Call me Ishmael

A while back, I posted some thoughts under the title “No subject is terrible if the story is true and if the prose is clean and honest.” Every day someone visits that post, no doubt looking for information about Hemingway, of which they find none.  😦

Just for fun, I thought I’d try another famous sentence, to see whether the same thing would happen again. I was going to use “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” but in the event, I forgot to.

Herewith, everything that I know about whales:

Moby Dick, the movie with Gregory Peck, didn’t do much for me.

I tried for years to read the book. No luck. Bought one copy at a cigar store across from the Wakefield B&M station. Never opened it. Finally listened to the book on tape, read by Richard Ferrone, I think. He does, or did, lots of crime novels and his readings feature a voice dark and minor in key. Whether it was him, or the prose, or both, I came away from Moby Dick with the strong impression that Melville was nuts when he wrote it.

I know a guy in Provincetown who has spent his life and made his living studying right whales, which swim back and forth past Cape Cod.

I know nothing of the private lives of whales. Do they mate for life? Do the husbands fool around? Can a whale get high? Do the dads show up late for their kids’ competitions and other events?

I’ve seen a fluke or two, out from Maui. Maybe some gray whales off the California coast. I can’t remember whether I’ve seen a beached whale carcass or not. There’s one that looks huge in “Maga Shark Vs Giant Octopus” and if you watch the gag reel at the end, you’re shown the camera trick that made a little whale toy look that big. (Note to self: still need to see “Mega Shark Vs Crocosaurus,” “Sharktopus,” and “Dinoshark.”

What about the Japanese? Are they still killing a lot of whales?

Whales do a lot of vocalizing. They can hear well. Sound can travel underwater for incredibly long distances. Unfortunately for whales, the sea has become rackety with the thump of freighter screws and the ping of sonar and the grumble of oil drills. At least the first whalers used sails.

Whales for millions of years had to contend only with the sewage of fish and other whales. Now they’ve got to deal with ours too, and there are a lot more of us than there are of them.

Back in the day, there was a life-sized model of a blue whale at the Smithsonian. Or was it just a skeleton? Either way, I haven’t been back in years, so I don’t know if it’s still there or not.

Not a lot of whale characters in cartoons? Not a lot of whale stuffed animals? Is there a human/whale sympathy gap? Are female whales ever depicted wearing lipstick, like Minne Mouse?

Describe, discuss, compare, and contrast Jonah’s “big fish,” Job’s sea-monster leviathan, Pinocchio’s Monstro, and Milton’s Satan/whale, which “prone on the flood, extending long and large / Lay floating many a rood.”

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5 Responses

  1. Size. That’s what they have in common, given that they’re all guys. Big is modest, which is right for Jonah, because he was trying to keep his head down and not call too much attention to himself, given how he got into the trouble he got into, which basically had to do with being a wuss. Job, well, he earned leviathan, which is pretty damned big, and bigger than “big fish” and after what he went through, he was entitled to it. Monstro is about the psychological size of that thing Pinnochio encounters. It had to be a psychological encounter because Pinnochio was just given a nose and nothing else, so it was all in his head anyway. Milton was blind when he got around to describing his big fish, which is why he made it an acre of a fish, which we all know is probably a tiny bit of an exaggeration, but who knows? Maybe it was close to accurate, given what a giant of English lit that guy is.

    • I’m giving you an A because this is a pretty fair take for a Yalie.

      • I believe I am entitled to bonus points for “it was all in his head anyway.” Also, I’m not really a Yalie, because I slept through most of my classes. I didn’t want to sleep through them, of course, but it seems to be how I handled being completely unable to understand what anyone was saying.

  2. Yeah, Moby Dick. It’s a tough read. I forced myself to do it. Sheer will power got me to the last quarter, maybe just the last eighth, which is the only interesting part of the book (the big conflict with the whale happens then). Other than that, the rest of the book was interminable, and I don’t know why it’s a classic.

    But! My daughter (almost six years old) LOVES Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus, and of course we have seen Mega Shark vs. Crocosaurus, which is also quite good but I found myself missing Debbie Gibson. No one can act badly quite the same way she can act badly, although the actors in MS v Croc sure did try. We also recently got Mega Python vs. Gatoriod, mostly because Debbie Gibson is back, and she’s got Tiffany with her! Gold, baby! Gold! Just today, we got Sharktopus, and it’s on my TV right now. Haven’t seen all of it just yet, so I’ll reserve comment for the time being.

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