Moby Monday — Call Me Ish-Meow

The whale-riding scene has been cut from most editionsFans of LOLCats—the barely literate, photo-caption-writing felines of I Can Has Cheezburger—will enjoy a new edition of Moby-Dick compiled by blogger Debra at She Who Seeks. Using other people’s LOLCats images, Debra presents a clever four-panel version of the story. One quibble: the condensation omits the book’s cetology material completely. (Or maybe that’s a good thing?)

The Internet is surprisingly light on LOLWhales, but they do exist. Here’s one of a whale defying gravity—and apologizing for it. The spelling is particularly atrocious … but then, it’s not a sperm whale, so what do you expect?

Visitors to the Cheezburger site can upload images and write their own captions for free. Just an FYI, in case you have an LOLMobyDick inside you, dying to come out.

•••

Good work, Team Whale. After trailing Black Beauty during much of the 45-day polling period, Moby Dick surged ahead to win the Guardian (UK) online vote for “best performance by an animal” in a work of classic literature.

The final score was 35.2% for Moby Dick to 33.3% for Black Beauty, with Buck from The Call of the Wild, the bear from A Winter’s Tale, and Jip from David Copperfield trailing far behind. Victory is sweet!

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

Moby Monday – Dickmas Comes but Once a Year

Just keep it away from your legYou may think you don’t know anyone who needs a Moby Dick hat. But have you seen this Moby Dick hat? Hand crocheted by a teen crafter who sells her wares under the name WhatsEatinYou, the cap comes pre-harpooned for the wearer’s safety and convenience. I found it on Etsy.com, the online handcrafts superstore, a location packed with potential for Dickmas—the traditional Herman Melville’s birthday celebration on August 1—in case you aren’t yet finished with your shopping for this year.

No whales were harmed in the making of this feltidermySadly, someone snapped up this cruelty-free “feltidermy” Moby Dick trophy head almost as soon as it was posted on Etsy by crafter girlsavage last week. But there are lots of other options. Who could resist a Moby-Dick GYOTAKU, a fish printed onto a page of everyone’s favorite metaphysical novel by artist Barry Singer? Or a stunning map of the voyage of the Pequod by printmaker Kathleen Piercefield—whose own website, by the way, offers a slew of other Moby Dick prints, including the haunting Pip: Alone. Have a look around; you might find the perfect item for your own Dickmas list.

Some commentators rue how commercialized Herman Melville’s birthday has become, but I personally prefer the gift exchange to earlier forms of observance, including the ritual donning of the cassock.

Happy shopping!

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There are only four more days of voting left in the Guardian (UK) poll that pits Moby Dick (an asskicking sea monster) against Black Beauty (a talking horse). While the whale did pull ahead last month after we first mentioned the poll on Sea-Fever, he is currently once again losing to the horse by a hair—and whales don’t even have hair.

If you didn’t vote before, won’t you take a minute to put our boy over the top in this thing? Hint: your friends can vote, too.

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

Moby-Monday: A big honking book in tiny poems

I will write haiku / without "Call me Ishmael" / e'en if it kills me!
You might think nothing could be more antithetical to Herman Melville’s sprawling Moby-Dick than haiku, the compressed Japanese form that was the salvation of every “write a poem” assignment in school: five syllables, seven syllables, five syllables, and time for lunch. But where there’s an idea, there’s a haiku about it on the Internet.

In the case of the white whale, online haiku abound. Here’s one by Dan Higgins, a reader of the Albany (NY) Times Union newspaper:

Call me Ishmael
Then we will go whale hunting
‘Til the thing kills us.

A darker version showed up on muruch.com last week:

Call me Ishmael.
Ahab’s white whale heart of Hell.
Obsessed depths of death.

The king of Moby-Dick haiku, though, is Moby-Dick in Haiku, a hilarious 15-part retelling by the genius behind MadHaiku.com. Here’s chapter one:

Call me Ishmael
a white boy from Manhatto
I’m not really gay!

Noticing a pattern? There are other Moby-Dick haiku out there … and they all seem to start the same way. Do you think Melville wrote that famous first line in five syllables on purpose?

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

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Moby-Monday: Read Moby-Dick, or the Whale Gets It

Don't skip the chapter on Moby-Dick
Among Moby-Dick’s kabillions of pages of literary fallout, some of the most charming and passionate are essays by fans trying to convince other people to read the book. Saved from obscurity in the 1920s by a surge of belated good press, Herman Melville’s dense, challenging 1851 novel continues to turn readers into evangelists on its behalf. Christopher Routledge of Liverpool’s The Reader calls this tale of whaling and obsession “the ideal ‘desert island book'”; novelist Rebecca Stott says it’s her inspiration as a writer, a work of “mad genius” that she reaches for “whenever my nerve fails me.”

