Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Moby-Dick Big Read, Chapters 5-9

Chapter 5 (Breakfast) finds Ishmael at a group breakfast, sharing a table with his fellow-boarders, Queequeg among them, at the Spout Inn.  Ishmael seems to be the only one of the whalers willing to be himself and not worry about what others think.  As a group, these whalers appear to be a shy bunch, content to eat their breakfast rather quietly before hitting the streets of New Bedford one last time before going to sea.  Queequeg, in the meantime, uses his harpoon to spear food from nearby platters or to drag distant platters closer to him.

Musa Okwonga
"Breakfast" is read in great style by Musa Okwonga whose twitter account describes him this way: "Poet, sportswriter; author, musician; journalist, broadcaster, communications adviser.  BBC, ESPN, MSN, FT, The Blizzard, The Independent and more."  Okwonga does a bit of everything, it seems.  He can be followed on Twitter here.

In Chapter 6 (The Street), Ishmael is amazed by the variety of humanity he finds on the streets of New Bedford, the current whaling capitol of the world.  The way he sees it, Queequeg does not stand out in this crowd and, in fact, is just one among many strange characters wandering the city.

Big Read Illustration, Chapter 6
Chapter 6 is read by Mary Norris, but I am, embarrassingly, unable to determine exactly "which" Mary Norris that might be.  I suspect it is the Irish Mary Norris who has been describing her horrible experiences in St. Joseph's Orphanage, a facility run by the Catholic Church in Killarney, Ireland.  But, I'm only guessing.

It is in Chapter 7 (The Chapel) that Ismael's spirits become a little subdued by all the reminders inside the church of lives lost to the very pursuit he is about to embark upon.  There are numerous commemorative plaques scattered throughout the little church but, alas, few bodies to match them since all of those being memorialized were lost at sea, never to be seen again.

This chapter is read by Keith Collins, another of those rather generic names from which I can not comfortably identify the actual narrator.  This is turning into my one complaint about the way the Big Read is being presented.  Capsule biographies of the readers would be a huge help to listeners located outside the U.K.

Chapter 8 (The Pulpit) really puts The Whaleman's Chapel into perspective as it describes the unique pulpit from which the famous Father Mapple preaches his Sunday sermons.  Rising high above the church's whaling congregation, and modeled to look like the prow of a whaling ship, this pulpit gives Father Mapple the perfect spot from which to reach his audience.  And, as described in the next chapter, a Father Mapple sermon is quite an experience.

Simon Callow
"The Pulpit" is read by Nick Atkinson and, again, I'm having to guess just which "Nick Atkinson" this really is.  I see two possibilities: Nick Atkinson, the Australian actor, or Nick Atkinson, the British rock band singer.  Your guess is probably better than mine.

Chapter 9 (The Sermon) is really something to hear.  Melville has written a barnburner of a sermon for Father Mapple and Simon Callow delivers it to perfection.  I found this chapter to be one where it is best just to put the book down and listen to Callow deliver the sermon "live."  He did a beautiful job.  Of course, Simon Callow is one of the most respected British stage and movie actors around, and very easily identified.

Dive Deeper covers a good bit of ground related to Chapters 5-9, including a real-life model, Methodist minister Edward Thompson Taylor, upon which Father Mapple is likely to have been based.

Included is this interesting observation about Melville's view of theology, as expressed in Moby-Dick:
"The cosmic joke that hits hard in Moby-Dick is not about whether there is a God.  It is about why such a God should be so distant or mean-spirited.  Does this deity take perverse pleasure in joking with the lives of so many poor souls?  This may be the 'ultimate secret' that Melville's humor seeks to reveal.  Or, maybe the point is that the joke is on us?"
I am particularly looking forward to hearing/reading Chapter 10 because it is read by one of my favorite multi-threat talents, the great Stephen Fry.  What a shame Chapter 10 is only four pages long!

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