If you scroll through the TAC Reviews…Books section you’ll notice that I wrote a review of the first half of Moby Dick some time ago, and whilst some literary classics have found their way into my personal favourite books list Moby Dick was DEFINITELY NOT one of those. The book was tedious, boring, paced like a snail in a wind tunnel and was more painful to read than having your genitals run over by a steam roller. I have attempted to finish the book by skim reading and even doing that the book is STILL boring, tedious, painful, etcetera, etcetera…however I am fascinated by the character of Captain Ahab and the White Whale, Moby Dick, and so whilst the book which features them is horrifically bad I do want to give the man and the monster some attention.
For anyone who doesn’t know what Moby Dick is supposed to be about is one man’s obsession which hunting down a monstrous white sperm whale named (not surprisingly) Moby Dick. The whale is infamous amongst whalers as a strong, dangerous and a monster to be feared, if other vessels spot the white whale they turn and flee because their captains fear the beast’s monstrous reputation.
Ahab’s obsession with the white whale stems from a previous voyage in which the whale bit off the man’s leg resulting in him having to wear a whale bone prosthesis. Under the guise of heading out onboard his ship the Prequod for a whaling mission Ahab’s true motives are to hunt down and kill the whale that crippled him. The crew are seduced by their captain into following him, but the obsession ultimately results in the death of Ahab himself (spoiler alert) and the destruction of his ship.
Is Ahab a hero or villain??
It could easily be argued that he is a villain, after all he does not care about anything other than getting his revenge against the White Whale, he is willing to sacrifice everything, anyone and even his own life to kill Moby Dick. However, his obsession is rooted in the fact that the whale maimed him, biting off his leg, and crippling him for life. Perhaps he is more of a tragic villain than anything else because his determination has consumed him and resulting in him devoting himself entirely to his only reason for living – destroying Moby Dick.
What makes Ahab such a legendary character is his single minded focus and Moby Dick is the original Man Vs Monster story. Moby Dick is a terrifying sea-monster that can destroy ships with ease. Ahab refuses to give up the chase and delivers some of the best lines in literary history one of which I will directly quote here….
“I’ll chase him round Good Hope, and round the Horn, and round the Norway Maelstrom, and round perdition’s flames before I give him up” – Captain Ahab (obviously)
Fans of Star Trek Wrath of Khan might recognise a paraphrased of this very speech used by Khan when talking about his pursuit of Kirk. Liking his obsession with destroying Kirk to Ahab’s obsession with destroying Moby Dick, although, now I think about it Khan quoting the infamous captain who’s obsession led to the death of both himself, his crew and his ship should have made Khan rethink his quest to destroy James T Kirk…but I digress.
Indeed Khan’s final words echoed Captain Ahab again…
"...To the last, I grapple with thee; from hell's heart, I stab at thee; for hate's sake, I spit my last breath at thee." – Ahab (again) quoted by Khan
Honestly Khan must have been a superhuman because that is the only way I imagine someone will actually be able to make it through this book without their own intelligence dribbling slowly out of their ears…but…again…I digress.
This was not the only time that Ahab has been referenced in the Star Trek universe, in Star Trek First Contact Lilly compares Picard’s determination to not only destroy the Borg but save the Enterprise from being assimilated to Ahab and Moby Dick.
"And he piled upon the whale's white hump the sum of all the rage and hate felt by his whole race. If his chest had been a cannon, he would have shot his heart upon it." – Ahab being quote by Picard
After remembering this line, Picard (unlike Khan) is able to recognise that he is obsessing about destroying the Borg and is starting to become like Ahab himself. As Lilly points out Ahab “didn’t know when to quit”. Picard is obviously familiar with the story even in the 24th century (it might also have helped that Patrick Stewart played Captain Ahab in a made for television movie in 1998) and Ahab should be a character that is remembered for years (as he already has been) because the lessons that can be learned from that story can help people to recognise when someone is in danger of being consumed by an obsession or even pulling someone back from the brink of destruction.
The idea of a man hunting down a monster has become a character trait that has featured time and time again in films, books and television.
Don’t believe me…???
Consider Quint hunting the shark from Jaws, or Sloan hunting the snake in Anaconda, or how about Karl Denham putting Kong on Broadway from King Kong…the list can go on and on and on.
See what I mean…??
Captain Ahab was the inspiration for so many other characters and is arguably the father of all Man Vs Monster characters.
Naturally a true villain (or tragic villain) depending on how you view him and what every strong character needs is an equally strong menace to clash against. The monstrous sperm whale Moby Dick is perfect for this role. Animals are unlike a human enemy, they cannot be bargained with, they cannot be negotiated with, they are nature incarnated, and nowhere is this as clear as with Moby Dick. The animal is basically just defending himself and perhaps after years of being hunted by whalers has turned this once harmless creature into a monster that attacks whaling ships out of an instinctive desire to defend himself. Maybe then Moby Dick is a monster created by man that has now started hunting the hunters to ensure his own survival.
On the other hand do animal’s have their own personalities??
Is it possible that Moby Dick has his own temperament and simply attacks anything that crosses his path??
Like I said I haven’t finished Moby Dick and as I write this I cannot imagine ever doing so, therefore I cannot say that the narrator of the book doesn’t address some of these questions later on in the story but considering the story is from his perspective it is unlikely that we see into the mind of the whale itself.
I can understand why Captain Ahab and Moby Dick are legendary characters and believe me I really, really wanted to finish the novel but I just couldn’t. It is so horribly written that I could not endure the necessary pain required to actually finish it. I was 75% through the book according the readout on my kindle screen and we still hadn’t found the whale yet (and that was skim reading and missing out stuff I viewed to be irrelevant) so who the fuck knows how much of the chase of Moby Dick we actually get.
I can appreciate both of these characters and if someone went through and edited Moby Dick (they’d probably need to use a chainsaw) to what was actually necessary for the story and not background bullshit or pointless padding then I would be all over it, but as of this moment, I doubt I am ever going to finish the novel.
Two classic literacy characters but the price of getting to know them is ridiculously high and was more than I could pay. Read up about them on the internet but I find I must repeat myself from the end of my Moby Dick which is simply do not read the book
Captain Ahab and Moby Dick, you both get a Thumbs Up from me, I just wish your story wasn’t so fucking tedious…
As far as the novel of Moby Dick goes allow me to just say…
“…From an alien’s heart, I stab at thee; for hate's sake, I will spit my last breath at thee” – paraphrased by The Alien Critic