Mondays with Moby: Chapter Three

Entering that gable-ended Spouter-Inn, you found yourself in wide, low, straggling entry with old-fashioned wainscots, reminding one of the bulwarks of some condemned old craft.

We’re now taken on a tour of the Spouter-Inn, boasting dark, “besmoked” paintings of whales attempting to impale themselves, along with all manner of saws and harpoons and other menacing weaponry. Oh, and a bar set within the jawbone of a whale. And inside this ghastly maw, an old man dispenses his various “deliriums and death.”

Ishmael asks for a room, but is told he can only have one if he agrees to share his bunk with a harpooneer. Ishmael isn’t thrilled by this prospect, but agrees because the only other alternative is to spend the night outdoors, in the wind and the dark and the bitter, bitter cold and snow. In other words, winter in New England.

So he settles back to wait for the return of his bedmate, described to him as a “dark-complexioned chap” who eats nothing but steaks and “likes ‘em rare.”

A tramping of sea boots was heard in the entry; the door was flung open, and in rolled a wild set of mariners enough. Enveloped in their shaggy watch coats, and with their heads muffled in woolen comforters, all bedarned and ragged, and their beards stiff with icicles, they seemed an eruption of bears from Labrador.

This marks the arrival of a crew lately returned from a three-year voyage. There is one in the crew that Ishmael makes note of, a Bulkington who we’re told will play a larger role in the narrative later on.

He stood full six feet in height, with noble shoulders, and a chest like a cofferdam… His face was deeply brown and burnt, making his white teeth dazzling by the contrast; while in the deep shadows of his eyes floated some reminiscences that did not seem to give him much joy.

But Bulkington only stays on the scene for a minute, and we return to Ishmael’s concerns of having to share a bed with a stranger.

No man prefers to sleep two in a bed. In fact, you would a good deal rather not sleep with your own brother. I don’t know how it is, but people like to be private when they are sleeping. And when it comes to sleeping with an unknown stranger, in a strange inn, in a strange town, and that stranger a harpooneer, then your objections indefinitely multiply.

Ishmael also laments the assumed state of this harpooneer’s linen, which wouldn’t be the “tidiest, certainly not the finest.”

My takeaway from this is that “harpooneers” are at the bottom of a whaling ship’s proverbial totem pole? And that they’re not very clean? I mean, that’s what I got from this. Eep.

The moment finally comes when Ishmael can’t take anymore. The thought of sharing a bed with a strange “harpooneer” in untidy linen is too much to bear, and so he proposes the idea of sleeping on a bench in the main room. A few paragraphs follow of attempting to make the bench plan work (Spoilers: It doesn’t.) and the “harpooneer” still hasn’t returned, and the landlord confesses that He of the Dirty Linen must still be out trying to sell his head, which Ishmael takes for a yarn (or a “farrago”, which is an awesome word I must use more often) and after a long speech from Ishmael, the landlord clarifies that the “harpooneer” just arrived from the South Seas and is trying to sell embalmed human heads.

As one does.

“… and he’s sold all on ‘em but one, and that one he’s trying to sell tonight, cause tomorrow’s Sunday, and it would not do to be sellin’ human heads about the streets when folks is goin’ to churches.”

Things Not To Do On a Sunday Morning #47: Sell Human Heads

Finally, Ishmael gives in and goes to bed on his own (Why he didn’t do this in the first place, I’m not sure). The bed turns out to be huge, and after a quick rummage through the “harpooneer’s” things (Seriously, Ishmael?) he jumps into bed and is nearly asleep when he hears footsteps.

Lord save me, think I, that must be the harpooneer, the infernal head-peddler.

“Infernal Head-Peddler” being the third track from the latest CD by The Tepid Tears of Orphans.

The newcomer is tattooed, with a “purplish-yellow” complexion, and without any hair on his head “but a small scalp-knot twisted up on his forehead.”

This is all, once again, too much for poor Ishmael. (Perhaps the book will receive an anniversary re-release when it will be titled “Moby-Dick, or Things That Are Too Much For Ishmael.”) And then the “harpooneer” strips out of his shirt and proceeds to go through a little ceremony with a carved idol. But through all of this, Ishmael is too stunned to speak up and announce his presence in the room, until…

The next moment, the light was extinguished, and this wild cannibal, tomahawk between his teeth, sprang into bed with me. I sang out, I could not help it now; and giving a sudden grunt of astonishment he began feeling me.

Is this part in any of the movie or television adaptations? Is it? Please, tell me that it is.

“Who-ee debel you?”- he at last said -”you no speak-ee, dam-me, I kill-e.” And so saying, the lighted tomahawk began flourishing around in the dark.”

There’s a bit of a rumpus, the landlord arrives, but Queequeg – because we discover that our tattooed “harpooneer” is named Queequeg – is actually a pretty nice guy.

For all his tattooings, he was on the whole a clean, comely looking cannibal. What’s all this fuss I have been making about, thought I to myself – the man’s a human being just as I am: he has just as much reason to fear me, as I have to be afraid of him. Better sleep with a sober cannibal than a drunken Christian.


I turned in, and never slept better in my life.

Next up? Chapter Four: The Counterpane

Things I Had To Look Up:

Cofferdam: According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, it is “a watertight enclosure from which water is pumped to expose the bottom of a body of water and permit construction (as of a pier).” Or, you know, a big thing.

Skrimshander: According to… “Whale-bone, and other like skrimshander articles, as the whalemen call the numerous little ingenious contrivances they elaborately carve out of the rough material, in their hours of ocean leisure.” And it really seems to find a bit of exclusivity in Moby-Dick, since almost all of the examples of its usage come from this book.

Hyperborean: “It’s a Hyperborean winter scene.” A phrase used as one of the possible scenes in the painting that hides beneath all of the smoke and soot inside the Spouter-Inn. According to Merriam-Webster, Hyperborean is either 1) a member of a people held by the ancient Greeks to live beyond the north wind in a region of perpetual sunshine, or 2) an inhabitant of a cool northern climate.

Monkey Jackets: These are referred to a lot in this book, and even though I’d heard the term, I couldn’t place the look. So I ran over to Wikipedia for help. “A Monkey Jacket is a waist length jacket tapering at the back to a point. Historically, monkey jackets were typically worn by sailors.”

One thought on “Mondays with Moby: Chapter Three

  1. Quen, I really liked your take on Moby Dick – which I am quite horrified to say, I have never read (one of the few books I haven’t read…)… I guffawed at one point – and I have to say it kind of made me want to read it myself some day…


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