Moby Monday — A few minor adjustments

My friend, I give you perhaps the world’s first movie tie-in: a 1925 edition of Moby-Dick illustrated with stills from the John Barrymore silent-movie version, The Sea Beast. Slight problem—the film takes dazzling liberties with Herman Melville’s novel, giving young Ahab an evil half-brother, Derek, who pushes him into the jaws of the white whale that shears off his leg. Ahab also gets a love interest, Esther, but after said shearing, Derek convinces Ahab that she could never truly love a one-legged man. (One photo bears the caption, “Sensitive of his crippled condition, Ahab interprets her love as pity and self-sacrifice.”) Ahab ends things with Esther, sets off in search of the whale he blames for ruining his life … and kills it.

“In story, the screen version of Moby-Dick exceeds the book,” writes S.R. Buchman in an “Appreciation” that precedes Melville’s Derek- and Esther-free text. “The discrepancy between the two must not be considered as a profanely wanton alteration. The episode of the book has not been misused; it has been enlarged and clarified.” And Melville’s ending provides an “unreasonably cruel fate” for Ahab, Buchman complains. “In all justice, Ahab had suffered enough to be granted expiation and its rewards, but Melville killed him.” What a blunder! “It is a relief and satisfaction that the picture version allows Ahab to live,” Buchman concludes. I can think of at least one whale who might take issue with that.

Margaret Guroff is editor and publisher of Power Moby-Dick.

Published by

MegDC

Washington DC writer, teacher, magazine editor, bass player.

One thought on “Moby Monday — A few minor adjustments”

  1. Ahab with a love interest? Don Quixote with his Dulcinea is understandable as he was a romantic idealist, albeit one totally out of touch with reality. But Ahab was a megalomaniac driven by one grand obsession. Tinkering with the great Melville work, which is essentially a good-versus-evil epic, in this manner is unforgivable.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s