As a fan of Moby-Dick, I read Nathaniel Philbrick‘s books Why Read Moby-Dick? and In the Heart of the Sea with great interest.
There are many reasons that I have read and reread Moby-Dick, but Philbrick gave me a few more. There are also a number of reasons I would not recommend Melville’s masterpiece to all readers. I would not require a high school student to read it for class, for example, without really good guidance and probably some reading aloud in class.
But In the Heart of the Sea, which is subtitled “The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex” is a true story that served as at least one of the events which inspired Melville to write Moby-Dick. The whaleship Essex sank after being attacked by a sperm whale in 1820, which gave Melville a monster and the ending for his novel.
Philbrick’s book is about that event, and also what became of the survivors. Melville wrote a dark tale in parts of his novel and the tale of the Essex has darker themes too. Think survival and cannibalism.
You’ll hear about the story at the end of this year as it is being made into a film directed by Ron Howard. Based on Philbrick’s 2000 book, it stars Chris Hemsworth as first-mate Owen Chase. Chase was one of the survivors of the encounter with the “demon” sea monster, an 80-foot sperm whale, which leaves the survivors for 90 days at sea.
I like Ron Howard as a director. Lots of variety and genres, from Night Shift back in 1982 through Rush, Angels & Demons, Frost/Nixon, The Da Vinci Code, Cinderella Man, A Beautiful Mind, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Apollo 13, Backdraft, Parenthood, Gung Ho, Cocoon and Splash. I grew up with him acting on The Andy Griffith Show and saw him take his role in George Lucas’ great American Graffiti and very successfully move back to television in Happy Days. I think he will do the story justice and I am looking forward to the film. Maybe some people will read the Philbrick book and work their way back to Moby-Dick too.
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