Pause for Thought – a five minute read – 14

Bible reference see footnote

Believe or not I have just read another book, it’s the third reference to books since the lock down crisis started. The latest literal gem is Herman Melville’s, nautical novel, ‘Moby Dick’ or ‘The Great White Whale’.

I wonder what a psychiatrist would make of my reading list; a cold war spy novel, a farmer in remote Yorkshire and now a mad sea captain chasing a whale?

Melville sets his story at the turn of the 18th century when sailing ships roamed the seas searching for whales to extract whale oil, fat and other materials only available from whale carcasses. Each journey could take years to complete, following the pods of whales along the migration routes, and then the dangerous nature of their capture.

The main character in the book is Captain Ahab, who had previously had an encounter with the great white whale (he called Moby Dick) in which Ahab had lost a leg and now walks with a wooden stump fashioned by a ships carpenter from a piece of wood from a capstan.  The encounter has flipped Ahab’s mind and now the deranged fanatical sea captain searched the seas for revenge.

Although Capt. Ahab is the main character, the hero (every book has a hero) is a young man, the name of who, we don’t actually know. The first line of the book is, ‘Call me Ishmael’, suggesting that this is not his real name, but the reason he gave a false name never becomes apparent.

The story pairs Ishmael with Ahab in the whale fishing sea port of Nantucket, a small island off Cape Cod in Massachusetts from where they, along with other characters, set out for a two year voyage in a whaling ship called ‘The Pequod’. They encounter storms, doldrums. Pods of whales, other drifting ships riddled with diseases, and finally they find Moby Dick the great white whale.

I don’t want to give away the ending because you might want to read the book, but I can say that all does not go well and only one person lives to tell the tale (a fishy tail)

I was intrigued to know how near the truth the book was so I did some research (Google) and got a surprise, the structure of Melville’s book appears to come from three different sources;-  

  1. In the early 19th century a report was logged by a merchant sea captain, of a near disaster he had experienced when his ship was rammed by a great whale. The whale was described as being gigantic and white, It appears that as sperm whales age their skin turns from dark blue to white. The captain’s report was very detailed and was made public with warnings to other sea captains to be aware of the possible dangers of attacks by whales. Much of the report is contained in Melville’s book and was an obvious influence on his writing.
  2. Once again around the same time as the merchant ship incident, research was carried out into all aspects of the life style of all kinds of Whales. This was a scientific research project and as such the results were published in the style of an encyclopaedia, parts of which were lifted into Melville’s novel.
  3. The third source was Melville’s vivid imagination. The characters were fictional as was the story line. The other sources were just used to embellish the story with realism.

However Melville obtained his information and background material the book is an excellent read and well worth its place in the Classics.

I like books and I like to take a book on holiday with me. Perhaps it is because you have more time to relax and a good book can help you do so. I also like to imagine the characters forming a picture in my mind of how they will look following the author’s description. This can be difficult if I have seen the film before I’ve read the book or if the book has an illustrated front cover, I tend to have those illustrations fixed in my mind.

Whatever book I have been reading I always come back to my Bible and no matter how many times I read it, I always find something I hadn’t realised before. It’s almost as though it’s been amended while I wasn’t looking and suddenly I find the changes. This happens often during Bible study groups.

I can’t understand people who say to me, ‘I don’t read the Bible because it’s boring’. The Bible has everything, love stories, adventure stories, spy stories, autobiographies, historical accounts, sea stories and fishy stories, but most of all it’s a blue print of a way of life and a direction through Jesus Christ of how to live it.

It doesn’t matter if you read it from cover to cover or just dip into it, there is always a message that jumps out of the pages and it is never boring, and it’s no good looking at the last page to see how it ends, because it never does end, it just keeps on going and will keep on going until God reigns supreme over all.

Foot note    

I have not given a Bible reference for this Pause for Thought but the Bible refers to Whales as Leviathans so I thought you may want to look through your Bible and find how many references to Whale or Leviathan you can find. – you never know you might find something that you never noticed before.

To help you I have found five references up to now and I’ll start you off with Jonah 1 v 17 but this is a bit of cheat because my Bible says ‘a big fish’ (not quite the same as a whale)     

Derek T.