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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
08/17/12 -- Vol. 31, No. 7, Whole Number 1715
Table of Contents
Fundamental Misunderstanding (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I see how countries have misunderstandings. Evelyn frequently says things that are highly ambiguous and blames me when I get the wrong interpretation. The other day she was talking about someone we knew and his investing. "He is investing in uranium." I got enraged like anybody would and told her he better keep his hands off my anium. [-mrl]
My Fifteen Best Hammer SF/Horror/Fantasy Films, Part 2 (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I am continuing on my list of the best of Hammer horror and supernatural films of the sixties.
10. THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957)
Directed by Terence Fisher. Starring Peter Cushing, Hazel Court.
This is Hammer's very loose adaptation of Mary Shelley's FRANKENSTEIN. Today taken strictly on its own merits THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN is a somewhat tepid horror film. At the time it was made it was full of impressive firsts. This was the first color Frankenstein feature-length movie. That made an obvious choice to make it a little more graphic. The earlier films never showed blood or organs. That gave this film a lot more impact. But what was really unusual was that that Victor Frankenstein was developed as a real and complex character. He was not a mad scientist wanting to see his monster at his full power. Basil Rathbone's Wolf Frankenstein in SON OF FRANKENSTEIN in 1939 seemed to have some family life, but even then we did not really have the time to know him. Peter Cushing was a distinguished actor and his paradoxical characterization as a man of great virtues and great faults drives the entire series.
9. TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER (1976)
Directed by Peter Sykes. Starring Richard Widmark, Christopher Lee.
Hammer had previously made THE DEVIL'S BRIDE, their finest horror film. It was based on a "Black Magic" novel by Dennis Wheatley. Wheatley wrote several of these novels, and making another film based on one of them was definitely being considered. Years later when their formula was failing they made this film. It did not do much for them and got very mixed reviews, but was sort of a farewell to the old Hammer. I would actually rate this as one of the better Hammer horror films. It had an unusually contemporary setting. Christopher Lee plays an idealistic Catholic priest trying to create an Avatar to save the world's youth. Richard Widmark plays a sleazy occult writer. But Lee uses Satanism to further his goal and Widmark is placed in a position to stop him. They battle for the mind and soul of a young nun necessary for Lee's plan. Nastassja Kinski plays the nun. The film makes a good tense thriller. Widmark absolutely detested working on the film and was notably unhappy when told that the film was actually a nice tense thriller.
8. THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF (1961)
Directed by Terence Fisher. Starring Clifford Evans, Oliver Reed.
This is actually an adaptation of Guy Endore's THE WEREWOLF OF PARIS. But Hammer found they could reuse some sets from a movie set in Spain so the story characters and scenery become Spanish. The story was somewhat toned down and certainly cut down from the novel, but that just made it more effective. And it still spans generations. Oliver Reed's performances I think tend to be wooden, but even so he makes an effective and imposing werewolf. Considering that he transforms without mechanical prosthetics and certainly no CGI he makes an imposing werewolf. Most films would have it that lycanthropy is spread by the bites of werewolves like rabies is. In this film Leon Corledo became a werewolf because his father was not married to his mother and he was born on Christmas Day. That has a nice folklore-like feel. (It does not explain why Jesus was not a werewolf.)
7. THE BRIDES OF DRACULA (1960)
Directed by Terence Fisher. Starring Peter Cushing, Martita Hunt.
In spite of the Dracula name in the title this film has just the barest rationalization of having anything at all to do with Dracula, though it does have Van Helsing. The horror seems almost more in the style of Tennessee Williams rather than Bram Stoker. A traveler comes upon an estate where what appears to be a mad old woman keeps her son chained. It turns out to be for a very good reason. The son was a playboy and fell in with other spoiled friends who shared sex and vampirism. The parallelism of vampirism and drug addiction is all but shouted at the viewer. The vampire, played by David Peel once freed wants to spread his vampirism to a local girls' school. The final battle between the vampire and Van Helsing is the best of its type in Hammer films. It is flawed only by the absurd final stroke involving a windmill. But the otherwise exquisite showdown together with some nice characterizations along the way are its main advantages over KISS OF THE VAMPIRE and for that matter any other Hammer vampire film but their original DRACULA.
6. THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1958)
Directed by Terence Fisher. Starring Peter Cushing, Martita Hunt.
After the success of THE CURSE OF FRANENSTEIN (1957) Hammer rushed into production a direct sequel, with the action starting just moments after CURSE ended. I said earlier that CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN had taken the unusual step of making Dr. Frankenstein an interesting character--more interesting than the lumbering creature he creates. (In fact, in the six Peter Cushing Frankenstein movies only three have shambling monsters.) That policy was more than affirmed with THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN. It was the first Frankenstein film without a real monster. Peter Cushing's Frankenstein is just a ruthless scientific experimenter. The closest thing he has to a monster is a man deformed from a fight after being bullied by a custodian. There are plenty of nasty people in this film and Frankenstein is somewhat down the list. This is Hammer's best Frankenstein.
Notice that of these five films, four are directed by Terence Fisher. His vision was really a powerful creative force on the early Hammer gothic horror films. We are getting down to the final stretch.
Next week I will list my top five Hammer horror/SF films.
THE BOURNE LEGACY (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: This is an ill-conceived attempt to re-boot the Bourne series. The character Jason Bourne appears in some of the dialog and in the title but is never physically present. We instead are given another character like Bourne except that he takes super-pills Bourne never seemed to. And the film goes downhill from there. It is really just another action chase story with a science-fictional MacGuffin concept that could have been an afterthought. Rating: low 0 (-4 to +4) or 4/10
The tagline of this film is "There Never Was Just One", which is an attempt to turn into a selling point the taking of a completed story and turning it into an unlimited franchise.
Jeremy Renner's character Aaron Cross is the latest of what I call "six-million-dollar assassins." They are trained by some authority to be a perfect killing-machine assassin. The concept goes back at least to 1985 and REMO WILLIAMS: THE ADVENTURE BEGINS. Geena Davis played one in THE LONG KISS GOOD NIGHT. There was the UNIVERSAL SOLDIER. More recently there was HANNA and of course there was the Bourne trilogy. We probably did not need another one, but here he is anyway. Jeremy Renner plays me-too super-assassin Aaron Cross who comes from the same Treadstone Project that created Jason Bourne. Apparently this film runs parallel to the action of THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM. Cross and Jason Bourne are each on the warpath against conflicting government agencies and the project that created both in assassin form. We never heard Aaron Cross mentioned once in the Bourne films, but THE BOURNE LEGACY mentions Jason Bourne several times. I think they do this just so the viewer will know this film may not look or thrill like one of that series, but it really is that series. The filmmakers go overtime to express that point. You have Bourne have his name in the title and people popping their heads into this film saying things like "Jason Bourne's in New York." They have even brought some of the major actors and characters from those films to show up--frequently only briefly--in this film in an attempt to make the graft take. It would help if you can think of this film as BOURNE 4 or even as BOURNE 3.25. I cannot claim that I was a big fan of the Bourne films, but I have to admit that Matt Damon is a hard act for Jeremy Renner to follow.
Curiously this film is both too hard to follow and at the same time too simple to be interesting. That is because it has two plotlines. Aaron Cross has to get more of the medications that make him superhuman and at the same time fight off the government nasties sent to eradicate him. Meanwhile the government people who created the two out-of-control super-killers, Cross and Bourne, cannot say they have closed down the program yet. Eliminating these two is their last cross to be borne. Their covert efforts are depicted complete with dialog full of obfuscating jargon. Following these chaotic plot machinations is as difficult as it is pointless. Knowing the previous films helps you like a sweatband helps you win the Boston Marathon.
Suffice it to say that at the intelligence agency there are people who want to cover up what has been going on and people who want to be honest whistle-blowers. And there are agencies competing with other agencies. It is a mess. Also complicating the home-base explanations is some genuinely good science explaining how they are using viruses (the biological kind) to create the super assassins. This part is reputedly scientifically accurate but also incomprehensibly explained. In any case the viewer's main attention is on Cross who goes from one mindless action scene to the next until the film explodes into one giant overly long grand finale action scene. Together the two strands of plot pad the film to 135 minutes. That is much more than this story needs, but long length is becoming necessary to convince the ticket-buyer that a film is substantial.
