Friendship at first sight, like love at first sight, is said to be the only truth.
- Herman Melville
Yesterday was the 161st anniversary of Moby Dick (according to the Google doodle of the day at least). Full confession – I’ve never read Moby Dick. I did read his short story “Bartleby the Scrivener” in a multitude of classes growing up. And in my bookstore days, I saw many illustrated editions of his classic work. My favorite is still Rockwell Kent’s edition filled with his beautiful woodcuts.
It was Melville’s work and journeys in the Pacific Ocean and islands that gave him the material that eventually became the story of the great white whale.
After a couple failed jobs, one as a surveyor on the Erie Canal, he took a job in 1941 on the whaler Acushnet. The work eventually took him to the South Pacific, bestowing upon him with the knowledge and experience of whale hunting along the way. Moby Dick, while fictional, remains the truest record of his time during 1941-42. He eventually deserted the Achushnet to live among the Typee tribe, believed by other tribes on the island to be cannibals. He lived among the tribe for three weeks, after which he joined a ship that lead him to Tahiti and then a second ship that finished his voyages in Hawaii.
Experience is the core of creative writing, and Melville had enough experience in a few short years to fuel years of writing. I can only imagine the unexpected turns and hard truths that settled with him during this time. Melville wasn’t deterred by the difficult parts of life. He accepted them as a part of what forms us and encompassed those truths in his writing. As Melville once wrote:
Truth uncompromisingly told will always have its ragged edges.