In the Heart of the Sea
Although it’s a deeply stylized work of fiction, Moby-Dick does have some historical precedents—among them the case of the Essex, a whaling vessel that was attacked by its quarry in the waters off the South American coast, leading to a terrible fate for most of its crew. Nathaniel Philbrick’s book on the Essex gives plenty of detail about the realities of life on a whaling ship and provides an insightful look into what society was like on Nantucket in the early part of the 19th century. Philbrick has tackled related topics in two other books that may also be of interest: Away Off Shore and Why Read Moby-Dick?.
As with many a book by the visionary British author China Miéville, Railsea has a decidedly high concept: it’s set on a vessel traveling over a vast series of intricately connected railways, with strange creatures lurking below the surface. The novel’s protagonist is a crewman traveling on a train that traverses the railsea, hunting giant mole rats as it goes. The ship’s captain has a fixation on hunting one particular creature, a mania that may sound familiar. But this novel isn’t exactly a retelling of Melville’s novel; instead, Miéville knowingly riffs on it, while also commenting on how aspects of its plot have become codified over time.
In the fall of 1851 (October 18, to be exact), Herman Melville’s novel Moby-Dick (or The Whale) was first published. While the novel is now hailed as a classic, it was far from an overnight success, taking decades to attain its position in the literary hierarchy. It’s also entered the cultural lexicon, with its tale of one man’s obsession that leads to ruination on a massive scale serving as a useful metaphorical shorthand for a variety of situations. Moby-Dick has a number of literary descendants as well, from those that take parts of its plot and apply them to radically different settings to alternate angles on the story of a whaling ship, doomed sailors, and their quarry. Here’s a look at six.
Featured Image: Chris Elgad Snyder