What this film adds to the Bourne series is a science fiction MacGuffin of how to create super-assassins and the self-serving revelation that Jason Bourne is not the only super assassin created. Now if the producers run true to form I suppose they will try to make Bourne into a franchise and cookie cutter out more Bourne action films without Bourne. There is not much point to the film other than to give director Tony Gilroy (MICHAEL CLAYTON) experience doing those all-important overextended action sequences. He has to learn to keep the pace up so the viewer does not have time to ask questions like, "Why is there an empty motorcycle with engine left running just waiting for Cross to just take it?" Super-assassins have a lot of luck.
Of super-assassins the series never needed more than one and of Bourne films it certainly never needed more than three. I rate THE BOURNE LEGACY a low 0 on the -4 to +4 scale or 4/10.
Why do action film action heroes always have Western European names? It is never a name like Kimura or Cohen or Gonzales.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1194173/
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/the_bourne_legacy/
THE BOURNE LEGACY (film review by Dale L. Skran, Jr.):
Take a bit of WOLVERINE, a solid helping of HANNA, a dollop of THE GEMINI MAN, and pinch of THIRTEEN, a slice of ALIAS, a snifter of FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON, and a gulp of THE BOURNE IDENTITY, mix well, and you get THE BOURNE LEGACY, staring Jeremy Renner as Aaron Cross, a genetically modified super-spy. Having listed all these sources, I've given away some of the key plot twists, so I'm not going to worry too much about spoilers in this review. If you are trying to decide whether to see it or not, I'm rating it a +1 [on the -4 to +4 scale], and lowering TOTAL RECALL to a 0. There are some good SF ideas in THE BOURNE LEGACY that are plausibly handled, and the action is fast and well choreographed. Rachel Weisz provides a strong performance as one of the scientists who created Cross, and Edward Norton plays the government agent leading efforts to kill Cross. So by all means go see it before reading the rest of the review if you are so inclined.
As in WOLVERINE, dog tags are an important part of Cross's identity. His contain the pills that maintain his genetic enhancements, and when he is finally free of them, he leaves them behind as a message to those following him. Like Hanna in HANNA, Cross is a genetically modified super-agent, well trained as an assassin, with some of this training conducted in a northern location. Unlike Hanna, who was genetically modified either as an embryo, or at the egg/sperm level, Cross ingests pills containing a virus that provide regular injections of genes that enhance his strength, endurance, intelligence, and senses. This process makes Cross dependant on his masters for a regular supply of pills, something that becomes the main driver of the plot.
Cross is part of Operation Outcome, a successor program to Treadstone, which produced Jason Bourne. In a nod to ALIAS, with its convoluted layers of villains, there is yet another program to produce a third generation of assassins called Larx. The Larx agents resemble the ruthless super agents of THE GEMINI MAN and HANNAH in their complete emotional detachment. The main nod to THIRTEEN is the wilderness training scenes, which establish that Cross, in spite of his modern origins, is well equipped to survive in a primitive wilderness, harkening back to the idea of the ur-human as a superman, something also found the TARZAN novels.
A major plot twist (and one of the good points of the script) is that Cross is desperate to retain his enhancements because, like the lead character in FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON, before enhancement his IQ was quite low--12 points below the minimum for acceptance into the army, according to the movie. The strength of THE BOURNE LEGACY lies in its tale of a Campbellian/Heinleinian superman struggling to control his own destiny. There are some clever set pieces early in the movie as Cross matches wits with his handlers.
