Aug 24, 2009

Moby Dick - Herman Melville

I read Moby Dick fifty-two years ago while in the Libyan desert somewhere south of Miserata. I was then in the Air Force and working twelve hour shifts monitoring and fine tuning the Shanicle Guidance System that was kept ready to control Martin Matador TM-61-C guided missiles. It was hot and dirty. Food and beer was flown in by Banana Choppers. Water for drinking and hygiene was warm and tasted of rust. When we woke in the morning scorpions were often found in our boots before we put them on. The on-duty shifts were long and boring. I think I read Moby Dick while on duty in the electronics van where the light was better and the temperature a bit cooler.

Now our club picked it as one of the selections for August. I read it (something of a chore) and before the review meeting the club dropped it as the selection. It was such a laborious effort to read that I decided to write this report anyway.

A person starts this book knowing that the overall story is symbolic. Scholars tell us it is allegorical and an important work. Well, I agree but probably not for the reasons usually cited.

On second reading I found that the book dwells (and dwells) on the biology, personality, configuration, habits, and other specific details having to do with whales. Perhaps more that you ever want to know. Out of 650 pages about 450 discuss minutiae about whales. The story of Moby Dick, the sailing ships of the day, the methods used then to kill whales, and the moral (somewhat subliminal) lessons of the good and evil in man's nature - could have been condensed to fit 200 pages.

That is not meant to take away from the scholarship and literary skills of the author. Mr. Melville must have been a brilliant man. There is no question that he was an excellent author. His encyclopedic use of language and his confident sentence structure is outstanding. His philosophic studies of the ethical and moral questions that have bothered mankind forever - are interesting to consider.

All in all, a good solid book of whale-ology and seafaring during the time of wind propulsion.

But long.