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I have sectioned out my copy of Moby-Dick, and it looks like I can finish this Rant in four more posts.

Chapter 116: The Dying Whale is worthwhile if only because it contains the phrase

pg. 523: after encountering the gay Bachelor

Apart from that, here's what happens: The Pequod bags four whales, one of which is Ahab's. He then watches the whale die and gives an entirely too-lengthy speech about death and light and darkness and I'm sure it's all very meaningful but dear God shut up.

Chapter 117: The Whale Watch is not about tourists on boats pointing at vague lumps on the sea and shrieking "IS THAT A DOLPHIN!?"

Instead, we get a prophecy from Fedallah to Ahab. Short version:

1) Ahab will have neither a hearse nor a coffin when he dies.
2) Before Ahab dies, he will see two hearses on the ocean.
3) Fedallah will die before Ahab dies.
4) After Fedallah dies, he will appear to Ahab again as a guide.
5) Only hemp can kill Ahab.*

Ahab interprets all of this to mean he is immortal. Anyone with a grain of sense reading this book knows it spells only DOOM, DOOM AND GLOOM just like every other bit of foreshadowing we get.

Chapter 118: The Quadrant**

Ahab uses a quadrant*** to figure out where the Pequod is on the ocean. But what Ahab truly wants to know, and what the quadrant is unable to tell him, is where Moby Dick is right now. Unsatisfied with the limitations of his equipment, he smashes it to smithereenson the deck of the ship.

I repeat, the captain of the ship has just destroyed their navigation equipment because it lacked magical powers. In front of everyone.

Why the fuck hasn't there been a mutiny by now?

In Chapter 119: The Candles, the Pequod gets caught in a typhoon, and everyone involved has an incredibly lengthy conversation. In a typhoon. I dunno about you guys, but I can hardly hear people over a light rainstorm, much less 75 mph winds.

Stubb is singing a song about how great the ocean is, and Starbuck wants him to shut up, because Starbuck's got some prophecy of his own.

pg. 530: "Here!" cried Starbuck, seizing Stubb by the shoulder, and pointing his hand towards the weather bow, "markest thou not that the gale comes from the eastward, the very course Ahab is to run for Moby Dick? the very course he swung to this day noon? now mark his boat there; where is that stove? in the stern-sheets, man; where he is wont to stand–his stand-point is stove, man! Now jump overboard, and sing away, if thou must!"

tl;dr – The storm is coming after them from Moby Dick's direction, and it has destroyed the portion of Ahab's whaleboat where Ahab would be standing if he were hunting a whale. These are bad signs.

...Actually, that makes a lot of sense. Stubb, however, doesn't see it that way.

pg. 530: "I don't half understand ye: what's in the wind?"

"Yes, yes, round the Cape of Good Hope is the shortest way to Nantucket," soliloquized Starbuck suddenly, heedless of Stubb's question. "The gale that now hammers at us to stave us, we can turn it into a fair wind that will drive us towards home. Yonder, to windward, al is blackness of doom; but to leeward, homeward–I see it lightens up there; but not with the lightning."

YES. This is a good plan! Do this plan!

But of course Ahab comes along to ruin everyone's day and/or mutinous planning. He doesn't have much time to do more than stand there before the tips of the masts catch fire.

Well, not really. It's St. Elmo's fire, which Wikipedia explains as "a weather phenomenon in which luminous plasma is created by a coronal discharge from a grounded object in an electric field in the atmosphere (such as those generated by thunderstorms created by a volcanic eruption). St. Elmo's fire is named after St. Erasmus of Formiae (also called St. Elmo, the Italian name for St. Erasmus), the patron saint of sailors. The phenomenon sometimes appeared on ships at sea during thunderstorms and was regarded by sailors with religious awe for its glowing ball of light, accounting for the name."

Needless to say, it freaks out the crew a little.

Starbuck bumps into Stubb and does a little "I told you so!" routine. But Stubb argues that the St. Elmo's fire is a good omen, because oil burns brightly, and the masts are like oil-filled lamps now, so really it's foreshadowing a totally successful voyage with loads of oil.

I think he's kidding himself.