Unfortunately, about two-thirds of the way through the movie, there is a concluding chase/battle against the Larx agent assigned to kill Cross, and a rather abrupt ending that is clearly just a prelude to a second film. I don't hold this against the director too much, although the previous Bourne movies had more plot. What I didn't like was the rough shoe-horning of elements from the previous movies into this story, which was sometimes hard to follow, and often unnecessary. It seems like Eric Byer's (Norton) decision to shut down Operation Outcome with extreme prejudice is made rather hastily and unwisely. Byer burns valuable intelligence agents in place in a fashion that is hard to believe. Also, Byer talks about covering up Treadstone related facts and events in a less than plausible fashion.
One challenge in telling this story is that Cross, unlike Bourne, knows who and what he is. Part of the charm of THE BOURNE IDENTITY is that Bourne does not know who he is, and the process of self-discovery allows the viewer to identify with Bourne while at the same time envying his vast prowess. Cross never seems vulnerable, and yet presents the classic SF problem--how do we present the mind of the superman, given that we are not such ourselves? Like virtually all written and filmed SF, THE BOURNE LEGACY is less than fully satisfactory in this portrayal. One issue left unexplored is whether Cross, who started out with limited intelligence, is, post-enhancement, less intelligent than other Outcome agents? Alternatively, like the injured recipient of the IQ raising treatment in ANSWER, is it possible that his lower starting point allowed for more growth, so that in fact he is more intelligent than the other Outcome agents? Certainly to support the wide range of skills shown in the movie, his post-enhancement IQ must be very high.
In summary, THE BOURNE LEGACY works well as an SF super-agent story, but not so well as a realistic spy story. Rated PG-13, there is lots of violent action and a pretty disturbing scene of a scientist killing his colleagues while in an induced psychotic state, but zero sex and minimal bad language. This is a +2 SF story combined with zero-ish spy story to result in an overall +1 rating. [-dls]
TOTAL RECALL (2012) (film review by Dale L. Skran, Jr.):
The new version of TOTAL RECALL seems to be getting savaged by the critics (37% on the Tomatometer), but I'm with Dan Kimmel and Roger Ebert in giving the film a thumbs-up. At this point you are probably pretty familiar with the basic plot, since this is a remake of an earlier version of TOTAL RECALL starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, which was in turn based loosely on Phillip K. Dick's "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale".
Rather than try to recapitulate a plot that is both well-known and somewhat complex, I'm going to focus on what I liked about the latest version. TOTAL RECALL 2012 has great CGI, with wonderful scenes of future cities and technologies. Much on display is an immense engine that travels through the Earth from Great Britain to Australia, at one point achieving zero gravity during its travels. A detailed and plausible set of future technologies are presented, including phones implanted in your palm, and a world of glass technology where any surface can become intelligent. There are interesting flying cars, and a very nice ducted-fan jump aircraft. The look of the movie is first-rate.
Colin Farrell does a decent job as the main character. Some critics seemed to prefer the blundering homebody created by Arnold, but I liked Farrell (THE RECRUIT) better. The supporting cast is professional and the action fast and furious. We get to see Kate Beckinsale outside of her "Underworld" movies, and watch as she has a lot of fun as the official bad girl of the movie. The main thing I didn't like was that at two hours and one minute, the movie is overstuffed with action relative to the amount of plot, and would be significantly improved by excising twenty to thirty minutes of chase scenes. The rationale for the assembly of robots with near-human functionality by hand on an assembly line seems less than well grounded, but sometimes it is cheaper to use low-paid human "slave labor" rather than automation.
