Thursday, October 18, 2001

Herman Melville's Moby-Dick published 150 years ago today

First posted 6/17/2020; last updated 7/6/2020.


Herman Melville

First Publication: October 18, 1851

Category: novel about human struggle against nature

Sales: 1 million

Accolades (click on badges to see full lists):

About the Book:

Moby-Dick was “scorned by critics upon its publication” BN and “publicly derided during its author’s lifetime.” BN However, it is “now considered by many as ‘the great American novel.’” AZ

“Melville's greatest work presents an imaginative and thrilling picture of life at sea, as well as a portrait of heroic determination.” AZ “Herman Melville’s tale of the Great White Whale and the crazed Captain Ahab who declares he will chase him ‘round perdition’s flames before I give him up’ has become an American myth. Even people who have never read Moby-Dick know the basic plot, and references to it are common in other works of American literature and in popular culture, such as the Star Trek film The Wrath of Khan (1982).” LC

“On its surface, …[it] is a vivid documentary of life aboard a nineteenth-century whaler, a virtual encyclopedia of whales and whaling, replete with facts, legends, and trivia that Melville had gleaned from personal experience and scores of sources.” BN “Narrated by the cunningly observant crew member Ishmael, Moby-Dick is the tale of the hunt for the elusive” BN and “mysterious white whale…[who] ripped off the leg of a sea captain named Ahab. Now the crew of the Pequod, on a pursuit that features constant adventure and horrendous mishaps, must follow the mad Ahab into the abyss to satisfy his…thirst for vengeance.” BN

The result is “a maritime story that dramatically examines the conflict between man and nature.” AZ The novel asks “Who is good? The great white whale who, like Nature, asks nothing but to be left in peace? Or the bold Ahab who, like scientists, explorers, and philosophers, fearlessly probes the mysteries of the universe? Who is evil? The ferocious, man-killing sea monster? Or the revenge-obsessed madman who ignores his own better nature in his quest to kill the beast?” BN

Resources and Related Links:

Monday, April 23, 2001

A Single Shard: Building a Character One Piece at a Time

image from

Linda Sue Park's A Single Shard (Clarion Books, 2001) is the ninth book I've read in my exploration of the Newbery winners. This is my favorite yet.

Tree-ear is an orphan in 12th century Korea. He lives under a bridge with Crane-man, a crippled homeless man. Tree-ear dreams of being a potter and believes his wish will come true once he gets an opportunity to work for Min, the most noted potter in the area. However, Min works at a very slow pace and seems incapable of showing gratitude for the hard work Tree-ear does.

When an emissary from the king visits the town, all the potters are hopeful that they will get a commission. Such a coup can provide work for life. While Min is clearly the best potter, the commission goes to a rival who has just learned a new technique.

However, the emissary gives Min a chance to learn the technique and bring some pieces to the palace. Min says he could not possibly make such a journey, but Tree-ear offers to make the trek on his behalf. I won't spoil the ending, but I'll say that the book had me crying tears of joy and sadness. The resolution isn't without setup, but it still had elements of surprise.

My focus on reading the Newbery winners is on what lessons I can glean for my writing. Tree-ear exhibits profoundly admirable traits - patience, a willingness to work hard, a refusal to give up, and steadfastly holding on to his dream - that are essential to anyone longing to be successful at anything.

From a writing standpoint, Shard also reminds the reader that while conflict is important to a story, it doesn't have to grow out of the main character's flaws. In fact, I found myself rooting for Tree-ear because he was so deserving of having his dream come true.