Last night I caught the tail end (ha ha – you’ll see why this pun is so funny in a sec so keep reading) of some made-for-t.v. series based on the book Moby Dick by Herman Melville.
I’m not sure how I missed the series when it originally came out because it had some pretty big-name actors in it: William Hurt played the role of Captain Ahab, Ethan Hawke was Ishmael (or was he Starbuck?), and I think Daniel Day-Lewis may have been playing Queequeg.
Anyway…did you ever have to read Moby Dick? I say “have to” because no one on God’s green earth would read this book voluntarily. You would only read it if you were forced to in English class as a Junior in highschool.
It is such an endless, droning story about Captain Ahab who slowly descends into madness (and brings everyone down with him, literally) while he hunts for a white whale named Moby Dick who bit off his leg last time they met. As part of carrying out his personal vendetta against Moby (Mr. Dick?), Ahab stands endlessly at the bow of his ship (two points if you can name the ship. Anyone? Anyone?? It’s the Pequod, you literary fools!) and asks every blessed vessel they meet on the high seas, “Hast though seen the White Whale?”
[Uh…no. But we hast seen a freaky dude with a pegleg shouting from the bow of his ship.]
Every sentence of the book contains way, WAY too much excruciating* detail. And was written in such archaic language that there’s a footnote required to explain every fourth word or so. Honestly, it’s like reading some stranger’s PhD math thesis in a foreign language. It’s enough to drive anyone insane. In fact, after I read the book I felt like I had descended into madness. I was willing to sign on with Captain Ahab just so we could finally kill that white freak-of-a-whale already and be done with the whole mess.
Ok. So where are we going here? All of this reminds me of a funny story about Moby Dick from that same highschool English class. It was held first period. And I took it with a bunch of kids who…uh…frequently cut the actual class and only came in for attendance and announcements at the end of the period. One guy, named Gray Whaley, sometimes didn’t even bother to do that.
One day, as Mr. Farrell (Junior English class teacher – why? Don’t YOU remember the name of YOURS?!) called out Gray’s name. No response. Gray Whaley? Again no response. Then he says, “Hast thou seen the Gray Whaley?” The class burst out laughing, the bell rang and we all left.
That’s it. There’s only one funny story about Moby Dick from highschool English class in the whole world. And I just told it to you. Now move on.
*Ok. Seriously. Herman (Mr. Melville?) had WAY too much free time on his hands. He took every circuitous (ooh – good word!) route possible to describe the most mundane stuff. For example, instead of saying, “Captain Ahab was a skinny meth addict with an unsightly white scar running down the side of his face.” He says, “He looked like a man cut away from the stake, when the fire has overrunningly wasted all the limbs without consuming them, or taking away one particle from their compacted aged robustness… Threading its way out from among his grey hairs, and continuing right down one side of his tawny scorched face and neck, till it disappeared in his clothing, you saw a slender rod-like mark, lividly whitish. It resembled that perpendicular seam sometimes made in the straight, lofty trunk of a great tree, when the upper lightning tearingly darts down it, and without wrenching a single twig, peels and grooves out the bark from top to bottom ere running off into the soil, leaving the tree still greenly alive, but branded.” Ch. 28. GOOD LORD! GET ON WITH IT ALREADY!!! I’M GONNA FIND MOBY DICK MY OWN SELF AND MURTALIZE HIM SO WE CAN BE DONE WITH THIS AGONY!