Whatever the flaws of TOTAL RECALL, this is an SF movie that feels like it was written by Keith Laumer or Gordon Dickson. There is a secret agent with memories he can't trust, a ruthless dictator, a couple of beautiful spies, a ruined future Earth, and a revolutionary movement to save. It's fun to watch, and less violent than the 1990 TOTAL RECALL, which was R-rated. I have also seen the violence level compared to MINORITY REPORT, but I found MINORITY REPORT significantly more disturbing to watch. I rate it a solid +1, approved for teenagers and up (rated PG-13, although there is a brief scene of a woman with three breasts). Warning--there are car chases, turbo-lift chases, tunnel-through-the-earth fights, and a good heaping dose of martial arts action featuring Kate Beckinsale and Jessica Biel. If you are looking for cerebral SF, this is not it, but there is plenty of fun to be had all the same. [-dls]
SEDONA (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: With SEDONA, writer writer/director Tommy Stovall gives us a mystical comedy/drama and a whole lot of majestic geological photography of the area of Sedona, Arizona. The film tells two stories tangent at points until they intertwine and merge into one story. In one, a family goes hiking in the Sedona hills and a child wanders off and is lost. In the other, an advertising executive on her way to the most important meeting of her career finds herself waylaid in a day when everything that can go wrong does. Over the entire story is an atmosphere of fate and mysticism guiding the characters. If like me, you think that things like vortices and Chi are so much flap-doodle, then you have to suspend disbelief or you will miss much of the point of the film, namely that whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
Tammy is a high-priced advertising executive on her way to Phoenix for the kind of meeting made famous in MAD MEN. Tammy is played by Francis Fisher (who played Rose's mother in TITANIC), and who could have dialed back her performance a notch or two. She takes a wrong turn and finds herself in Sedona. That would have been bad enough. An airplane with engine trouble makes an emergency landing on the highway and rear-ends her car. For the rest of the day it is one darn (strange) thing after another happening and getting between her and her meeting. At the same time also in Sedona a family of four headed by control freak Scott (played by Seth Peterson) and his loosey-goosey partner Eddie (Matthew J. Williamson) are taking their two sons on a hiking trip into the towering rock hills over the town. Scott cannot put down his cell-phone and just spend quality time with the kids. Then Denny, the younger kid wanders off setting off a panicked search by the rest of his family. The two stories proceed in parallel.
Tammy is extremely skeptical of all the New Age beliefs that seem to have become like a second religion for people in the area. After fighting to get transportation to her meeting she finds she must make a temporary truce with the New Age thinking of most of the women. It is odd that Stovall chooses to make all the believers in the mysticism female. Even a Native American male who fits into the plot late in the film does not talk about mystical ideas. But most or all of the women seem to believe in vortices and other mystical phenomena. The only man who seems a little out of the ordinary is a very funny car mechanic played by the reliable Barry Corbin (of LONESOME DOVE).
Perhaps the real hero of this film is Rudy Harbon whose photography of the beautiful geology all around Sedona sets the tone for what is happening. One can almost accept that the place is somehow magical. Stovall knows how to use this scenery and his minor characters who are frequently peculiar. He makes Sedona seem almost as crazy and fun as Clint Eastwood makes the people of Savannah in MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL. But as the story progresses there is a rising tide of magical tone to what happens.
The two-plotline approach is not particularly new and original. The overall theme seems to be taken from Max Ehrmann's "Desiderata" and is just about as comforting. But while the universe is unfolding in the plot one can do a lot worse than look at the vistas of one of the most beautiful areas in the United States. I rate SEDONA a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1516577/
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/sedona/
STAN LEE'S SUPERHUMANS and Echolocation (letter of comment by Susan de Guardiola): In response to Evelyn's review of STAN LEE'S SUPERHUMANS in the 08/10/12 issue of the MT VOID, Susan de Guardiola writes:
While I haven't seen the show and don't know who was featured, the echolocation segment could easily have been real. This is a well-understood phenomenon, not unique. You can read about Ben Underwood (sadly, deceased) in an article [in SLATE] from a few years ago here:
Since Underwood had no eyes at all (removed due to cancer) he can hardly have been cheating. Daniel Kish is another noted practitioner whose eyes were physically removed. It's a fascinating skill that I'd be tempted to try to develop myself, had I the copious free time needed. [-sdg]
