...it's not dark yet, but it's gettin' there...

September 28, 2005

Speaking Of Monsters

Remember my Job post from a few weeks ago, where i made reference to the giant squid? [to great rhetorical effect, i might add] Turns out that about a year ago some Japanese scientists obtained film of a live giant squid ― the first time any human being has ever seen one alive! You may have seen the story. It's listed among the most popular links at Yahoo news.

gsqd.gifPeople are fascinated by giant slimy things i guess. The giant squid has always held a particular mythological importance. Mainly, i think, because so little is known about it. As a monster it was known as the Kraken, and you can see it in the corners of those old time maps, usually clutching a square rigger within its tentacled death grip.

Maybe it's the fact that those things can grow to the length of a football field. Or those ten snakelike tentacles, all studded with suckers the size of pie plates. Or the fact that it spews forth black ink when it gets excited. Or that vicious parrot beak that can bite off the head of a pig.

As for me, i like 'em sliced up and fried in beer batter with tangy cocktail sauce on a Sunday afternoon and a football game on the big screen. An effective seafood cocktail sauce should always contain a generous amount of horseradish, tabasco and lemon in it. But i digress.

Here's an fascinating passage about the mysterious deep sea monster from an otherwise boring book called Moby Dick:

In the distance, a great white mass lazily rose, and rising higher and higher, and disentangling itself from the azure, at last gleamed before our prow like a snow-slide, new slid from the hills. Thus glistening for a moment, as slowly it subsided, and sank. Then once more arose, and silently gleamed. It seemed not a whale; and yet is this Moby Dick? thought Daggoo. Again the phantom went down, but on re-appearing once more, with a stiletto-like cry that startled every man from his nod, the negro yelled out - "There! there again! there she breaches! right ahead! The White Whale, the White Whale!"

Upon this, the seamen rushed to the yard-arms, as in swarming-time the bees rush to the boughs. Bare-headed in the sultry sun, Ahab stood on the bowsprit, and with one hand pushed far behind in readiness to wave his orders to the helmsman, cast his eager glance in the direction indicated aloft by the outstretched motionless arm of Daggoo.

. . .

[N]o sooner did [Ahab] distinctly perceive the white mass, than with a quick intensity he instantly gave orders for lowering.

The four boats were soon on the water; Ahab's in advance, and all swiftly pulling towards their prey. Soon it went down, and while, with oars suspended, we were awaiting its reappearance, lo! in the same spot where it sank, once more it slowly rose. Almost forgetting for the moment all thoughts of Moby Dick, we now gazed at the most wondrous phenomenon which the secret seas have hitherto revealed to mankind. A vast pulpy mass, furlongs in length and breadth, of a glancing cream-color, lay floating on the water, innumerable long arms radiating from its centre, and curling and twisting like a nest of anacondas, as if blindly to clutch at any hapless object within reach. No perceptible face or front did it have; no conceivable token of either sensation or instinct; but undulated there on the billows, an unearthly, formless, chance-like apparition of life.

As with a low sucking sound it slowly disappeared again, Starbuck still gazing at the agitated waters where it had sunk, with a wild voice exclaimed - "Almost rather had I seen Moby Dick and fought him, than to have seen thee, thou white ghost!"

"What was it, Sir?" said Flask.

"The great live Squid, which they say, few whale-ships ever beheld, and returned to their ports to tell of it."

But Ahab said nothing; turning his boat, he sailed back to the vessel; the rest as silently following.

Whatever superstitions the Sperm Whalemen in general have connected with the sight of this object, certain it is, that a glimpse of it being so very unusual, that circumstance has gone far to invest it with portentousness. So rarely is it beheld, that though one and all of them declare it to be the largest animated thing in the ocean, yet very few of them have any but the most vague ideas concerning its true nature and form; notwithstanding, they believe it to furnish to the Sperm Whale his only food. For though other species of whales find their food above water, and may be seen by man in the act of feeding, the Spermaceti Whale obtains his whole food in unknown zones below the surface; and only by inference is it that any one can tell of what, precisely, that food consists. At times, when closely pursued, he will disgorge what are supposed to be the detached arms of the squid; some of them thus exhibited exceeding twenty and thirty feet in length. They fancy that the monster to which these arms belonged ordinarily clings by them to the bed of the ocean; and that the Sperm Whale, unlike other species, is supplied with teeth in order to attack and tear it.

There seems some ground to imagine that the great Kraken of Bishop Pontoppodan may ultimately resolve itself into Squid. The manner in which the Bishop describes it, as alternately rising and sinking, with some other particulars he narrates, in all this the two correspond. But much abatement is necessary with respect to the incredible bulk he assigns it.

By some naturalists who have vaguely heard rumors of the mysterious creature, here spoken of, it is included among the class of cuttle-fish, to which, indeed, in certain external respects it would seem to belong, but only as the Anak of the tribe.

That's from a chapter entitled "Squid," one of the less boring passages in the book. The previous chapter is about plankton and the next chapter in Melville's "masterpiece" is a scintillating page turner about rope.

You may remember that i wasn't too fond of reading Melville, the most overrated author in American literature.