The white whale’s latest endorsement comes as a chapter in Jack Murnighan’s new book, Beowulf on the Beach: What to Love and What to Skip in Literature’s 50 Greatest Hits (Three Rivers Press, 2009). Admitting that Melville’s tome “is often thought of as one of the most boring, unfinishable books you can imagine,” the author reveals a secret: Moby-Dick “is funny, I mean really funny, as in one of the funniest books of all time.” The chapter—which Murnighan and his publisher have graciously allowed me to post in full on Power Moby-Dick—goes on to discuss that humor; reveal the book’s “best” line; and even (horreurs!) tell readers which chapters it’s OK to skip. (But don’t skip any.)

Cynics might wonder: if the book is so good, why does it need such a loud and fervid cheering section? Why not let people just read it—or not? The reason is that, like many of life’s most exquisite pleasures, Moby-Dick doesn’t always reward a casual first try. Fans don’t want the book’s bad reputation to make readers bail too early. After all, the more people they can convince to read the book, the more people there’ll be with whom to ponder its mysteries.

But fair enough. If you are a person who just wants to read the book (or not), you might consider signing up for “Read Moby-Dick This Summer.” The organizer, James Bickers, is sending out the whole book in emailed installments, starting July 1 and running through September 30—at which point, you can begin drafting your own “you gotta read this” essay.

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

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Moby-Monday: Massive white whale beached in Philly high-rise

Mocha DickTristin Lowe’s latest artwork could have saved Herman Melville a lot of time. In Moby-Dick, Melville devotes chapter upon chapter to the shape and bulk of the sperm whale, painting a mental picture of this elusive underwater beast for his 19th-century readers—and for generations of irritated students to come.

Today’s students have YouTube to help them understand the shape of these creatures, but it’s still hard to conceive of their size unless you’ve gone eye-to-eye with one, as Melville had.

Lowe’s “Mocha Dick” fixes that. Sewn in quarter-inch white felt, this 52-foot inflatable sculpture is a life-size depiction of the rogue white sperm whale for which Moby Dick is thought to have been named. The work is on display through summer’s end on the eighth floor of Philadelphia’s Fabric Workshop and Museum.

Standing next to this scarred, barnacle-encrusted felt leviathan, you can begin to understand the awe common to people who have seen whales in the flesh. Looking placid and slightly put-upon, the whale seems to be waiting patiently for humans to evolve to the point where they can get over their need to gawk at him. Given our enduring fascination with sea monsters, though, that may be a long time coming.

Lowe—a fan of Melville, Hawthorne, and other scribes of the dawn of the industrial age—says the idea for the whale came to him while he was sewing “empties” out of white felt. Feeling depleted after the completion of his last large-scale piece, a humongous folding deck chair, Lowe had been depicting throwaway vessels, including “six packs, trash cans, 40-ouncers,” while waiting for his next big inspiration. “Felt is the oldest fabric in the world, and it’s almost made out of dust, in a weird way,” he says. Contained in that dust is both destruction—”an ash, emptiness”—but also possibility for a new beginning, he adds: “It’s waiting to be filled up.”

Thoughts of the industries that create trash like his “empties” turned Lowe’s mind to Moby-Dick, Melville’s 1851 paean to the then-dwindling whale-oil industry, which was soon to be done in by the rise of petroleum as a fuel source.

While hanging out with some friends who were playing psychedelic rock music—and having been invited to collaborate with the Fabric Workshop’s sewers on a piece—Lowe decided to create a felt sculpture that represented both “the birth of this petroleum industry” and also a sort of magnificent, timeless knowledge, “like some crazy, big grandfather to bestow some sort of wisdom to you.

“With all these little empty bottles,” he says, “I somehow caught a whale.”

“Mocha Dick” is showing at The Fabric Workshop and Museum, 1214 Arch Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, through summer 2009.

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

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Moby-Monday: Let’s Beat a Dead Horse!

Artist's rendering with baleen whaleWe all know Moby Dick is a badass—the erstwhile Badass of the Week, in fact. He can crush a wooden whaleship with his wrinkled brow. But can he crush Black Beauty? This is the question raised by a poll running on the Guardian (UK) website through the first week of July.

Along with Moby Dick, contenders for “Best Performance by an Animal” in the newspaper’s literary poll include Buck, the half-St. Bernard, half-Scotch-Shepherd dog from Jack London’s The Call of the Wild; the unnamed bear from William Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale; and lapdog Jip from Charles Dickens’s David Copperfield. But it’s the autobiography-writing horse in Black Beauty who is currently giving everyone’s favorite cetacean a run for his money. In fact, the horse has been leading by a nose since the poll started a couple weeks back, albeit by just a dinky horse nose, not a mighty sperm whale’s.

Seriously: The terrifying freakish embodiment of God, death, nature, vengeance, or [insert true meaning of Moby Dick here] is up against a talking horse … and the horse is winning? Something is wrong here, my friend. Will you help make it right?

“Horse and Whale,” by Marilyn Burkhardt, used with the artist’s permission.

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

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Moby-Monday: Misunderstood Whale Tells All

Not since “On Top of Spaghetti” has one little sneeze caused so much trouble. According to a group of New Bedford fifth graders, the fateful chomp that launched Captain Ahab’s quest for revenge against Moby Dick was caused by a bad head cold.

