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  • From The Fossil Whale

The Daily Dick: Musings From the Greatest Novel Ever

"One often hears of writers that rise and swell with their subject, though it may seem but an ordinary one. How, then, with me, writing of this Leviathan? [ . . . ] Such, and so magnifying, is the virtue of a large and liberal theme! We expand to its bulk. To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme. No great and enduring volume can ever be written on the flea, though many there be who have tried it."


Musing: This is a much quoted line from Moby Dick. I am guessing that writers love this idea. I do. The big point for me is the truth in this passage. "We expand" to the bulk of our themes. If we write throw-away books, what are we? In this passage, it seems, that Melville is saying, in a trying to be light way, that to get deep we must go deep. There are things in this world worth exploring, agonizing over, really thinking about, and then there are fleas. Melville did not write of fleas. One of the first reviews of Moby Dick said "it is phantasmal—an attempted description of what is impossible in nature and without probability in art; it repels the reader instead of attracting him." Perhaps that wasn't so off or so wrong. Moby Dick is work to read. But so worth it.

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