Literary Sins: The World Lied to Me about Moby-Dick

As seen in my first Literary Sins post, I’m on this journey to read classic books that are great works of literature. I started this endeavor because a) I like to read, and b) I did not want to miss out on these classic stories.

Mistakes were made.

Why did no one tell me that Moby-Dick was a complete and utter bore?!

I chose to rectify the supposed literary sin of never having read Moby-Dick months ago. I had read some of Herman Melville’s short stories as part of an English course I took in college, but I had never tackled his “greatest” tale about a man’s vendetta against a white whale.

I had heard of Moby-Dick before, though. I mean, who hasn’t? Its first line is famous, and parodies of the demented Captain Ahab are a dime a dozen.

With those parodies ingrained in my mind, I thought Moby-Dick was going to be an adventure. You know, something along the lines of Treasure Island.

I thought it was going to be fun.

It’s not.

AGJHSKJDHSFDGHUAWESGFBSDBLKIUHYSUGHDFVBSGHDFIERHGKDBFVLJHDBFJKASVGDKVSHDGFJSHDGBFAJHGSD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

What the hell, guys?! I was under the assumption that I was in for a seafaring treat, and instead I got this hefty compendium of whale facts.

Seriously, story is just lightly sprinkled over these massive portions of whale tidbits. 10% of the book’s lengthy page count is devoted to progressing and resolving the plot. The other 90% provides details about whale fins, whale bones, whale eyes, whale teeth, whale baleen, whale flukes, whale blubber, whale migration patterns, whales throughout history, whale myths, the whaling industry, the different kinds of whales, whale behavior, whale hunts, whale boats,WHALE EVERYTHING.

I love whales as much as the next person, but come on.

I’m usually not one to mind descriptive detail in my books. Ask anyone who knows about my reading and writing style. I don’t mind getting into paragraphs devoted to describing a single thing.

But there is a limit to how much I can take.

And Herman Melville reached it.

Apparently, Melville’s love of whale trivia is known throughout literary circles. My boyfriend even showed me a meme he found about it after I complained to him about all the whale facts. It’s that one where a boyfriend and girlfriend are walking past a hot girl, so the boyfriend is doing a speculative double-take while the girlfriend glares at him. In place of the hot girl’s face, the words “Whale Facts” covers her features. “Herman Melville” is the boyfriend. “The Actual Plot of Moby-Dick” is the girlfriend.

It’s just a shame that I only found out about this running joke after I had already gotten halfway through Moby-Dick.

Do not, under any circumstances, fall for the trap that is Moby-Dick.

I give Moby-Dick an only-read-this-if-you-are-prepared-to-read-a-lot-of-whale-facts-and-you-want-to-spend-hours-soaking-that-information-up-by-reading-a-novel-instead-of-just-Googling-that-shit-oh-and-it’s-all-written-in-old-timey-language-so-good-luck.

10 thoughts on “Literary Sins: The World Lied to Me about Moby-Dick”

      1. Some more modern ones to start. I’m reading “I know why the caged bird sings” and want to read “to kill a mockingbird ” next. After that, I’m thinking “Anna karenina”.

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  1. I think something you have to take into account is the fact that the book was written long before TV or the internet, so unless someone was in an area frequented by whalers, they probably had little to no idea what the job entailed. So for it to make any sense to the average person without knowledge of anything outside their own lives, it had to be explained in detail. Imagine writing reading a story about someone who traveled on a Kipson to hunt Surlums. You can’t, because they aren’t real and I made them up.

    Personally I enjoyed the read but it does drag in places I agree, and I could’ve done without an entire chapter dedicated to a colour and its various symbolisms.

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    1. You are completely right in that regard. When I called a friend of mine, irate over Melville’s inexplicable disregard for narrative in exchange for these whale facts, he told me that back then, the average person had not seen a whale, so they were novel concepts. Heck, they were even called leviathans, which makes them sound epic as hell.

      Still, I think Moby-Dick disappointed me because of the expectations I’d had for it. The narrative and descent into madness on Ahab’s part is extolled in every pop culture reference to the book I’ve ever seen.

      What I got instead…disappointed me. I have read books with great amount of detail, description, etc. before, but Moby-Dick just did not capture me the way I thought it would.

      Why do you like it? What’s your favorite part? Do you have other favorite authors?

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      1. I think part of why I like it may have been due to the fact that I was never exposed to it in any meaningful way, other than the odd THAR SHE BLOWS and FROM HELL’S HEART I STAB AT THEE.

        The parts where I found myself enjoying it was actually in the character dynamics, and the setting, imaging the people and the environments and how it would’ve been back in the day. Not to mention I do sympathise with Ishmael to a degree, life can seem very banal, and sometimes you want to get away from it and do something completely out of your comfort zone, and being out on a restless sea fighting for your life against giant beasts alongside men that in other circumstances could be your staunchest of enemies is definitely brilliantly uncomfortable.

        But my favourite part would probably be the character of Ahab. Just imagining what kind of person would grow physically ill whenever he wasn’t actively hunting down the object of his malice is intriguing. What kind of a person would be so bloodthirsty, yet somehow still have the presence of mind to be able to rouse up his crew and instill in them the same fire that burns away at his soul until nothing is left but a madman desperately chasing his foe into the jaws of death.

        Aside from that, I do enjoy hearing the views and opinions of others on philosophical and metaphysical matters, so the debates on religion didn’t bother me, and I somewhat enjoyed learning about whaling since it wasn’t a subject I’d ever though to learn about before, so it was all new information to me.

        Favourite part was whenever Ahab was talking to the crew, and the end hunt and subsequent defeat.

        I don’t really read all that much to be honest, but I recently read Bram Stoker’s dracula, and I really enjoyed that. Also read the heart of darkness, and that was an odd read more than anything else. Offered a lot of questions and a delightfully surreal premise, but ended up feeling a bit lackluster, although part of me thinks that was the point.

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