This is a reading of the classic American novel Moby-Dick, as interpreted by Jack Pendarvis. To embark at the beginning, please click here.
There’s Ishmael, dreaming and drowsing in the mainmast, and, uhhhh, something, uh, something makes him open his eyes, and there he sees… a mighty whale rolling in a trough of the sea.
Oh, amiably and calmly puffing… his… spout… not unlike a… middle-aged schlub just… with his feet up on a… on an ottoman… you know? Eating his TV dinner. And…
[Laughter. Loud clinking of coffee cup on coaster.]
And puffing on a—puffing ever so… genially on his comforting pipe. Now, I don’t think, uh, Ishmael or Melville draws the comparison to Stubb, because Stubb, you know, is the one who’s going to kill this whale… and… Stubb also loves to puff on a pipe.
I don’t think this—I don’t think this is in the book, really, or am I just layering it—or is it? Or did Melville want me to think this? But… you know! Uh… there’s this whale minding its own business, and it kind of reminds you of the guy who’s gonna kill it, because it loves puffin’ its pipe.
Here comes Stubb!
Let’s just get it over with.
They kill the whale. They lash it and… and… and… stab it… and… then Stubb gets up close to it and takes his lance and… shoves it in, and it’s like… he’s like a… mm! Like a surgeon! He’s like a, like a… watchmaker. In fact, I think the whale’s insides are compared to the… delicate mechanism of a… gold watch. And… Stubb very carefully kinda, yuhhhh, almost obscenely, I would say…
[Bird singing outside.]
Obscene in its delicacy, the scene, as Stubb… I don’t know what word to use!
He… kind of pokes… “Pokes” is too coarse. It’s more… like a tickle, like a… mm! A precise… you know, he’s like one of those guys in a movie who… is being very careful dismantling a bomb. His hand has to stay steady as he, you know, snips the blue wire, or the red wire. And he just kinda feels around… Finesse is maybe a word that—God! I got a little too excited [laughter] when I thought of that word. I just kind of shouted it and scared myself, the way I used to scare…
What are you doin’? I’m talkin’ to a cat, who was—what are you playin’, what are y—don’t…! Oh, do whatever you want.
[Coffee slurping and gulping.]
Yes, with some finesse, with a great deal of finesse, Stubb… uh… gosh, I still ca—it’s like a guy picking a lock! That’s good. He’s like a burglar picking a lot. He just gets in there, and click! Something clicks… and… the whale has had it.
I gotta look up one—sorry, I’m gonna open the book because I wanted to get this phrase… [pages flipping] exact. Yes. With an exclamation point. “His heart had burst!”
That’s the whale.
Great bloody gobs of… life… start spouting out of this poor beast. Wine-colored chunks of death.
[Chair creaking. Throat clearing.]
Anyhow… “His heart had burst!”
That sentence made me feel terrible.
And I felt that Melville wanted me to make—muh—wanted me to feel… all the emotions I felt when I read that sentence.
If I could compare it to one other literary moment, it made me feel the way I felt in Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day, when… the butler, who has been so carefully composed… and I can’t remember if this is the exact sentence, so forgive me. But I think it was… “At that moment, my heart was breaking.”
Ahhhhhhhhh! Was that it?
I’ve done a disservice to everyone. And if really you could say that… then you could be proud that you’ve done a day’s work.
[New recording begins with Pendarvis mid-syllable.]
…oby-Dick, Moby-Dick! Ding dong bing.
I don’t know! Chapter Sixty-Two, what is it?
[Throat clearing. Pause. Lip smack.]
Oh, you know how the one guy sits at the front of the whaleboat? Mnnh, the harpooner, and he’s workin’ so hard, he’s just—ooooooh, he’s usin’ every muscle, and his arms are hurting, and he’s also required to yell encouraging, uh, gobbledygook.
“Hey-ohhhhhh!” Uh, like Ed McMahon.
[A burst of wild laughter.]
Oh, there’s an allusion for no one.
He’s gotta be rowin’—it’s like Ed McMahon up there rowin’ the—rowin’ the whaling boat.
“Hey-o!” he shouts, as his arms, uh… pump and… and then he’s supposed to stand up and harpoon a whale? “Come on!” Ishmael says. “You gotta…? I’ve got an idea. You don—yuhhrr, eccchh! The harpooner doesn’t need to be rowing and yelling so much. He needs to rest! This is how come [stifled laugh] whales are so hard to kill.”
Ishmael’s got a lotta improvements he wants to make to the…
Well, you know, they’ve only been whaling for two thousand years but Ishmael’s gonna fix it.
[Sniff. Throat clearing.]
Chapter Sixty-Three… is… [laughter] uhhhhahhhhh… is intriguingly titled “The Crotch,” and you’ll be sorely disappointed when you read that chapter. It’s about the… little notch, or “crotch,” where the harpoons are… kept on the side of the whaling boat—the whaleboat, so that the harpooner can grab the… harpoon out of the crotch and, and you know what he does with his harpoon. I don’t need to tell you.
And there’s an extra harpoon. Now, what are you gonna do with this extra harpoon? They’re both tied to the line. You’ve gotta, uh, get rid of it. So they throw it off the side of the boat, and it causes trouble. Everything’s—everything about whaling is… is a problem. It’s…
[Liquid sniff. Sigh. Recording terminated.]
Stubb is so excited when he kills a w—whale that Starbuck is—who’s the first mate—uhh, says, “All right, I’m outta—I’m outta here. You take over, Stubb. You’re like—you’re like a kid in a candy store when you… kill a whale. You’re like, ‘Mm-mm-mm! Give me some of that.’”
Runnin’ around, he’s like a… he’s giddy with, with bloodlust. Or the aftereffects thereof. Oh, Stubb! What a happy-go-lucky murderer… of God’s noblest creature.
He’s like, “Cut me off a piece of that whale, boys! I’m havin’ whale for dinner tonight.”
In the next chapter, the terrible feast continues.
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).