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Chapter 99: The Doubloon opens rather poetically if I do say so myself.

pg. 455: Ere now it has been related how Ahab was wont to pace his quarter-deck

Really, it feels like it should be spaced out.

Ere now it has been related how
Ahab was wont to pace his quarter-deck
Something rhyme something something rhyme
A line with comparable rhythm ending in something that rhymes with "deck."

(This is probably why I am not a poet. But I digress.)

This entire chapter is about the doubloon Ahab nailed to the mast all the way back in Chapter 36, which means Ishmael has taken no less than 63 chapters to get back to the plot. Not that I'm bitter. No, I'd only be bitter if he'd spent roughly 55 of those chapters going on self-indulgent tangents that had little or nothing to do with the overarching story or any of the characters I cared about.

Anyway, the doubloon. What this chapter is supposed to be doing is reveal the psychological underpinnings of several key characters as they examine and react to the doubloon on the mast. It is, essentially, seven pages of characters thinking out loud. I would probably be more receptive to this if I hadn't also been forced to read through hundreds of pages of primitive cetology.

Again, I digress.

Ahab sees himself in the coin, Starbuck sees the devil, Stubb has his usual reaction–

pg. 457: Humph! in my poor, insignificant opinion, I regard this as queer

–and Flask is the only one with any sort of sensible opinion.

pg. 459: I see nothing here, but a round thing made of gold, and whoever raises a certain whale, this round thing belongs to him. So what's all this staring been about?

The Manxman (remember him? I barely did.) sees the ship's doom. Queequeg is observed through Flask acting as a colonial lens.

pg. 460: "Dodge again! here comes Queequeg–all tattooing–looks like the signs of the zodiac himself. What says the Cannibal? As I live he's comparing notes; looking at his thigh bone; thinks the sun is in the thigh, or in the calf, or in the bowels, I suppose, as the old women talk Surgeon's Astronomy in the back country. And by Jove, he's found something there in the vicinity of his thigh–I guess it's Sagittarius, or the Archer. No: he don't know what to make of the doubloon; he takes it for an old button off some king's trowsers.

(Yes, I will shamelessly assign undue importance to any passage containing even the slightest mention of Queequeg. I have slogged through what amounts to 300 pages of whaling glossary and I deserve some sign of my favorite badass harpooneer, damnit.)

Fedallah bows to the coin. Pip babbles nonsensically for a bit but starts to sound like a prophet towards the end, as most mentally ill characters in fiction tend to do, and the chapter ends with yet another incredibly subtle bit of foreshadowing that THIS VOYAGE IS TOTALLY DOOMED, YOU GUYS.

Chapter 100: Leg and Arm. The Pequod, of Nantucket, Meets the Samuel Enderby, of London

As you may have guessed from the chapter title, the Pequod encounters the Samuel Enderby.

AHAB: Have you seen the white whale?
OTHER CAPTAIN: *holds up arm made of ivory with hammer-head-shaped hand*
AHAB: Fantastic!

pg. 463: With his ivory arm frankly thrust forth in welcome, the other captain advanced, and Ahab, putting out his ivory leg, and crossing the ivory arm (like two sword-fish blades) cried out in his walrus way, "Aye, aye, hearty! let us shake bones together!–an arm and a leg!–an arm that never can shrink, d'ye see; and a leg that never can run.

Translation: our substitute limbs make any display of cowardice physically impossible, ergo let us exult in our mutual bravery. Nice way of looking at it.

Unlike Ahab's leg, the other captain's arm wasn't bitten off by Moby Dick, but the whale was involved in the matter. In hunting said whale, the captain managed to get a harpoon barb embedded just below his shoulder. The barb then ripped its way down his arm until it came out near his wrist.

I believe I speak for us all when I say, "Ow."

Naturally, this being before the invention of germs, the wound got infected and festered and yucky and the whole arm had to come clean off. The captain, however, makes note that he feels no ill-will towards the surgeon who was unable to heal his arm.

pg. 466: But heave ahead, boy, I'd rather be killed by you than kept alive by any other man.


Ahab asks if the other captain has seen Moby Dick since then. Turns out he's been sighted twice, but not hunted again.

pg. 467: Didn't want to try to: ain't one limb enough? What should I do without this other arm? And I'm thinking Moby Dick doesn't bite so much as he swallows.

There is a joke in there somewhere, but I will rise above the temptation.

Ahab is displeased by the other captain's disinterest in hunting Moby Dick and flips out.

pg. 468: "Avast!" roared Ahab, dashing him against the bulwarks–"Man the boat! Which way heading?"

"Good God!" cried the English captain, to whom the question was put. "What's the matter? He was heading east, I think–Is your captain crazy?" whispering to Fedallah.

I think this is the first time the question has been directly asked in the text. I'm kind of amazed it took this long.

Ahab leaves the English ship in a huff, literally turning his back on them the entire way back to the Pequod. So they part.

In Chapter 101: The Decanter, we veer away from plot to more thoroughly examine Ishmael's personal philosophies. Because Lord knows everyone was clamoring for more of that.

I can sum up this chapter in a single sentence: English ships have more fun than other ships because they are better-stocked with food and drink.

Let's move on.

