Showing posts with label Herman Melville. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Herman Melville. Show all posts

Friday, May 22, 2015

Moby-Dick graphic novel by Herman Melville

Title: Moby-Dick graphic novel
Author: Herman Melville
Publisher: Marvel
Rating: WORTHY!

Adapted by Roy Thomas.

I can't imagine myself sitting down and reading Moby-Dick (yes the title had a hyphen, but curiously not the text!) in the original six hundred page novel, although I confess that I am tempted now to try the audio book version just out of curiosity, but this graphic novel version was pretty darned good and I'm rating it positively. The text is largely faithful to the original as far as is possible, so I understand, but obviously they had to excise a significant amount of that tome to fit it into a graphic format. Evidently the original novel is larded-up with long chapters taken from the author's own experiences at sea, and from his own extensive reading about whaling. He never was a whaler, but he had seen service in the navy. The novel bombed during his own lifetime. Now it's considered a classic. Go figure.

Everyone thinks they know this story, which Melville dedicated to Nathaniel Hawthorne, a one-time neighbor and friend who lured him into writing as a career, but I found it quite eye-opening to read even the graphic novel. I was struck by how similar it is to the Steven Spielberg movie Jaws - or more accurately by how similar Jaws is to this. I think I watched the Moby-Dick movie once - the one with Gregory Peck, where he sails off lashed to the whale, his arm waving as though he's beckoning others to follow him in his fruitless quest, but that's not what happens in the novel.

The story famously begins "Call me Ishmael", and this character is the one who tells the story as the only survivor of the ill-fated expedition, but it isn't an irritating first person story at all, refreshingly enough. Ishmael befriends Queequeg, evidently a Polynesian prince. Queequeg, along with Tashtego, a native American, and Daggoo, from somewhere unspecified in Africa, are the three harpoon exerts who sail on this voyage almost around the world wailing on whales. The crew of the boat is refreshingly cosmopolitan. The final showdown takes place not in the North Atlantic, but on the equator out in the Pacific.

Believe it or not, the story is evidently rooted in some real life events. Mocha Dick is clearly the source for Moby-Dick. A ship, the Essex out of Nantucket was sunk in 1820 after being head-butted by a so-called sperm whale. A second mate from a ship named Nantucket was drowned in the same way as Ahab is depicted as dying in the novel.

So in short, I highly recommend this particular graphic novel version of Herman Melville's best known work. I can't speak for any other such versions, but this is definitely worth your time if you're at all interested in this story, and it will serve you better than a dry Cliff's or Spark- notes précis. The artwork is really wonderfully done, and the story is told impeccably, and dramatically whilst adhering to the author's original work as far as is reasonably possible.

I don't normally read prologues, introductions, prefaces and so on, but in this case it was worth it to discover what had been done to the original (and the glossary at the end is useful to). The final showdown with the whale is only three chapters long in Melville's original, but it occupies a third of the graphic novel, and I think that was a smart decision. Go read it, and see what you think. The library probably has a copy if you don't want to immediately lay out cash for it. The original is available free on-line from Gutenberg.