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Status Report: I’ll say this much for Melville: he’s done a good job of compartmentalizing this novel, segregating “story” and “info-dump” into distinct chapters. Ishmael doesn’t break away in the middle of the action to spend eight and a half pages explaining why white is the scariest of all colors; oh no, that bit of pontification goes into a chapter all its own.
After a while, you get so you can intuit which category of chapter you are about to read based on the first paragraph alone. Here, for instance, is the opening of one chapter:
It was a cloudy, sultry afternoon; the seamen were lazily lounging about the decks, or vacantly gazing over into the lead-coloured waters. Queequeg and I were mildly employed weaving what is called a sword-mat, for an additional lashing to our boat. So still and subdued and yet somehow preluding was all the scene, and such an incantation of reverie lurked in the air, that each silent sailor seemed resolved into his own invisible self...
And here’s another:
So far as what there may be of a narrative in this book; and, indeed, as indirectly touching one or two very interesting and curious particulars in the habits of sperm whales, the foregoing chapter, in its earlier part, is as important a one as will be found in this volume; but the leading matter of it requires to be still further and more familiarly enlarged upon, in order to be adequately understood, and moreover to take away any incredulity which a profound ignorance of the entire subject may induce in some minds, as to the natural verity of the main points of this affair...
Can you guess which is going to be The Boring One?
There have been half a dozen motion pictures based on Moby-Dick. When I started the book, I wondered how anyone could put this rambling narrative on film. Now I know how they do it: they shoot the entire thing, assemble the three hours of story into the theatrical release, and cobble the remainder of the footage together into a four-hour, two-part “Whales: Leviathans of the Sea” special for the Discovery Channel.
In fact, when I’m done with this, I may publish a list of the “story chapters” only, allowing y’all to read an abbreviated version of the novel (not unlike my guides on how to Fast-Forward Through The Star Wars Prequels. It’s nice that Melville made such a thing possible, by courteously keeping the exciting parts and the dull parts of Moby-Dick separate, thereby creating the McDLT of American literature.
Words looked up:
- Phrensies: Archaic variant of “frenzies.”
- Gudgeon: A socket for a rudder pintle. (Pintle: A usually upright pivot pin on which another part turns)
- Exordium: A beginning or introduction especially to a discourse or composition
- Tyro: A beginner in learning; novice.