Chapter 102: A Bower in the Arsacides

pg. 474: Hitherto, in descriptively treating of the Sperm Whale, I have chiefly dwelt upon the marvels of his outer aspect; or separately and in detail upon some few interior structural features. But to a large and thorough sweeping comprehension of him, it behooves me now to unbutton him still further, and untagging the points of his hose, unbuckling his garters, and casting loose the hooks and the eyes of the joints of his innermost bones, set him before you in his ultimatum; that is to say, in his unconditional skeleton.

I do enjoy the stripping metaphor.

But how, exactly, does Ishmael know what a whale skeleton looks like?

pg. 474-475: I confess, that since Jonah, few whalemen have penetrated very far beneath the skin of the adult whale; nevertheless, I have been blessed with an opportunity to dissect him in miniature. In a ship I belonged to, a small cub Sperm Whale was once bodily hoisted to the deck for his poke or bag, to make sheaths for the barbs of the harpoons, and for the heads of the lances. Think you I let that chance go, without using my boat-hatchet and jacket-knife, and breaking the seal the reading all of the contents of that young cub?

The evidence continually mounts for Ishmael being that weird smelly nerd that no one wanted to talk to in science class. Seriously, he's dissecting a baby whale on deck. Probably while other people are stepping around him, trying to do their jobs. I dunno about you, but the image of an overexcited Ishmael up to his elbows in whale guts blathering on about Jonah and spinal columns while the rest of the crew looks on in disbelief is endlessly amusing to me.*

What Ishmael knows of full-grown whalebones comes from his journey to a place called Tranque on Cape Arsacides, which Wikipedia tells me is on the island of Malatia.

According to Ishmael, the people of Tranque have built a chapel out of the skeleton of a whale. While in the chapel, he took the opportunity to take some measurements of the whale's bones.

Before he tells the audience of his measurements, Ishmael has a brief disclaimer.

pg. 477: These admeasurements I now propose to set before you. But first, be it recorded, that, in this matter, I am not free to utter any fancied measurement I please. Because there are skeleton authorities you can refer to, to test my accuracy.

I am picturing an entire division of police devoted to solving crimes of skeletal falsification. It's kind of great.

pg. 478: The skeleton dimensions I shall now proceed to set down are copied verbatim from my right arm, where I had them tattooed; as in my wild wanderings at that period, there was no other secure way of preserving such valuable statistics. But as I was crowded for space, and wished the other parts of my body to remain a blank page for a poem I was then composing–at least, what untattooed parts might remain–I did not trouble myself with the odd inches;



Okay, so, to reiterate, Ishmael tattooed the measurements of a whale's skeleton on his arm, but left off the inches because he didn't have enough room.

In short, after the events in Moby-Dick, Ishmael wandered the globe as a tattooed badass.

I must admit, I am developing some grudging respect for him. But only some.

Chapter 103: Measurement of the Whale's Skeleton gets into the actual measurements that were hinted at in the previous chapter. Short version: whales is big, y'all.

Chapter 104: The Fossil Whale talks about whale fossils, as you probably could have guessed.

Ishmael takes the job of describing whale fossils very seriously.

pg. 481: Fain am I to stagger to this emprise under the weightiest words of the dictionary. And here be it said, that whenever it has been convenient to consult one in the course of these dissertations, I have invariably used a huge quarto edition of Johnson, expressly purchased for that purpose; because that famous lexicographer's uncommon personal bulk more fitted him to compile a lexicon to be used by a whale author like me.

I think he just called the lexicographer fat.

pg. 481: One often hears of writers that rise and swell with their subject, though it may seem but an ordinary one. How, then, with me, writing of this Leviathan? Unconsciously my chirography expands into placard capitals. Give me a a condor's quill! Give me Vesuvius' crater for an inkstand! Friends, hold my arms! For in the mere act of penning my thoughts of this Leviathan, they weary me

This book is a comedy. Anyone who says otherwise be damned.

The rest of the chapter is, predictably, about whale fossils.


And now, the traditional fanart reward for reading words.

[Image description: another painting of a white sperm whale looking too cute for its own damn good, the bastard.]

Whale painting experiment part 2!

Successful elements: Sealing the Moby-Dick pages before painting on them did wonders for reducing wrinkles, though there is some wrinkling still present.

Less-than-successful elements: By inadvertently combining a sperm whale’s head with a humpback whale’s tail, I have melded the two most adorable animal parts into a single creature. The ability to draw something menacing or even remotely non-cute eludes me. Also, the background is almost too dark to see the pages. But third time’s the charm, eh?


*Yes, there was an entire chapter earlier devoted to a whaleship's crew being particularly tolerant of weirdness, but I think Ishmael tests even their limits.


For more adventures in Moby-Dick, check out the Moby-Dick, or The Rant tag. Alternatively, you can start from the beginning.

Date: 2011-09-27 06:26 am (UTC)
fadeaccompli: (roleplay)
From: [personal profile] fadeaccompli
Awwww, who's an adorable widdle whale who wants to eat a nasty angry captain? You are, Moby! You are!


ambrmerlinus: Portrait of a young white man with a flowing blond mohawk, in profile. (Default)

February 2012

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