The "echolocator" featured on the show was Juan Ruiz. He is mentioned in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_echolocation, along with Ben Underwood and others. [-ecl]
My complaint about Stan Lee is that while some of what he is showing if valid, a lot is either fraud (hoax for profit is fraud) or presented in a way that is easily explainable without super-powers. The fakes discredit the people who are bona fide. Lee does not prove anything and he muddies the water. [-mrl]
Liking, Superhumans, MORT, and Fredric Brown (letter of comment by Tim Bateman):
In response to Mark's question about why restaurants ask to be liked specifically on Facebook in the 08/10/12 issue of the MT VOID. Tim Bateman suggests:
Perhaps the restaurant fears that you might not like it in reality? [-tb]
In response to Evelyn's comments in the same issue on how the co-host of SUPERHUMANS's talent for flexibility seems to be real, Tim writes:
Unlike Stan Lee's. I suppose he feels at home hanging out with all these frauds. [-tb]
In response to Evelyn's comments about the food description in MORT in the same issue, Tim writes:
"burnt ground grass seeds dipped in animal fats" had me foxed for a while, until I "realised" that it meant "chips." I don't think of potatoes as seeds, I must say. I then realised that the meal which Pratchett describes is the traditional English breakfast of egg, bacon, eggs and fried bread. Then the penny dropped. [-tb]
And finally, in response to Evelyn's comments about "Dutch" Reagan in THE FABULOUS CLIPJOINT in the same issue, Tim writes:
To Americans, perhaps. I have never thought of Reagan as 'Dutch,' though I came across him (as President) prior to reading Brown. I recommend his mystery novels, for what it's worth. NIGHT OF THE JABBERWOCK is perhaps my favourite. You have planted a little seed (which I hope will not be ground to powder and dipped in some animal fat) in my mind to re-read THE FABULOUS CLIPJOINT. [-tb]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
WHY READ MOBY-DICK? by Nathaniel Philbrick (ISBN 978-0-670-02299-1) is only 127 pages long, and by my estimate under 30,000 words, making it similar in length to a novella rather than a novel. Yet it is priced at $25--and that's a problem, because people who do not already like MOBY-DICK are unlikely to pay that much to get it, and those who do like MOBY-DICK may feel there is no point in paying that much to confirm what they already know.
Of course, this is not quite fair. Philbrick is not so much trying to convince the reader to read MOBY-DICK as he is talking about his favorite parts of the novel, and how it fits into the social situation of the United States at the time it was written. But Viking has decided to make it a fancy edition, in red cloth boards, but with what appears to be some black waterproofed material--not unlike what might be used on a whaling ship--half-covering them. I have to say my recommendation is to get this from the library and save the $25 to buy a nice edition of MOBY-DICK itself.
Another (earlier) book by Nathaniel Philbrick is IN THE HEART OF THE SEA: THE TRAGEDY OF THE WHALESHIP ESSEX (ISBN 978-0-14-100182-1). I had read this when it came out about eleven years ago, but I picked up a copy recently at the Half Price Books closing sale, figuring it was worth a re-read. When I saw Philbrick's WHY READ MOBY-DICK? at the library, I decided that after finishing that, I would read this--and then, what else would there be to do but re-read MOBY-DICK itself?
But first, the Essex. On November 20, 1820, the whaleship Essex, with its crew of twenty-one, was rammed and sunk by an eighty-foot sperm whale at "0 degrees, 40 minutes south, 119 degrees, 0 minutes west, just about as far from land as it was possible to be anywhere on earth." For several reasons, they had only three whaleboats instead of the usual five. They divided the twenty survivors into the three boats and then made a critical mistake: instead of heading for the nearest land (the Marquesas, about 1500 miles away), they decided to try for South America on a route covering almost 4000 miles. (They apparently were terrified by reports of cannibals in the Marquesas.)
Philbrick spends quite a bit of time giving the background of Nantucket and whaling, and describing the workings (both economic and physical) of a whaling ship. In addition to being inherently interesting, much of this helps to clarify parts of MOBY-DICK.
Of course, the real drama is what happened to the crew of the Essex after the sinking, and this is based on the memoirs of two of the survivors, First Mate Owen Chase and cabin boy Thomas Nickerson. (Well, you knew there had to be at least one survivor, else how would Philbrick have known what happened?)
Naval adventure series have a lot of fans; this is real-life adventure that should appeal to them (even without the military, Napoleonic War setting that most series seem to have), and of course to all fans of MOBY-DICK.
