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Moby Dick is a novel by American writer Herman Melville. The work is an epic sea story of Captain Ahab's voyage in pursuit of Moby Dick, a great white whale. A contemporary commercial failure and out of print at the time of the author's death in 1891, its reputation rose during the twentieth century. D.H. Lawrence called it "the greatest book of the sea ever written." Jorge Luis Borges praised the style: "Unforgettable phrases abound." Today it is considered one of the Great American Novels and a leading work of American Romanticism.
The opening line, "Call me Ishmael," is one of the most recognizable opening lines in Western literature. Ishmael then narrates the voyage of the whaleship Pequod, commanded by Captain Ahab. Ahab has one purpose: revenge on Moby Dick, a ferocious, enigmatic white whale which on a previous voyage destroyed Ahab's ship and severed his leg at the knee. The detailed and realistic descriptions of whale hunting and the process of extracting whale oil, as well as life aboard ship among a culturally diverse crew, are mixed with exploration of class and social status, good and evil, and the existence of God.
Melville uses a wide range of styles and literary devices ranging from lists and catalogs to Shakespearean stage directions, soliloquies, and asides.
Note to children: this is not Melville's Moby Dick. Drummond (The Willow Pattern Story) has transformed the tome of American Lit into a quick-reading, kid-friendly whale of a tale. His inviting approach (which emanates from his obvious love for the story) involves ruthless editing and nonthreatening visuals. He uses pen and pale washes of color (punctuated by just enough red whale gore to suggest the seriousness of the sport) in a cartoonish style and conversation bubbles with handwritten contents to cleverly convey the episodic quality of the text. Ishmael narrates the story here, too, and chapter headings for each spread aid the story's clarity and momentum. Amazingly, the plot is complete in these 32 pages and includes many of the most fascinating details of the mechanics of whaling. Although some children may have trouble with some of the more adult themes (the fact that this is a revenge mission for Ahab, Queequeg builds himself a coffin and only Ishmael survives), whale and sea lovers will learn a great deal (especially in the concluding author's note). By cagily approaching this classic with a light, non-reverential touch, Drummond may predispose a new generation of readers toward experiencing the original work (that they might otherwise only encounter only in Cliffs Notes). Ages 5-up.