This is a reading of the classic American novel Moby-Dick, as interpreted by Jack Pendarvis. To embark at the beginning, please click here.
What are you sniffin’ around over there, Pan? Huh? What’s over there?
[Sniff. Throat clearing.]
Anyway… oh, the newspaper, reputable newspapers, the New York Times… bless you, Pan. The cat sneezed. Twice or thrice. That’s what you get from snufflin’ around! No, I take no pleasure. Why would I blame—I’m b—I’m like those guys blamin’ Moby-Dick, just ‘cause he gets mad when they chase him with pointy sticks.
[Throat clearing. Coffee slurping.]
It occurs to me that we may never reach this far in… uh… you know, this is gonna be presented in weekly installments. That’s just become official as I speak, and who knows if we’ll make it this far? Who can stand it?
And I was looking back at the first couple of installments and I claim there were eighty-eight epigraphs to Moby… Dick, that I counted, myself, when I was a younger man, but apparently, there are only eighty. [Throat clearing.] Something I found out. So this is riddled with inaccuracies. Is that a surprise?
Gosh, I wish—oh, yes! That’s what I was gonna say. But I read in the New York Times about lich—lichens and other living beings that seemingly have no senescence. They don’t seem to age, and theoretically could live forever. Certain jellyfish! And I can swear I read the same thing about an albatross of some sort, to bring it back to the… nautical…
Yeah, just some old albatross flyin’ around.
You know, forever.
You—don’t take my word for it. Do your research. Consult your local physician.
[Wheezing laughter. Coffee being poured. Coughing.]
I got to call my doctor today. I have a… strange mole.
[Coffee pot clattering. Throat clearing.]
[Coffee sipping. Long pause.]
Back to Ishmael.
“Hello, folks! You know, this is much like the novel itself, because I, Ishmael, keep turning control of the narrative over to other… entities.”
“That’s not quite accurate. And, uh… well, never mind. I’ll let that guy speak for himself if he wants to. You’ve heard his big theories about me, Ishmael.”
[Forceful throat clearing.]
“What was I saying? Uh… yeah! Rumors abound. Of the wily beast. Uh, but why n—do we need rumors when…”
[A cat meows.]
“He’s so remarkable…”
“When he’s so remarkable just on his… own… merits! We don’t know what goes down—uh. Goes under…”
“We don’t know what goes on under the water! Uhh… yehhrrrh, all kinds of crazy crap could be goin’ on under the water. These whales have their own thing goin’ down there, and they’re not letting us in on the… secret. Oh, Ahab. Once his leg was bitten off he got in a really bad mood. I—you know, it was worse than a bad mood. He… he’s… he was right up face to face with eternity! And, uh, the meaninglessness of eternity in the wrinkled face of that… biting monster.”
“His little pocketknife wasn’t gonna do the trick. He went totally nuts. He was howling and raving. Then he kinda calmed down and everybody thought, ‘Phew! Good for… good for him. He’s really… become philosophical.’ But in reality there was a… he was just as frickin’ nuts on the inside, he just figured out how to control it better. So all this time he’s been goin’ around: ‘Yeah! You know, uh, I’m fine, thanks for asking.’ Hobble, hobble, clump, clump. And, uh… ‘I’m great! In fact, I’d like to take another—I don’t know, another… I’d like to maybe be the captain of a whaling boat again? Is that… uhh… you think you can… come on! Do me a favor. I’m totally fine.’ He really does seem all right. Let’s give him a chance.”
“So… and all along… deep, deep, deep down… his monomaniacal rage has persisted. And he’s gonna… bring everybody with him. You know, you’re part of it now. I, Ishmael, I’m part of it now! You can’t… I don’t know what I’m doin’ here. None of us do! You got Starbuck—I, Ishmael, talk about all this at the end of the chapter—you got Starbuck. He’s… nice. And he’s… got a… you know. He’s, uhm… knows which fork to use, and, h—and all that, but he doesn’t have much to back it up. And you got… Flask, who I think is called something like ‘a paragon of mediocrity’…? [Lip smack.] Uh, something close to that. And Stubb. You know, he’s up there… laughin’ and… smartin’ off. These are… what? These—these don’t have the… nobody here has the capacity to match Ahab or… or, or be any sort of, uh, corrective. And we’re just, uh… Here comes Moby-Dick! And I can’t wait to see him! And I’m also thinkin’, you know… it’s bad. It’s gonna be bad.”
I guess the original book title Moby-Dick… I thought of this while I was at the doctor’s office. Uhm, I was sitting there reading Chapterrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr… is it Forty-Two? The… “The Whiteness of the Whale.” And, uh… I suddenly realized that “Moby Dick” didn’t have a hyphen in it, nor did it have a hyphen… on the cover of my edition, or on the title page… “nor,” maybe I should have said… nor on the copyright material… page… no hyphen anywhere! And I thought, I—I’ve always, for all the years I’ve been saying [laughter] the words “Moby Dick,” whenever I started… when did I…? Let’s say I was… twelve… the first time I said “Moby Dick” for some reason. So that was, uhm… forty-three years ago? And I’ve been mentally saying a hyphen? All this time? Picturing a hyphen? Well…! I—I looked on the internet; I sent a frantic email to my editor, and I… looked, ah! You know. I did the bare minimum of internet research, and I guess maybe the book was printed originally with a hyphen in the title, but the hyphen doesn’t appear, perhaps, anywhere in Melville’s original… text, other than on the title page.
So, you could say that “Moby Dick,” no hyphen, is the name of the character, and Moby-Dick, with a hyphen, is the name of the novel. But… I don’t wanna [short laugh] go back and take out all those hyphens!
Jack Pendarvis is a writer who lives in Oxford, Mississippi. In this weekly transcription, we join him as he reads Moby-Dick.
Please follow the original text of Moby-Dick here, if you like (highly recommended).