Ahab, meanwhile, is flipping his shit yet again. He interprets the white-hot burning of the masts to be symbolic of his hunt for the White Whale, and gives a big long fire-worshipping speech to the weather phenomenon. Starbuck tries to talk some sense into him.

pg. 534-535: "The boat! the boat!" cried Starbuck, "look at thy boat, old man!"

Ahab's harpoon, the one forged at Perth's fire, remained firmly lashed in its conspicuous crotch, so that it projected beyond his whale-boat's bow; but the sea that had stove in its bottom had caused the loose leather sheath to drop off; and from the keen steel barb there now came a levelled flame of pale, forked fire. As the silent harpoon burned there like a serpent's tongue, Starbuck grasped Ahab by the arm–"God, God is against thee, old man; forbear! t' is an ill voyage! ill begun, ill continued; let me square the yards, while we may, old man, and make a fair wind of it homewards, to go on a better voyage than this."

The crew is very nearly rallied to mutiny (at last!), but then–

pg. 535: But dashing the rattling lightning links to the deck, and snatching the burning harpoon, Ahab waved it like a torch among them; swearing to transfix with it the first sailor that but cast loose a rope's end.

Dude. Overkill.

pg. 535: Petrified by this aspect, and still more shrinking from the fiery dart that he held, the men fell back in dismay, and Ahab again spoke:–

"All your oaths to hunt the White Whale are as binding as mine; and heart, soul, and body, lungs and life, old Ahab is bound. And that ye may know to what tune this heart beats; look ye here; thus I blow out the last fear!" And with one blast of his breath he extinguished the flame.

The crew is completely cowed by this display, and honestly I can't really blame them. Still rooting for a mutiny, though.

Chapter 120: The Deck Towards the End of the First Night Watch brings us back to play-within-a-novel format.

Starbuck tries to convince Ahab to do his goddamn job, but Ahab is having none of it. Ad nauseum.

Chapter 121: Midnight.–The Forecastle Bulwarks continues in screenplay style.

Stubb and Flask are hanging out together on the aforementioned forecastle bulwarks, tying anchors. Flask is calling out Stubb on being a huge hypocrite re: his attitude towards Ahab. First he thinks Ahab is a dangerous weirdo, now he's convinced everything is peachy-keen, what's up with that?

Stubb's retort is that there is way too much water all around them in both the physical and metaphorical sense for a fire-worshipper like Ahab to gain any significant ground, so everything's going to be just fine, guys, don't even worry about it.

Chapter 122: Midnight Aloft.–Thunder and Lightning is literally a paragraph, which I will reproduce in full.

pg. 539: [The main-top-sail yard.–Tashtego passing new lashings around it.]

"Um, um, um. Stop that thunder! Plenty too much thunder up here. What's the use of thunder? Um, um, um. We don't want thunder; we want rum; give us a glass of rum. Um, um, um!"


Chapter 123: The Musket

Ishmael explains how sometimes after a big storm, the needles on compasses will spin 'round and 'round like in Disney's Pocahontas or Pirates of the Caribbean.****

Now that the storm is over, and the crew is ready to sail again, Starbuck goes below to wake up Ahab and give him the good news. In the sleeping captain's cabin is a whole rack o' loaded muskets.

pg. 540-541: The loaded muskets in the rack were shiningly revealed, as they stood upright against the forward bulkhead. Starbuck was an honest, upright man; but out of Starbuck's heart, at that instant when he saw the muskets, there strangely evolved an evil thought; but so blent with its neutral or good accompaniments that for the instant he hardly knew it for itself.

Are you thinking what I'm thinking, Starbuck?

pg. 541: "He would have shot me once," he murmured, "yes, there's the very musket that he pointed at me;–that one with the studded stock; let me touch it–lift it. Strange, that I, who have handled so many deadly lances, strange, that I should shake so now. Loaded? I must see. Aye, aye; and powder in the pan;–that's not good. Best spill it?