Going in a different direction from the Melville is IN SEARCH OF MOBY DICK: THE QUEST FOR THE WHITE WHALE by Tim Severin (ISBN 978-0-306-81045-9). Severin seems to be a latter-day Thor Heyerdahl, attempting to re-create mythic journeys such as those of Sinbad, Ulysses, Jason, the Crusaders, Marco Polo, and Genghis Khan. Where Philbrick attempts to make the human connection between Melville's novel and the real world by looking at the people whose experience heavily inspired the novel, Severin looks for the zoological connection: he is searching for a giant white whale.
To do this, Severin travels to the South Seas to interview and observe whale (and shark and manta) hunters--observing how they do what they do, and asking if they have ever seen anything like a giant white whale. Severin does cover the story of the Essex in the first two sections, and also covers Melville's own story of his time on the island of Nuku Hiva. The latter leads Severin to conclude that Melville "embellished" his own story, because he could not have spent as much time or traveled as far on the island as he claimed.
The production standards of IN SEARCH OF MOBY DICK are not up to those of IN THE HEART OF THE SEA. Severin has no index, and has various glitches (e.g., a name is asterisked on page 144, but the footnote for it does not appear until the bottom of page 147).
IN SEARCH OF MOBY DICK is more a picture of modern whaling in the South Seas than a search for Moby Dick, which actually forms a very small part of the book. It is of interest more to ethnographers and naturalists than to fans of MOBY DICK.
And finally, MOBY DICK itself, which I re-read for the University of California at Berkeley Philosophy 6 course. This course is taught by Professor Hubert Dreyfus and is variously titled "From Gods to God and Back" and "God, Man, and Society in Western Literature". (Two versions are available as podcasts, one from 2007 and one from 2010.) I have covered the entire course elsewhere ( http://leepers.us/evelyn/ucb6.htm), but I will include some comments on MOBY DICK here. I was going to include all my comments here, but they got away from me, and so can be found at http://leepers.us/evelyn/mobydick.htm. (This is still a work in progress; as of the publication of this column, I have written about 100Kb and gotten only as far as page 100.) Previous comments can be found at http://leepers.us/evelyn/reviews/melville.htm and http://leepers.us/evelyn/moby-wit.htm. I will include a couple of items here.
Recently, "The Forward" had an article ("Hunting the Whale: Harpooning a Hebrew 'Moby Dick'", http://tinyurl.com/forward-moby in which the pseudonymous "Philologos" wrote about the beginning of MOBY DICK, where there is a list of words for "whale" in many different languages, including Hebrew. His Modern Library edition said that the Hebrew was) was "hakh" (or "hekh"), spelled heh-kaf. However, the Hebrew word for whale is "livyatan". Apparently the original 1851 edition of MOBY DICK had the word as "chan" (chet-nun), but that mutated into "heh-kaf" by printers who confused the similar-looking chet and heh, and nun and kaf. But "chan" means "grace" or "charm", so this does not get us any closer to "whale". The Northwestern-Newberry edition decided Melville meant "tan" [taf-nun]. This means "jackal", not "whale", but hey, at least it is an animal. Well, apparently the word for "crocodile" is "tanin", and several major translations have translated this as "whale". Then some major Biblical scholar mis-read "tanin" as "tanim" and decided that it must be a plural, of which "tan" would be the singular.
So the word "tanin" became "tanim", and then was truncated to "tan", which Melville misremembered as "chan", which the printers made "hakh".
What is most interesting about all this is that all these shifts occurred in the written language. We are often told that when language started to be widely written down, it became more frozen, and we would not have the massive changes we saw between (say) "Beowulf" and Shakespeare. But writing evidently carries its own dangers.
(For what it's worth, the free Kindle edition of MOBY DICK omits all the introductory material, and while Project Gutenberg includes most of it, it omits the line with the Hebrew translation. It cannot be simply because of the non-Roman alphabet, because it includes the Greek entry, transliterated.) [-ecl]
Mark Leeper email@example.com Quote of the Week: Of the demonstrably wise there are but two: those who commit suicide, and those who keep their reasoning faculties atrophied by drink. --Mark TwainTweet
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