Saturday, May 17, 2008

Moby Dick - 100 Pages Down

My copy of Moby Dick is a really nice looking, leather (or faux-leather) edition with large print and many illustrations (probably about one every 20 pages or so). The total page count is 600, and I'm now through with the first 100. Besides being a slow reader, (But you're an English teacher! Yeah, I know. Shut up.) there have been a few other things slowing me down. One is that I'm still working, and I tend to get most of my reading done during the summer. The other is that I recently purchased Jack Kirby's Fourth World Omnibus along with my usual weekly load of comics that have taken a bit of a priority. (I'm talking about serious literature all day long - I need some lighter reading on my time off.)

I've decided to write a blog for every 100 pages that I get through - perhaps this will be the motivation that I need to complete it. I'm going to take my time with this one, as there is a lot of other reading that I want to do over the summer, and if I wait until I finish Moby Dick, I might never get around to them. That's okay though, as I know the basic story, and it's not your typical novel. It reads just as well in fragments as it does in a few sittings - perhaps even better if you have a short attention span like mine.

So, how's the first 1/6 of the book? Pretty damned good, actually. There's a lot to admire about it. One of my favorite things about the book is how thorough Melville creates his world. It's like you're there in Nantucket, eating a bowl of clam (or cod!) chowder with Ishmael and Queequeg as you get ready to get employment on a whaling ship. He really knows how to set the stage for his story - which isn't too surprising considering that he lived the life that he describes. (Which is also one of the great things about Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men.)

What really stands out even moreso is the relationship between Ishmael and Queequeg. I remember liking that when I read the book (you know, the parts that I actually read) when I was in college. I was really going through a bit of a spiritual dilemma at the time, and the book reminds me of that. Ishmael has become good friends, creating a near-fraternal bond, with the pagan cannibal Queequeg. Throughout it, he tries to reconcile his Christianity with his associating with such a person. He even takes part in a bit of idol worship, justifying it as an acting out of the Golden Rule that Jesus preached. (After all, Ishmael figures, he'd want Queequeg to take part in his religious ceremonies, so shouldn't he do the same for his friend?) I also love it how Ishmael explains to the owners of The Pequod that Queequeg is a member of the same "church" as they are by the very fact that he is a human being. Great stuff.

When I originally read that, I was struggling with the whole notion that the Jesus story was the "right" story, whereas all the other religious mythologies in the world were just that - myths. I didn't like the idea of my god being the "right" one and others believing in the "wrong" one. Of course, I eventually wound up thinking that they were all wrong (at least, in the literal sense), but it's cool to be reminded of another stage in my spiritual thought process.

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