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Moby-Dick; or, The Whale is a novel by Herman Melville, first published in 1851. It is considered to be one of the Great American Novels. The story tells the adventures of wandering sailor Ishmael, and his voyage on the whaleship Pequod, commanded by Captain Ahab. Ishmael soon learns that Ahab has one purpose on this voyage: to seek out Moby Dick, a ferocious, enigmatic white sperm whale. In a previous encounter, the whale destroyed Ahab's boat and bit off his leg, which now drives Ahab to take revenge.
In Moby-Dick, Melville employs stylized language, symbolism, and metaphor to explore numerous complex themes. Through the journey of the main characters, the concepts of class and social status, good and evil, and the existence of God are all examined, as the main characters speculate upon their personal beliefs and their places in the universe. The narrator's reflections, along with his descriptions of a sailor's life aboard a whaling ship, are woven into the narrative along with Shakespearean literary devices, such as stage directions, extended soliloquies, and asides. The book portrays destructive obsession and monomania, as well as the assumption of anthropomorphism.
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.