Some say that the monster Scylla, from Homer's Odyssey, is based on the giant squid.

And therein dwelleth Scylla, yelping terribly. Her voice indeed is no greater than the voice of a new-born whelp, but a dreadful monster is she, nor would any look on her gladly, not if it were a god that met her. Verily she hath twelve feet all dangling down; and six necks exceeding long, and on each a hideous head, and therein three rows of teeth set thick and close, full of black death. Up to her middle is she sunk far down in the hollow cave, but forth she holds her heads from the dreadful gulf, and there she fishes, swooping round the rock, for dolphins or sea-dogs, or whatso greater beast she may anywhere take, whereof the deep-voiced Amphitrite feeds countless flocks. Thereby no sailors boast that they have fled scatheless ever with their ship, for with each head she carries off a man, whom she hath snatched from out the dark-prowed ship.
[i'm thinking i like this monster blogging. Maybe it's the key to breaking the blog slump.]

Posted by annika, Sep. 28, 2005 | TrackBack (0)
Rubric: Science & Technology


Please, please let this be the last reference to Moby Dick here. A truly awful, excruciatingly boring book, not to mention down right weird I forced myself to read every word. I hope to expunge the whole sorry incident from my memory one day.

Posted by: Pursuit on Sep. 28, 2005

I'm partial to rather small slimy things that taste like seafood.

Posted by: Casca on Sep. 28, 2005

I loved Moby Dick. We knew these Kraken existed for years because of the gaint sucker marks found on sperm whales, living and dead. It seems that they eat the squids, but they don't always win the fight.

Posted by: Kyle N on Sep. 29, 2005

I'm a little confused why we're only just hearing about it now when it happened so long ago. Still, better late than never, I guess.

Posted by: Christiana Ellis on Sep. 29, 2005

You think Moby Dick was boring? Try reading another Melville classic, "White Jacket." No need for Sominex if you start reading this book.

Posted by: Tim on Sep. 29, 2005

This incident in Moby Dick was based upon a real life incident.The ship Essex, out of Nantucke,t was destroyed by a whale in 1819.

If you go to Nantucket, you will learn all about the whaling industry and this incident. I love to go to Nantucket because of the history and because everyone wears preppy clothes like I do.

Posted by: Jake on Sep. 29, 2005

"God bless Captain Vere!"

oops...wrong book. but, hey, at least it's a Melville novel that definitely does not suck.

Posted by: Blu on Sep. 29, 2005

Oh, Anni, you're breaking my heart! I loved Moby Dick in school; I was the only one in my class who read the whole book, including the chapters our teacher said we could skip.

The book I really hated in high school was Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter". Although I wonder now that I'm older how I would take it if I ever reread it. Maybe I'd be more forgiving. And (heh!), maybe I wouldn't handle Moby Dick the same way; who knows?. Even back then, I noticed that Melville tended to go on and on with his descriptions; he gave verbosity a whole new meaning to me.

Posted by: E.M.H. on Sep. 29, 2005

No doubt you also received a few ass beatings on the playground too.

Posted by: Casca on Sep. 29, 2005

Nooo, no. "Boring" is not the proper adjective. I graduated with an English BA. I LOVED reading novels and writing essays, for which the alma mater gave me a degree. I could read even boring novels and give them the benefit of the doubt, but not Moby Dick. The book started pretty strong, but the middle/bulk was damn near coma-inducing. To read chapter after chapter about whale's skulls, and whale sperm, and whale blubber, and blah, blah, zzz....

Posted by: Mark Moby on Sep. 29, 2005

i wouldn't say the Scarlet Letter is as overrated or undeserving of its hype as as Moby Dick is. But it was not an enjoyable read, and i have no desire to.

Posted by: annika on Sep. 29, 2005

I'm loving these monster posts too. :)

Posted by: Amy Bo Bamy on Sep. 29, 2005

"no doubt you also received a few ass beatings on the playground too."

that's some pretty funny shit, casca. bit edgy, but,hey, if the nancy boys can't handle it, screw 'em.

what ever happened to the huge comment of the week, anyway?

Posted by: Blu on Sep. 29, 2005

The Scarlet letter blew chuncks. Most early american novels were not that good but the art form was only just being created. From the same period, but much better written was anything by Alexander Dumas.

Posted by: Kyle N on Sep. 29, 2005

I can remember reading The Count of Monte Cristo in about a week over summer break when I was 13. I could never make it through The Scarlet Letter although it was one tenth the volume. Hawthorne turned illict sex into a snore.

Posted by: Casca on Sep. 29, 2005

Well, the Leatherstocking Tales can be difficult reading, but they are way more enjoyable than Scarlet Letter was. And i think Cooper predated Hawthorne, if i'm not mistaken.

Posted by: annika on Sep. 29, 2005

Hawthorne's House of the Seven Gables was very good, and it's not overhyped like The Scarlet Letter is.


Also The Blithedale Romance was great. It's about communal living. Although Hawthorne is critical of it all, it's amazing how he almost foresaw some of modern liberalism's talking points.

Posted by: Mark on Sep. 30, 2005