Yes, spill it directly into Ahab's brain. Come on, Starbuck, you can do it.

pg. 541: –wait. I'll cure myself of this. I'll hold the musket boldly while I think.–I come to report a fair wind to him. But how fair? Fair for death and doom,–that's fair for Moby Dick. It's a fair wind that's only fair for that accursed fish–The very tube he pointed at me!–the very one; this one–I hold it here; he would have killed me with the very thing I handle now.

You make an excellent point. He'd do you in without a second thought, so why not do him the same favor?

pg. 541: –Aye, and he would fain kill all his crew. Does not say he will not strike his spars to any gale? Has he not dashed his heavenly quadrant? and in these same perilous seas, gropes he not his way by mere dead reckoning of the error-abounding log? and in this very Typhoon, did he not swear that he would have no lightning-rods? But shall this crazed old man be tamely suffered to drag a quole ship's company down to doom with him?

Ahab is clearly unfit to captain a ship. Best relieve him of his station. With the musket.

pg. 541: –Yes, it would make him the wilful murderer of thirty men and more, if this ship come to any deadly harm; and come to deadly harm, my soul swears this ship will, if Ahab have his way. If, then, he were this instant–put aside, that crime would not be his.

You'd be a hero, Starbuck! Think of all the lives you'd save, for the price of one!

pg. 541: –But is there no other way? no lawful way?–Make him a prisoner to be taken home?


pg. 541-542: What! hope to wrest this old man's living power from his own living hands? Only a fool would try it. Say he were pinioned even; knotted all over with ropes and hawsers; chained down to ringbolts on this cabin floor; he would be even more hideous than a caged tiger, then. I could not endure the sight; could not possibly fly his howlings; all comfort, sleep itself, inestimable reason would leave me on the long intolerable voyage.

This is no time for weak stomachs! Lives are at stake!

pg. 542: Is heaven a murderer when its lightning strikes a would-be murderer in his bed, tindering sheets and skin together?–And would I be a murderer, then if"–and slowly, stealthily, and half sideways looking, he placed the loaded musket's end against the door.

No, you would not be a murderer. Take one life, save thirty. Everyone would understand.

pg. 542: "On this level, Ahab's hammock swings within; his head this way. A touch, and Starbuck may survive to hug his wife and child again.–Oh, Mary! Mary!–boy! boy! boy!–But if I wake thee not to death, old man, who can tell to what unsounded deeps Starbuck's body this day week may sink, with all the crew! Great God, where art thou? Shall I? shall I?

If not for the crew, then for the sake of your wife and child! If not for your family, then for yourself, at least! End this!

pg. 542: The yet levelled musket shook like a drunkard's arm against the panel; Starbuck seemed wrestling with an angel; but turning from the door, he placed the death-tube in its rack, and left the place.

"He's too sound asleep. Mr. Stubb; go thou down, and wake him, and tell him. I must see to the deck here. Thou know'st what to say.

Oh my fucking God, Starbuck, you are worse than Hamlet.

(Though, not gonna lie, kind of want to draw Starbuck wrestling with an angel now.)

*Once upon a time a graphic design student made a poster boasting about how great hemp was as a fiber for rope, paper, cloth, etc. At the bottom of the poster was the slogan LEGALIZE IT.

I guess they didn't get the memo that hemp ≠ marijuana. Same plant, yes, but different parts of the plant, not all of which is illegal. (Hemp would be the legal part of it.)

The poor GD kid probably just got confused, but ne'ertheless, around these parts it is the height of hilarity to shout "IF ONLY THEY WOULD LEGALIZE HEMP!" whenever you see hemp products offered for sale.

**No, not that kind.

***Yes, that link is to the Wikipedia entry on sextants, not quadrants, but they're both nautical navigational tools and the sextant is basically a better quadrant.

****Does anybody else want to see a 2D animated Disney version of Moby-Dick? Ahab's villain song would be amazing. And they could give it a happy ending! I am picturing it in Pocahontas's animation style and it is beautiful. Plus Queequeg's practically a Disney prince already. Let's do this.


Oh my God, it's not a whale?

No, it's Queequeg's face! (Also known as the best face.)


For more adventures in Moby-Dick, check out the Moby-Dick, or The Rant tag. Alternatively, you can start from the beginning.
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February 2012

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