It’s Moby Dick weekend!
Moby Dick by Herman Melville is one of those books I’ve had a love-hate relationship with since I read it the first time, back in an American Lit university course. To be honest, I was baffled by the book after that initial encounter. If you’ve read it, I’m sure you’ll understand. If you haven’t read it, let’s just say it’s a work of eccentric genius.
Moby Dick has some of the most memorable scenes in literature for me, and I can see its influence everywhere — Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian leaps to mind first. Moby Dick is a thing of sublime beauty that tells a simple yet incredibly compelling story. It’s also a completely batshit crazy book that breaks all the rules of writing and publishing and veers into textual madness at times. It marked a trend for Melville’s later books, which faced an uneven reception to their literary experimentation — see the headline “Herman Melville Crazy,” for example.
I’ve read Moby Dick a number of times since that first encounter, and I’m not sure I understand it any better now. That’s kind of the point of the book, though — or one of its points, anyway. Ahab is consumed by his quest to master the whale, which remains throughout an incomprehensible force to him and the others. You have as much luck truly understanding the book as Ahab does of besting the white whale.
I do appreciate the beauty of the book, though, and its incredible imagery and masterful scene construction were much in my mind when writing my latest Cross book, The Apocalypse Ark (ah, here’s where we getting to things). I wanted to capture Moby Dick’s sense of something vast and mysterious lurking just under the surface of our world — I guess it will be up to readers to decide if I succeeded or not.
I was also inspired by Melville’s bravery and risk-taking in publishing what you could call an unusual text. Often, writers are influenced more by market trends and sales numbers — “Hey, maybe I should put a steampunk vampire romance in this book….” Sometimes you have to remind yourself of the chances other writers have taken, of the commitment they’ve had to their vision, before you can truly commit to your own crazy vision. And I do think the vision I had for The Apocalypse Ark was crazy — it’s batshit crazy in the same spirit as Moby Dick, although I would never make claims about being equal to that book in any other capacity. “Peter Roman: Crazy as Melville!”
Anyway, this is all a long-winded post about the fact that it’s Moby Dick weekend — where people gather to read and watch others read aloud the entirety of Moby Dick, in a marathon event that’s as mad as Ahab. Check out the livestream, read along in your own copy, or just retweet your favourite lines.
That should be enough to hold you until The Apocalypse Ark comes out and you can see what I’ve done with Moby Dick and Herman Melville in my own peculiar telling of the tale.
Image is from Paul Vermeersch’s postcard art collection, but I supplied the caption.