The book features gay marriage, hits out at slavery and imperialism and predicts the climate crisis 200 years after the birth of its author, Herman Melville, it has never been more important
Thursday marks the 200th birthday of Herman Melville the author of the greatest unread novel in the English language. Ive lost count of the number of times Ive seen eyes glaze over when I ask people if they have conquered Moby-Dick. It is the Mount Everest of literature: huge and apparently insurmountable, its snowy peak as elusive as the tail of the great white whale himself.
Having grown up loving whales as a boy in the era of the Save the Whale campaigns of the 1970s I was underwhelmed when I watched John Hustons grandiose 1956 film, Moby Dick. Perhaps it was because I saw it on a tiny black-and-white TV, but the whole story seemed impenetrable to me. And there werent enough whales. I would have been even less keen had I known that the whale footage Huston did include had been specially shot off Madeira, where they were still being hunted. For the Hemingwayesque director, there was none of that final-credit nonsense: No animals were harmed in the making of this film. Because they very much were.