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Posted by Sherry on 12/13/2005
I started reading this book to my son when he was less than 2 years old, he loves it and asks for it often before bed. Now that he is 2 1/2 he pretends to be Moby Dick or one of the harpooners. The drawings are poetically evocative and full of detail of water, ships, adventure and nature. The story line is true to the original and still interesting to this mom, even after many many readings. I highly recommend.
Posted by E. Schille on 1/27/2008
this book has been one of my most loved books since I was a small child. it's just great and though most people wouldn't think to read the book to a child. My father read it to me and so i have read it to mine and we have all enjoyed this amazing book at bedtime.
Approaching Melville with Fear and Awe
Posted by Christopher Forbes on 3/16/2005
I find the prospect of reviewing this book quite daunting. Melville didn't write a typical novel in Moby Dick, even by his own standards. And reactions to the work are passionate and passionately divided, even to this day. Setting sail in this Melvillian squall is a difficult prospect, but despite my hesitations, I'm going to give it a go and say that, despite it's many technical flaws, Melville's book is the touchstone for American literature, much as Ives' music is the touchstone for American composition. Melville managed to find a voice that was distinctively "New World" and yet also universal enough to speak to the existential questions that have plagued humans since we first turned our heads to the sky to ask "Why".
Some things are truly subjective....such as book reactions. The issue with Melville in general is that he is a flawed genius. Moby Dick is not a perfect book in the sense than a Henry James novel might be perfect. It's not even as tight as Dostoevsky...and he's no model of literary tightness. I think when people have trouble with Moby Dick it's because that for them, the flaws outweigh the virtues....
The book is a stylistic hodgepodge, and this is probably exactly what makes it difficult for many readers. It starts out as a plain sailing yarn, much like Melville's earlier Typee or Redburn...or Richard Dana's Three Years Behind the Mast. But then it changes into a philosophical drama with many, many "informative" chapters that can at times read like a whaling primer rather than a novel. And the drama part is one part sea adventure and two parts Shakespeare....add to that a constantly changing philosophical view (God, as personified by Moby Dick and by other things, can be seen in the book as wholly good, Good but permitting evil, evil itself, good but locked in a battle with an equally powerful evil force, or finally completely indifferent to humans.)
I think for people who have trouble with the book, if Melville had taken just one of these tacts the book would be much easier to read and less littered with flaws. However....for me at least....I recognize those flaws and find the power in the book despite them...and perhaps even because of them. In a sense to me, Melville was using the Pequod as a symbol for all of the human world, and his radical stylistic inclusiveness IS actually exactly to the point of the book. Everything in humanity is included in the book, as all of human endeavor is essentially an existential quest for meaning in the face of an unknowable God (at least unknowable in any normal human sense)...and we bring everything, warts and all.
The character of Ahab can also be a stumbling block for readers. He is clearly monomaniacal, and for many, that singleminded desire for revenge obscures his greater humanity. The key to understanding Ahab though is to realize that he does indeed go through a change in the book. He begins as a man obsessed with revenge to the exclusion of human values....but he is also still capable of commanding love and respect from his crew. Even Starbuck, who most actively opposes Ahab, to some extent still loves the man and when given the opportunity to kill him and save the crew, Starbuck can't bring himself to do so. The tenderness in Ahab is shown in his relations to Pip, the addled cabin boy, but also peaks through briefly in the encounter with the Rachel, where Ahab almost gives into the pleas of the bereaved Captain who has lost his son to Moby Dick, and more fully in the marvelous "Symphony" chapter, where Ahab and Starbuck find a rare moment of communion in the beauty of nature and in their shared love of home and family. But despite all, Ahab can't let go of his quest to grapple with the bigger issue of good and evil that the whale has come to represent to him. It has become a compulsion with him and a fatal one.
One suggestion for reading this book is to read the Shakespearean chapters aloud. Much of the nuance in the characters of Starbuck, Ahab and Stubb is lost unless you bring the language to life. Melville's language is grand and was meant to be heard out loud. Another strategy is to view the John Huston film. Though the movie is deeply flawed, hearing Gregory Peck declaim Melville's lines helps to bring the character to more vivid life.
A final note on editions of this work. I have several and most of them are pretty equal in terms of the quality of the text. The Modern Library has the added benefit of Rockwell Kent's masterful woodcut illustrations. But to actually read the text I find the Bantam Mass Market edition is my favorite. The introductory note is excellent, and the book is stuffed with afterword material, including Melville's letters to Hawthorne while writing the book, contemporary press reviews of the work, and several excellent modern essays which help with understanding the greater issues behind this deeply moving and important work of American fiction.