This is a reading of the classic American novel Moby-Dick, as interpreted by Jack Pendarvis. To embark at the beginning, please click here.
Stubb says, “Hey…! Get a load of Ahab. Can you believe it? Old man with one leg, he doesn’t care. He’s out there gettin’ the job done, with his own little boat and his own little harpooner. Well, that harpooner is very tall. But you know what I mean. He’s somethin’ else. I say go for it, Ahab. Mad respect!”
To which Flask replies, “Nyeh.”
“I’ve seen, you know what? I’ve seen guys with less legs than Ahab… do a lot more interesting things. Big deal.”
Fewer legs. Would be the proper…
Then, of course, we understand why Captain Ahab smuggled his crew… into the… onto the Pequod when nobody was looking, because the owners don’t want Ahab out there, uh, gettin’ in the middle of stuff. It’s bad business! Nuh, he’s an insurance risk.
He’s like, “I’ll hire my own… boat, and nobody needs to know about it. I’ll use this spare boat. Everybody thinks it’s a spare boat, and I’ll fix it up really nice, and secretly it’s my secret… whale hating… boat.”
And all of his crew… his secret crew… blend in with the rest of the crew of the Pequod, except for Fedallah, who remains a tall, freaky old man with his white hair wrapped around his… head in… literature’s most elaborate combover. The end. Of Chapter Fifty.
[Recorder turned off.]
[Throat cleared three times.]
I forgot to thank the good people of Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi. I was let loose in the town square for a number of hours yesterday on my own recognizance, and… for part of that time, I sat in Square Books and read Moby-Dick, and… that’s no better than stealing—stealing bread out of the mouths of bookstore workers, when you sit there and read their books without paying for them.
That’s where I read Chapter Fifty.
Chapter Fifty-One. Now this is the kind of stuff you want to put in a book! Now we’re gettin’ somewhere! The sea. Here’s my advice for you, by the way, if you’re a writer: you should put Chapter Fifty-One of Moby-Dick into your book. Or the equivalent of it. It’s magical. Makes you sit up and… bay at the moon. I don’t know why I said that. That doesn’t even sound like something I would say. I… I’m sorry. About my personality.
I note again the intense quietness of the novel.
The silvery sea. [Bird singing outside.] Complacent. That’s a funny word. Melville doesn’t use it to describe the sea.
You can blame that on your humble idiot.
Why did I get in a bad mood all of a sudden? This chapter put me in a good mood, then suddenly I’m filled with… the creepy-crawlies.
Let’s get back into the—let’s try to…
The people need this.
The people are waiting.
The youth—the youth of America… need you to paraphrase Moby-Dick, and you just read the best chapter so far! Silvery sea in the dead of night. Who would climb the main-mast-head and… look… out… for whales? Nobody’s gonna go after a whale this time of night!
Why, none other but Fedallah!
And he saw… off in the distance… a glittering… it’s like at… the Golden Corral steakhouse.
Why must I ruin everything?
I don’t even—it doesn’t even make me happy. My laughter is mirthless.
I don’t know.
I just remember, I think it was one of those steakhouses had this awful commercial for a—this is many years ago. For some kind of blurting… spluttering fountain of chocolate. And you could dip anything into it, like whatever you could put your hands on. You could dip into this chocolate. They had an array of… delights. So that’s what this [laughter] is… oh, why, Jesus? Why were we put on this earth? “By the sweat of your brow you shall earn your bread.” [Birds outside.] For example, talking into a digital recorder about Moby-Dick.
Anyway, it’s very beautifully described…
THERESA (calling from downstairs): Come get your plate!
JACK: Oh! Okay!
Breakfast is ready. Maybe I will eat a delicious breakfast and… uh… my attitude will… and my talent will magically blossom.
[Recorder goes off mid-birdcall.]
I don’t feel too good. It’s been a long time. Since we spoke. Not that long! You couldn’t even tell! How long it’s been. How would you know, unless I told you?
Oh, let’s say…
Eighteen hours? Is that a long time?
I’ve been doing these things fast!
Up on the mast in the moonlight. He sees a ghostly… spout. Ephemeral, silver spray. Phosphorescent in the starlight.
“There she blows!”
And only… because of his… conviction… tall, freaky Fedallah, with consummate conviction… gets everybody jazzed up, which is unusual! Because it’s the middle of the night! That’s not what we do. We sailors have to get our beauty sleep.
They go toward the mysterious, misty spout… of ectoplasm.
Shimmering. And then gone!
And then, for nights after that, it will be spotted. Everyone sees it! But then it’s gone. It never leads them to a whale.
“I know what it is!” say the crew. “It’s old Moby Dick, doin’ his Moby Dick trick. Silver spray, flickin’ his Bic.”
I’m not trying to freestyle rap.
Oh, the chapter ends as they’re in the… squally… they get in a lot of squalls. It’s really stormy out there at sea. Yes, I said “squally.” And I—I’m apol—I… feel bad about it. It hurt me more than it hurt you.
It’s the kind of storm where you just tie everything down. That’s all you can do. Just try not to get washed overboard and you’re doin’ all right.
Onward! ever onward, into 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.
Please follow the original text of Moby-Dick here, if you like (highly recommended).