Once upon a time, you believed in monsters. I thought about this because I was watching with my 2-year-old grandchild the Monsters Inc, movies. Those monsters turn out to be okay but at first, their jobs are to scare kids. Maybe you thought there were monsters under your bed or in your closet. Maybe they were outside at night or in the basement. You were not alone.
Ancient peoples thought there were monsters in the oceans and lands beyond their ken. They drew them on maps. They wrote stories about them. Over the centuries, tales about vampires, zombies, and werewolves. Some monsters had names. I don’t mean Frankenstein and names in fiction. I mean the Loch Ness monster, Bigfoot, et al. Water monsters are my focus today. There are 22 aquatic monsters reported in the U.S. that I found listed. On my coast, it includes Chessie in the Chesapeake Bay, Champ in Lake Champlain, a sea serpent in Gloucester Harbor, and Kipsy in the nearby Hudson River. I have never seen any of them but I thought about them this past week while watching TV.
Big Blue was supposedly a prehistoric plesiosaur that lived in a lake in Georgia. Sort of a southern Loch Ness monster. There were numerous legends, sightings, and even a gift shop relating to the monster, but it began to be taken seriously following the deaths of several people on the lake.
But all that happened in “Quagmire” – an episode (#22) of season 3 of the television series The X-Files. (You can go down their monster rabbit hole in The X-Files: The Official Archives: Cryptids, Biological Anomalies, and Parapsychic Phenomena.) I watched them all back in the 1990s. (The title music scared my sons.) This one was originally broadcast in 1996. FBI Special Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully were brought in to investigate.
Mulder and Scully eventually rent a boat and head out onto the lake, but their boat is hit by something and sinks. They find a large rock to climb up on and talk for a while about Mulder’s quest to catch Big Blue.
What really got my attention when I rewatched the episode recently was their talk about Moby-Dick. I suppose that whale is a monster. A fictional monster based on a whale that did attack a whaling ship.
Spoiler alert: Mulder chases the monster into the woods and fires at it, revealing it to be only a big alligator. Mulder is disappointed that there is no Big Blue monster. But as the FBI agents leave, Big Blue swims by in the lake, unnoticed.
In this episode, the characters are directly compared to or can be seen as being similar to characters in Moby-Dick. Mulder is Ahab, according to Scully. “You’re so consumed by your personal vengeance against life, whether it be its inherent cruelties or mysteries, everything takes on a warped significance to fit your megalomaniacal cosmology.”
Scully has her little dog, Queequeg, along on this investigation because she couldn’t get a last-minute dog sitter. During the episode, poor little Queequeg gets eaten by Moby Big Blue.
Here’s some of the dialogue:
MULDER: Why did you name your dog Queequeg?
SCULLY: It was the name of the harpoonist in Moby Dick. My father used to read to me from Moby Dick when I was a little girl, I called him Ahab and he called me Starbuck. So I named my dog Queequeg. It’s funny, I just realized something.
MULDER: It’s a bizarre name for a dog, huh?
SCULLY: No, how much you’re like Ahab. You’re so consumed by your personal vengeance against life, whether it be its inherent cruelties or mysteries, everything takes on a warped significance to fit your megalomaniacal cosmology.
MULDER: Scully, are you coming on to me?
SCULLY: It’s the truth or a white whale. What difference does it make? I mean, both obsessions are impossible to capture, and trying to do so will only leave you dead along with everyone else you bring with you. You know Mulder, you are Ahab.
MULDER: You know, it’s interesting you should say that because I’ve always wanted a peg leg. It’s a boyhood thing I never grew out of. I’m not being flippant, I’ve given this a lot of thought. I mean. if you have a peg leg or hooks for hands then maybe it’s enough to simply keep on living. You know, braving facing life with your disability. But without these things you’re actually meant to make something of your life, achieve something earn a raise, wear a necktie. So if anything I’m actually the antithesis of Ahab, because if I did have a peg leg I’d quite possibly be more happy and more content not to be chasing after these creatures of the unknown.
SCULLY: And that’s not flippant?
MULDER: No, flippant is my favorite line from Moby Dick. ‘Hell is an idea first born on an undigested apple dumpling.’
I like that line by Melville. It’s an odd one.
Oh, and Gillian Anderson (Scully) plays the part of Elizabeth, the wife of Ahab, in the “reimagined” 2011 TV series presentation of Moby Dick. Ahab’s wife was only fleetingly mentioned in the original book which doesn’t offer much in female roles.
More about this episode and some Moby-Dick connections.