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 new recording begins.]
Chapter Sixteen: Things Get Serious.
Ahab! We don’t see him! There’s much discussion of Ahab. He’s built up effectively, for the same reasons that Groucho Marx wanted to play the Lord High Executioner in The Mikado, if I’m recalling correctly: “Ooh, they talk about him a lot before he shows up! So you don’t have to do much work.” Am I making this up? Did he—Groucho Marx say that?
So when the character shows up, he’s already… you’re—you’re already in awe.
The Pequod. A ship festooned, like everything in this novel, with the dead parts of…
[Extremely long pause. A burst of laughter.]
I don’t know! Look. The—I was distracted while I was reading this chapter because there was a spider crawling across the floor toward me, and I didn’t want it to crawl on my foot. Nor did I wish to cause the spider harm in any way. Uh… I bargained. I bargained with the spider.
Anyway, that reminds me. [Laughter.] No! Wait. Gosh darn it! Uh, whale… whale parts. The Pequod, uh, obscenely constructed from the dead bodies of the creatures that it…
[Very long pause.]
Wait! It’s kind of like those—who were the bad guys in that show Firefly? It was a science-fiction show? And they had—they rode around in a spaceship with skeletons [short laugh] taped to it?
I don’t know. Yeah, it’s kind of like that, the Pequod.
I’m just… I ruin everything.
[Long pause. Sniff. Pause continues, lengthily.]
Ishmael goes onboard, he meets a couple of retired Quaker whaling men, and I thought to myself, “Quaker whaling men? Quakers! Shame on you, Quakers.”
Uh, “I’ve seen your picture on the oatmeal box, and you look rosy-cheeked and benign.”
But listen, if you ever think… if you ever think you’re outsmarting Herman Melville, think again, baby. Because just a couple of pages later, he brings up the same point. “Quakers?” he—Ishmael, uh, exclaims. “Quakers?” Uh… I’ll be Ishmael now.
“Quakers? Quakers shouldn’t oughtta go around…” [Laughter.] “Uh, sticking harpoons in things! They’re—that’s a bloody business indeed.”
[Very long pause.]
Yes, because I was trying to reconcile—this is me again.
I was trying to reconcile the thought of Quakers and their well-known, uh, pacifist, uh, tendencies… principles! Really. Squaring that with the bloody business of whaling.
Then I thought of, who is it? Gary Cooper in Friendly Persuasion? And he’s a friendly Quaker. Uh… with a… I, I’m sure he has a gun. That’s all. I bet he hunts. I don’t remember if there’s any hunting in the movie, but, you know…
[Throat noise. An incredibly long pause that threatens to go on forever.]
I mean, what am I…? This…
[Another very long pause.]
What can I tell you?
The Pequod, covered in whale carcasses. You know, did I say this? Even… both for decorative and for utilitarian purposes. The tiller is made of a… I forget which kind of whale. I tell you what: he sure knows a lot about different kinds of whales for a guy who’s never been whaling before, Ishmael does. He’s namin’ ‘em right and left. Perhaps he picked up this information in subsequent parts of the book, and then the book, we may imagine, was narrated, uh, after, uh, all the events, all of the events in the, uh, book had transpired.
Ahab is described as a…
Well, you know, eh, uh, I believe the phrase is “an ungodly, godlike man.” I thought that was really good. Uh…
“You sure you wanna go whaling?”
To which Ishmael replies, “Hell, yeah!”
And then the guy’s like… uh… “Have you seen Captain Ahab? Just take a look at Captain Ahab before you decide, because I’m talkin’ about a guy whose leg was bitten off.”
And, uh, “Really?” Ishmael does say, “By a whale?”
What else…? To which, uh, Peleg replies… I don’t know if he says somethin’ like, “Well, why else would I be telling you this story? No, it was bitten off by a… a… it was torn off by a pack of chimpanzees.” [Laughter.] “Yes, it was bitten off by a whale, that’s the whole point! What else? Why else do you want…? Whaddya, whaddya, uh… tell me…”
It’s like a job interview, it really is.
“Uh, what can you bring to our cor—our corporation? What do you see… where do you see yourself in ten years?”
“Well, I’d like to…” Ishmael replies.
I’m taking the most significant chapter—well, that’s debatable—that we’ve discussed yet… who knows? And I’m just—I’m ruining it!
But what I would like to do is offer myself up as a… ss—resource for children [short laugh] writing book reports on Moby-Dick. Maybe I can… maybe that’s what this is for. Maybe through this humble… uh, offering… I can regain some of my dignity.
I th—all I had was a piece of toast [stifled laugh] today. [Laughter.] I’m gonna blame my, uh, blithering on a lack of sustenance. I—my head feels a little light. The wind is blowing like crazy outside. It’s just been a… a… dramatically windy day. Here in the real world. Maybe I should leave the house more often! Maybe that’s driving me bonkers.
I see…! I see people. [Laughter.] Not right now in front of me. I see… other humans. I work from home, uh, ruhhhh, via videoconference. I see two of my friends who are in Burbank at least three times a week, and I se—and my other friend who’s in Sweden. And here I am in Mississippi. It’s truly a miracle. But if you never leave the… what am I, Nero Wolfe? Remember him? He was a fat detective who… loved orchids, and he had a buddy, or a… really an employee. Let’s not presume too much. Uh, he would send out Archie Goodwin, I believe the guy’s name was, to… uh… do the legwork, as they say in the business.
Fair winds and following seas ahead in the next chapter.
Jack Pendarvis is a writer who lives in Oxford, Mississippi. In this weekly transcription, we join him as he reads Moby-Dick.