Free the Whales
As some of you may know, I had a rude awakening reading Chapter 61: some whales are probably going to die in this book. Reading a book about a whaling ship’s journey, one would think I might have clued in at, oh, page 1! I’ve always had an affinity for animals and don’t do well when they are hurt or suffering. I cannot watch the following: (a) humane society commercials; (b) nature documentaries where animals prey on each other for food; and (c) anything where animals are hurt or killed, despite the “no animals were injured during the making of this film” disclaimer. I cry hard when I see these things, cry really hard.
However, despite the fact whales are going to die in this book, I’m not going to stop reading.
Not a lot of conversation takes place in this book, but Stubb seems quite happy to talk on behalf of the entire ship. We hear about his dreams, his opinion on how whale “steak” should be cooked, his rant that Fedallah is the devil. When Stubb boards the Rose-Bud and tricks the French captain into releasing the two dead whales attached to the ship, as humourous as this incident is I can’t helping thinking that’s it, Stubb is the star of this show. Forget Ahab and Starbuck because we have barely heard peep from either of them.
Stubb has proven himself to be a competent leader on the boats and an experienced whale guy, but I’m not sure whether I like him or not. He’s one of those rascally characters who are crude in their manners, overconfident in their speech and make me uncomfortable because they enjoy getting in your face. Yet, I can also imagine meeting him at the pub and laughing at his stupid jokes. He is the loveable scoundrel.
The Grand Armada
I held my breath reading most of this chapter first because I thought a massacre might be at hand. When the Pequod crew is caught up in the massive herd, I was certain they could not resist the opportunity to make a big, bloody catch. But then the crew becomes entranced watching the nursing cows and calves tranquilly floating beneath the surface of the boat. They lock eyes with the creatures and make gentle, physical contact. It was a beautiful, calm scene that I didn’t expect, and of course, it quickly ends and everything becomes chaos again. The crew turn their attention to a wounded whale caught up in a harpoon line and swimming madly in pain. He is not only fatally injuring himself, but the whales around him with a cutting spade attached to the line. I could envision the panic and fear of that swollen mass of whales, the blood gushing into the water, the confusion and anxiety of the crew, and then things open up and Starbuck is yelling at the oarsmen to row, row like hell for their lives …
Phew! What a great chapter.
The more I read Moby-Dick, the more I don’t mind what I used to call those annoying side chapters on such subjects as the colour White, or the Tail or Cisterns and Buckets. I’ve always been fascinated by what goes on behind the scenes: how does it work, what is the context, what is the process, how is it organized, etc. Melville has all kinds of tid bits, odds and ends, random facts and useless information to throw at us. He totally knows how to satisfy my love of minutiae! I almost don’t care about Ahab’s search for what’s-his-name, Moby Dick, anymore. Just tell me more about Brit and The Crotch.
Is that weird? Happy reading!