This is a reading of the classic American novel Moby-Dick, as interpreted by Jack Pendarvis. To embark at the beginning, please click here.
Plunk, plunk, clump, clump, thump, thump. Up and down. The quarter-deck.
“Starbuck, avast ye! Gather all the men!”
“Okay. All of ‘em? All right!” Starbuck is kind of surprised. “I—everybody? Well, you’re Captain Ahab! All right. What you say goes.”
Everybody gathers around. Ahab says, “All right, guys. What do you do when you see a whale?”
“We—we yell and scream!”
It’s like Pee Wee’s Playhouse.
“All right, uh, and then what do you do?”
“We jump in our boats! And go after the whale!”
“And then… and then what?”
“We stab him a lot!”
“Yeah! You guys have the right idea! Well, listen. Listen about this! Here, you see what I got here?”
Are you sure I’m not bothering you?
JACK (as Ahab): “You see what I got here? It’s a…”
Theresa said I’m not bothering her. In case her voice was too far away to be picked up by the… I find that hard to believe, but… that I’m not bothering her, but…
“I have here a… a doubloon! A, guh, a gold piece. And it’s worth sixteen dollars. And those are 1852 dollars, or whatever year this is!”
“So I’m gonna nail it… hey. Give me one of those big augers you got there and I’m gonna… pound this gold piece into the mast here, and whoever—neh, now, who gets it? You may be asking yourselves. I’ll tell you who gets it: whoever… yuh, you know, you mast guys from the last chapter. The first one of you guys who sees the white whale.”
And everybody’s like, “White whale? That’s somethin’.”
And it’s Tashtego who first says the name…
He says, “Wait a minute, Captain Ahab. A white whale? I guess you must be talking about Moby-Dick!”
And, uh, Ahab’s like, “Moby-Dick! You know this white whale, do you, Tashtego?”
“Oh, yes. All us harpooners, we’re on the ball.”
And th—uh, Daggoo is like, “That’s the one that’s got a… frickin’ gigantic spout hole. It’s just obscene, really.”
And, uh, “Yes! Yes! That’s the one!” Ahab exclaims.
“Oh, yeah, I know that… dude,” says Queequeg. “He’s got so many frickin’ leftover harpoons in him, he looks like a pin cushion.”
“Oh, now you’re talkin’!” Ahab says. “Yeah, this calls for a drink! Ah, bring forth the grog, and make it hot as Satan’s hoof!”
And they all pass around the grog.
“Drink! Drink! Avast ye!”
“I want you harpooners to…”
“Cross your harpoons. All right. I’m gonna grab ‘em now, and, oh, thank God nothin’ happened, because I felt like all my super whale hate…”
Oh! I—man, I left somethin’ important out.
[Pause. Throat clearing. Swallowing.]
“All right, I’m gonna grab these harpoons and perchance the super power of my ultimate whale hate is gonna shock you like a frickin’ bolt of lightning. Oh, that didn’t happen, but it could have!”
I forgot. Starbuck, uh…! Starbuck is… the voice of reason here, I guess, and he says, uh, “Whuh, why are you so angry?”
And Ahab says, “Why am I so angry? Well, he bit off my leg. How would you feel about it?”
“I’ll tell you how I would feel about it,” Starbuck replies. “I’d be like, ‘He’s a whale.’ You know? He’s gonna bite your leg off if he gets a chance. You know, you go stick your leg in a whale’s mouth, whose fault is it that the whale bites it off?”
And Ahab says, “You are so full of shit. Uh, you don’t understand… you, un…”
“You dummy. Don’t you know that everything in life… is just a mask? I just want to punch right through the outward appearances and get at whatever’s behind the mask. Whatever’s that force that motivates the whale. And maybe there’s nothing! And if that’s the case, I want to punch the fuck out of the nothing. So… just get out of my way. I tell you what: if the sun insulted me, I’d punch it in the face.”
He really says that. I’m paraphrasing only very slightly. It seems like an impractical goal. That would be Starbuck’s point, I guess.
“Okay, you harpooners! Screw off your—take the tops off your harpoons, and there in the socket I’m gonna pour some of this grog, and we’re gonna drink to the death of Moby-Dick. We are gonna fuckin’ kill the fuck out of Moby-Dick if it’s the last thing I do.”
“Huzzah! Huzzah! Captain Ahab, you’re all right! You give us really, really hot grog.”
“And a chance…! Like winnin’ the lottery, at, uh, at, uh, sixteen dollars, and where I’m from, in 1852, or whenever this is, I think sixteen dollars could buy me a house! So you’re all right.”
“What else did you do? You gave us grog… you got us… you gave us a nice pep talk, too! That was nice. We all feel… like we’re part of a team. Thanks, Captain Ahab, your managerial style is topnotch.”
[End of recording.]
Have I been too easy so far on the racism in Moby-Dick?
That, a… that thought occurred to me in the middle of the night. Uh, you wake up thinking things like that. [Light music of piano and orchestra.] And I realized I made a bargain with myself to do a lighthearted… paraphrase of Moby-Dick [keyboard trills]… uh, serious things… well, you know the whole—[laughter]. Why did I decide to do this anyway? The whole damn book is serious. And, uh…
Now, you know, that’s not true. There’s a lot of jokes, honestly. Lotta good… times.
Anchors aweigh! The next chapter is here.
Jack Pendarvis is a writer who lives in Oxford, Mississippi. In this weekly transcription, we join him as he reads Moby-Dick. Please read the original novel here, if you like (highly recommended).