The Nine Books that inspired me to write (6 of 9) #6_ Moby Dick by Herman Melville

Moby Dick (1851)

What is left to be said about Moby Dick? Not much at this stage, In Melville's lifetime it only sold a handful of copies. It wasn't until 1917 as America entered WW1 that the book's popularity took hold. It became a staple read with US troops crossing the Atlantic. Its revival in the early 20th century long after Melville's death earned it the reputation as one of the Great American Novels,

I came very late to this book, I only read it for the first time about ten years ago. I was invited to give a talk at my local library in Rush where I live, about how I got GET LENIN published. I saw a copy of Moby Dick on one of the shelves and borrowed it after the talk. It is the next book on my list of the 9 books that inspired me to write.

Its hard not to read it without thinking of John Huston's 1954 classic movie. The filming of which was fraught, like JAWS, filmed 20years later, with production problems. A full size Moby Dick slipped it's mooring in Youghal, County Cork and drifted into the shipping lanes of the Irish Sea, The crew managed to get it back with the assistance of the Irish Navy. In the movie, Ahab drowns, lashed to the whale, summoning the crew of The PEQUOD to its doom; his arm flailing with every breach of the whale. Benchley in the book, JAWS has Quint die the same fashion, dragged to the depths by the dying Great White, tangled in Quint's harpoon coils.

What is incredible about Moby Dick for me is from the opening passage, Ishmael and his new room mate Queequeg, are on a quest, an epic adventure is about to unfold. Melville's descriptions of the PEQUOD, her crew and the voyage are wonderfully told. It is a fairy tale of sorts, a fable and a parable about man versus nature. I bought a copy after reading the library book and like Kolymsky Heights, is one of my 'preparation books' before writing.

There are two chapters that stand out for me and they are: Chapter 66 - The Shark Massacre & Chapter 131 - The Peqod meets The Delight. Both capture Melville's writing at its best; Queequeg fighting off sharks, astride the body of a dead whale and the moment when The PEQUOD meets the whaler THE DELIGHT in the vast empty ocean before its final encounter with Moby Dick.

I love that later chapter. Every paragraph flags how this voyage is going to end and yet you push on like the hapless crew following the maimed and tortured Captain Ahab to the final showdown. Its this chapter that inspired me to write the voyage of the vessel carrying the weapon out of Argentina in my 4th of the Eva series HOLLOW POINT

Brandt signs on to a freighter shipping the components of a weapon bound from Marseilles. The voyage sets the timeline (6 weeks) for Eva and the team to attempt to thwart the plot. 

I also read it when drafting the kayak to the island in A KIND OF DROWNING, where Crowe and Roberston set out at dawn in a sea kayak to visit a nearby island.

Moby Dick has dated in places, the science of marine biology has advanced over so many years, whales are seen now as benign creatures, not a commodity, but if you skip these chapters, Moby Dick is still one of those books you should read in your lifetime.


I like the way you relate books to your writing. I've picked up Moby Dick a few times--but not for me. I did listen to it being read, which was bearable.