumstances. Sure, it "attacked" but that is the only tenuous connection to a novel written 161 years ago.

Compare this article to another one on the same exact incident: . No mention of Moby Dick, only the goofy little cliche about having a "whale of a time."

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Dicky Moe on tv

By the way, the Dicky Moe episode of Tom & Jerry was on Cartoon Network today. Stumbled across it quite by accident.

Another interesting observation--there are several minutes with just a plain old chase scene, of Jerry getting Tom in trouble swabbing the deck. Almost no whale or setting hinted at, really. Almost like the entire novel of Moby Dick if you ask me--many deviations from the heart of the plot.

By the way, I just noticed that the Youtube account for that video was shut down due to third part copyright infringement.

Moby Dick coffee

Trip Report: Moby Dick II (Lajes do Pico, Açores, Portugal)

"This coffee bar is really a service kiosk made out of a mini Airstream-like trailer decorated to look curiously like a sperm whale "

"The worldwide commercial nature of the whaling industry also marked the birth of modern globalization. It is within this context that you have to appreciate one of the greatest works of American literature, Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. (Our visit to Pico made us reread the novel for the first time since high school, which we enjoyed a lot more this time around.)"

Monday, June 27, 2011

Moby Dick checkout in ROBOT DREAMS

A scene in Sara Varon's ROBOT DREAMS graphic novel has the protagonist checking out a movie called Castle in the Sky while another library patron checks out Moby Dick.

Again, absolutely amazing that of ALL the books in the world, the author chose this one for somebody to check out.

Clearly, she wanted us to read the title, as there are hardly any words in the novel--no dialogue words anyway. Is she trying to convey the obsession? Subliminally?

Well, I emailed Sara Varon, the author, and found out the answer was not that symbolic.

"I only read a tiny bit of Moby Dick, after which I lost interest (I am not much of an intellectual,) but I always meant to finish it, and it happened to be on my book shelf when I was drawing that particular section of the book.

Here is the lamest part of my answer: it has a very short title (2 4-letter words), which I was able to fit into a very small drawing and still have it be legible.

Also, I thought, since the beginning of my story takes place at the beach, it seemed mildly appropriate to reference another book set in the water. "

I think this just validates the theory that the book is on the shelf, we know a lot about it for some reason, but we don't read it. Jaws by Peter Benchley would have worked exactly the same for the author here but that isn't "classic" literature and is not on everyone's bookshelf. I think because Jaws was so successful a movie we forget that the book was a bestseller that came first. Would Jaws have been remembered if not for the movie?

Why does Ms Varon think she needs to be an "intellectual" to read the book? I think that is rather telling. This makes the book inaccessible to most people! Here we have a published author--I don't care what anybody says but it definitely takes some intelligence to get published--that doesn't think she can read the book without a lot of effort.

Also, this brings up the sticky-wicket of us English teachers looking for meaning in small things in books when here there clearly ain't none!

The graphic novel's home page is

Robot Dreams copyright Sara Varon 2007, published by First Second--Go buy the book!

Another old library copy

Works of Herman Melville, 1987, Avenel Books, New York

Anton Otto Fischer cover

Only checked out once 11-21-02

Foreward by Philip J. Madans (Brooklyn, New York, 1987)

From front flap: “Among the works scorned by the critics at the time of its publication was Moby Dick. Now clearly recognized as a landmark in American literature, it is one of the most meticulously analyzed and hotly debated novels of all time. At the center of this novel is the one-legged Ahab, captain of a whaling vessel, who obsessively pursues the great white whale that maimed him. In his single-minded quest, Captain Ahab sacrifices the lives of his crewmen, with only one sailor, Ishmael, surviving to recount the tale. In an ironic twist of fate, Ahab is last glimpsed entangled in the harpoon lines once intended to strike down his nemesis, Moby Dick.”

TALK ABOUT GIVING IT ALL AWAY!! If I had read that I never would have gotten tripped up in seventh grade when Ms Conley asked me how Ahab died. (My answer: "He drowned?")

Let's take a look at some of this front-flap BS--"Clearly recognized"? That is what I have to find--I must find the guy(s) who started liking this darn book when even this front flap says it was "scorned" at the time. What makes something go from obscurity to classic?

For instance, I was talking with my wife the other day and the novel Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier came up. That was heralded as this "instant classic." Is it still? I tried teaching it in South Kitsap about 2002 and the kids--and I--hated it. Does it take grudge work to be a classic?

Notice how this front flap even states how Ahab is "at the center of this novel." It was almost secondary to me, the whaling industry being central.

Here's what I really take from this: Imagine you are picking this novel up. You've either heard about it or always meant to read it. You read this flap--okay, sounds intriguing. But then you have to struggle through 100+ pages of hard text before ever getting to any of that!!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Old copy found in school library

Moby Dick

1950 Random House, Toronto, part of The Modern Library

Intro by Leon Howard, prof of English, The University of California

Taken into our library by a date-stamp JUN 17 ’68.






3-1-77 the above were handwritten. Below were inked by date-stamp


















2-10-06 end

Sticker inside: Points: 46 Lvl: 12.0 (Some kind of late-90s--early 00s reading point system for schoolkids)

From front flap: “ In the little more than one hundred years since Moby Dick was first published, critics have probed its inexhaustible symbolic treasures. The general reader has also found great wealth as he participated in the hunt for the white whale. He encountered an adventure story of magnificent sweep and suspense. From its incomparably effective opening sentence, “Call me Ishmael,” to its dramatic end when the white whale triumphs and all hands, except Ishmael, perish, Melville makes everyone--the reader most of all--share Captain Ahab’s obsessive belief that he alone can destroy the white, evil leviathan. Moby Dick is more than a tale of the pursuit of a monster; it is an allegory of relentless hatred and evil redeemed by man’s indomitable courage.”

Now, my say-so on the above:

Look at the focus of the front flap: Ahab. Yes, it does show how Ishmael "bookends" the novel, but the crux of the matter always revolves around Ahab. Yet he doesn't even come in for such a long time. Yes, you could say the character and his presence hovers in the background.

And talk about giving it away, how the white whale triumphs and nobody lives except Ishmael.

Let's take a long look at the last sentence: "Moby Dick is more than a tale of the pursuit of a monster; it is an allegory of relentless hatred and evil redeemed by man’s indomitable courage.” Where was it ever "redeemed"? Where? Because Ishmael lives to tell the tale? Redeemed, according to Merriam-Webster is "Do something that compensates for poor past performance or behavior." What gets compensated for? Ahab dies in his struggle, his obsessive stalking of a natural beast. Sure, he alone put his hatred for the ills of the world on the whale, but for him to get destroyed by it doesn't compensate for anything.