Friday, December 23, 2005


The Whale and His Authors

I'm tentatively slated to appear this morning on NPR's Weekend Edition to talk about Herman Melville and good ol' Reverend Henry Cheever.

I was lucky enough to find myself a first edition copy of The Whale and His Captors. There's something strange about holding a book that you know to be the very same edition that Melville once pondered as he tackled his own great epic. It's a very curious work -- quite disjointed and with barely a narrative to speak of, really, but full of interesting tidbits. Something I didn't mention in my interview with Scott Simon is that a sizable chunk of The Whale and His Captors is a hobby horse about how upset Cheever gets over whaling on the Sabbath.

In one especially comic moment -- I'm sorry, in one especially terrible, terrible moment! -- he describes whalers gathered around at a Sunday service on deck, the reverend intoning solemnly from his portable lectern, when the call "Thar she blows!" sings out from a mast... whereupon every whaler completely hauls ass out of the service.

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