“I sneezed, and when I did, I accidentally bit Captain Ahab’s leg right off!” says the hero of Moby-Dick Through the Eyes of the Whale, a new book written and illustrated by students at Abraham Lincoln Elementary School. “Believe what I’m telling you,” the whale continues. “It tasted horrifyingly gross!”

The book, which was published through Nationwide Learning, Inc., is a project of the school’s Moby Dick Club. The eight students read a junior edition of Moby-Dick and met weekly to discuss it under the tutelage of teacher Debra Perry. Now that they have created their own version of the story, the club is reading it to first graders at their school.

Is there a minimum age for hearing Herman Melville’s brutal tale of vengeance, obsession, havoc, and death? Not in New Bedford, an old whaling town that is, after all, where Ishmael, the novel’s narrator, hooks up with bosom buddy Queequeg. According to Perry, the ten- and eleven-year-olds chosen to read Moby-Dick in the club all knew the book’s ending already.

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

Photograph by Allan Foster, licensed through Creative Commons.

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Moby Monday – Jon Langford’s Whale’s-Eye View

In a world rife with fiction by people who maybe shouldn’t be writing fiction, Julie Schaper and Steve Horwitz tracked down a few people who weren’t writing fiction but ought to be. The two editors’ new anthology, Amplified, (Melville House, 2009) collects short stories by some of alt-country music’s most influential songwriters, including Laura Viers, Maria McKee of Lone Justice, and Rhett Miller of the Old 97’s.

Among these bright lights is Jon Langford of punk rock’s The Mekons and the proto-cowpunk outfit the Waco Brothers. And this is where Moby Monday comes in. Langford’s 1998 solo album, Skull Orchard, contains two whale-themed songs, and lyrics from both appear within Langford’s tragicomic story “Inside the Whale,” whose narrator is a beached Moby Dick.

“Apparently, I discovered, I am the very rarest stuff of legend,” says the whale, recalling the time he’d met a female dolphin—big fan—who had read Moby-Dick cover to cover. “She said you’d been looking for me forever,” he tells a human on the beach. “How was I supposed to know?”

In an elliptical tale that touches upon such curiosities as the original Captain Morgan of rum fame, forgotten boxing great Sam Langford, and an aching homesickness the Welsh call hiraeth, the author strikes a melancholy chord. But throughout, he also invites a happier sensation with which the Melville fan is well acquainted: the pleasure of looking stuff up.

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

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Moby-Monday – “Absolutely Hilarious”: The Twittering of Moby-Dick

“How many tweets would it take to tweet all of Moby-Dick?” cartoonist Adam Koford mused on Twitter last July.

The answer, it turned out, was 12,849, or about 45 Twitter posts per day for nine-and-a-half months—as programmer Dan Coulter, a Twitter follower and prior collaborator of Koford’s, discovered after he took the cartoonist’s question as a challenge.

Coulter’s robotic Moby-Dick Twitter feed started on July 28 and ended last Wednesday, May 13. While it was running, the robot (a script Coulter wrote in the PHP computer language) spit out one paragraph of Melville’s beloved and dreaded tome every hour during the business day, with the text sliced into Twitter’s signature 140-character-max dispatches. The account—with Twitter handle “publicdomain”—has attracted 418 followers, and today it begins blurting its next out-of-copyright text, Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland.

Why start with Moby-Dick? Koford says he was inspired by Twitter’s “fail whale,” the blissed-out white cetacean that appears onscreen whenever the micro-blogging network is overloaded. Though he had never read the full book on paper, Koford says, he’d read an “amazing” graphic adaptation by Bill Sienkiewicz. He had also endured an audiobook version narrated by actor Burt Reynolds. “He basically screams the whole book,” Koford recalls in an email. “Looking back, I’m not sure how I made it through that.” Still, Koford says, he loved the book.

Programmer Coulter was less enthusiastic. “I’m not a Melville fan,” he confesses. “I tried reading Billy Budd once, and I got about five pages into that. The language and the pacing has never been able to grab my interest.”

Reading 140 characters at a time, however, Coulter made it through Moby-Dick. And with the text in that format, he was able to appreciate Melville’s artistry with language. “It surprised me how poetic he could be at times,” Coulter says. “Stuff would come through that was really amazing.” Even more than the poetry, though, Coulter appreciated the humor inherent in the medium. “Twitter turned the book into this weird series of non-sequiturs—things that, taken out of context, were absolutely hilarious,” he says. “I don’t know that I would ever want to read Moby-Dick as a book, but as a Twitter feed, I really enjoyed it.”

A list of Coulter’s favorite funny Moby-Dick tweets appears in a wrap-up he posted to his blog last week. Fans of the book may recognize a few lines that are as amusing in context as out. This July 31 tweet, for example, follows narrator Ishmael’s first encounter with Queequeg, the Polynesian harpooner: “But I don’t fancy having a man smoking in bed with me. It’s dangerous. Besides, I ain’t insured.”

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

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