June 11, 2020
Lecture Video: “Ahab’s Rolling Sea: A Natural History of ‘Moby Dick’”
Although Herman Melville’s “Moby-Dick” is beloved as one of the most profound and enduring works of American fiction, we rarely consider it a work of nature writing—or even a novel of the sea.
by Richard J. King
January 16, 2020
Richard J. King came to the Herreshoff Museum to present Ahab’s Rolling Sea: A Natural History of “Moby-Dick,” a book sure to delight the naturalists, mariners, and readers among us. King gave a brief talk about the book, followed by discussion and book signing. He is also an illustrator and draws an original color cartoon in each book–a perfect gift!
Although Herman Melville’s “Moby-Dick” is beloved as one of the most profound and enduring works of American fiction, we rarely consider it a work of nature writing—or even a novel of the sea. Yet Pulitzer Prize–winning author Annie Dillard avers “Moby-Dick” is the “best book ever written about nature,” and nearly the entirety of the story is set on the waves, with scarcely a whiff of land. In fact, Ishmael’s sea yarn is in conversation with the nature writing of Emerson and Thoreau, and Melville himself did much more than live for a year in a cabin beside a pond. He set sail: to the far remote Pacific Ocean, spending more than three years at sea before writing his masterpiece in 1851.
A revelation for “Moby-Dick” devotees and neophytes alike, “Ahab’s Rolling Sea” is a chronological journey through the natural history and seamanship in Melville’s novel. From white whales to whale intelligence, giant squids, barnacles, albatross, celestial navigation, and sharks, King examines what Melville knew from his own experiences and the sources available to a reader in the mid-1800s, exploring how and why Melville might have twisted what was known to serve his fiction.
About the author: Richard J. King is visiting associate professor of maritime literature and history at the Sea Education Association in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. For more than twenty years he has been sailing and teaching aboard tall ships in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. He writes and illustrates a column on marine animals for Sea History magazine, edits the “Searchable Sea Literature” website, and was the founding series editor of Seafaring America. He sailed solo across the Atlantic in 2007 aboard a Pearson Triton. He is the author of “Lobster” and “The Devil’s Cormorant: A Natural History”. For more information, visit richardjking.info.