This is a reading of the classic American novel Moby-Dick, as interpreted by Jack Pendarvis. To embark at the beginning, please click here.
A lengthy description of the pulpit comprises Chapter Eight.
It has a rope ladder. Father Mapple… back when I was gonna talk a long time, when I was gonna give you a lengthy, uh… diatribe…
To tell about it would be the same as doing it. So let me just say that… uh… Melville’s kinda tricky here. He… he says, “Hmm!” The narrator does. “Hmm!” says the narrator. “Wonder what’s goin’ on with that rope ladder? You guys think it could be a symbol?” [Laughter.] He really does. In other words, the author deflecting the symbol onto… other… it’s not even the author’s symbol, he would have you believe. “Wonder why Father Mapple… hmm! Think m—Father Mapple must be kinda symbolic with his thinking. I don’t get where he’s goin’ with this! Uh, this rope ladder he pulls up after himself when he gets in the pulpit, which is shaped like the prow of a ship. What’s—you know, hey, that Father Mapple’s pretty nuts! Look at that. No, he knows what he’s doin’. He’s a sly old devil, I say.”
If you heard a popping sound, that was my knee cracking.
But anyway, so the author, urrrruhh, draws attention to the symbol while [short laugh] pretending to be… “Hmmmmm!” Pretending to be baffled by the idea that, “Whuh, thuh, What’s this… symbolism all about, hmm? This guy! This guy and his symbolism!”
Chapter Nine is the famous sermon on Jonah and the whale, which Orson Welles edited for the—when he played Father Mapple in the Huston film. Uhh… neither Ray Bradbury, the screenwriter, nor John Huston could come up with a good way to summarize the, uh…
This is all from Simon Callow’s multi-volume… biography of Orson Welles. You know, his performance as Father Mapple being one of the few times that Callow seems to unreservedly admire Welles as an actor. Anyway, Orson Welles trimmed the sermon himself and acted it apparently in one take. They did another take for safety, but they used the first take. Uhm… [throat noise].
Now I… now I… never mind my regrets.
I will say that while, of course, we think of the story as Jonah and the whale, that as a lad, a fundamentalist lad of the Southern Baptist persuasion, we were told…
“So, was it a whale that…?”
We were asked.
“Was it a whale that swallowed Jonah?”
The rhetorical answer being, “No! It was a great fish. A whale is not a fish, and the Bible is infallible. It’s the Word of God. And if God had meant to say ‘whale,’ he would have said ‘whale!’”
Uh, but, the objection [distant meowing of a cat] might arise, “What if they meant ‘whale,’ and then in old-timey Bible language they just said ‘fish’?”
Nope! Because God knew! God knew that the fi—God is not confused about mammals.
And, uh, He… [meow!] very specifically inspired them to say “fish.”
“Yeah, but what about, what about the interpreters of the King James…”
Nope! God was also on top of those guys, ridin’ ‘em like a horse.
I heard a cat who may need something.
Hey, what’s up, Pan?
You need some food?
Is that what you’re talkin’ about?
Let’s see. Suhhh—that’s enough about… Jonah.
Come on! Come on, Pan.
[Cat food bag crinkling.]
Get on up there. Get on up there!
[Food pellets deposited into bowl. Shuffling. Crinkling.]
Chapters Ten and Eleven are once again a… an appreciation, an infatuation… uhhh… uh, the… glory that is Queequeg. Uh, he’s a, he’s, you know, the best pal you’d ever want to have. Once again, uh, the relationship between the narrator and Queequeg is presented as a marriage. It’s even cal—“We are married,” Queequeg literally says. And, uh, then at the close of, I believe it’s Chapter Ten, uh, reference is made to the honeymoon of their hearts, the two friends, as they lie in bed together. And fascinatingly enough, he, uh, comes out in, I believe, it’s the next chapter… Do you remember, perhaps, if you’ll…? You don’t care! I barely care! How could you care?
But early on, the narrator—I believe it’s Chapter Three—uh, guh, uh, lectures Queequeg about smoking in bed. [Laughter.] And then in Chapter Eleven, he’s like, “You know what? I was wrong about smoking in bed. I know it’s dangerous, but it’s worth it, and I’ll tell ya why.”
“I’ll tell ya why. Because there’s nothin’ better than just gettin’ all cuddly with your best friend and… uh… smokin’ in bed together. It’s like a husband and wife!” he says. “You know, they say a husband and wife may speak most fondly of their olden delights…”
None of these are quotations, you know. Uh, well, maybe one or two, but… I hope I haven’t been giving that impression. But it’s, you know, it’s a very close paraphase. Just—I’m taking—what we’re doing here, we’re taking a great work of art and just… puttin’ it through the old… you know, running it through a… I don’t know, I’m like a bot. I’m like a defective bot. [Laughter.] “Let’s cram Moby-Dick… let’s take all this Moby-Dick information and put it in this ragged… sheep.”
Why am I a sheep now? A ragged sheep.
But you know what I mean. “Hey, we’re gonna teach an animal… we’re gonna, we’re gonna teach a sheep [stifled laugh] to read Moby-Dick. We’re gonna…” Uh… Mm.
Well, I was goin’ somewhere with that.
[Extremely long pause.]
Chapter Twelve provides… more evidence that Queequeg is awesome.
[Extremely long pause.]
I’m too dejected to continue. Not because of Queequeg! But because of… my realizations about myself.
[Recording is terminated.]
This way please, to continue the voyage.
Jack Pendarvis is a writer who lives in Oxford, Mississippi. In this weekly transcription, we join him as he reads Moby-Dick.