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Posts Tagged ‘monster’

Title Page of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

In which conclusory (if not conclusive) remarks are made regarding the final episodes in M. Verne’s adventure novel, Vingt mille lieues sous les mers; in which there may be spoilers, so if you haven’t read the book, don’t already know the basic story, and intend to read it for yourself one day — proceed with caution!

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The Orange Monk with a Fin Whale

Catch of the Day: The Orange Monk pictured with the skeleton of a fin whale

I don’t have the energy for paraphrasing, so I’ll just quote the informational placard at the Los Angeles Natural History Museum, where this photo was snapped by that intrepid shutterbug, Hurricane Camile:

Reaching lengths of up to 85 feet and weighing up to 80 tons, the fin whale is the second largest species of whale (the blue whale is the largest, measuring up to 100 feet). Despite their large size, fin whales are surprisingly fast swimmers, earning them the nickname of “greyhounds of the sea.” Fin whales feed on small shrimp-like animals called krill and on small schooling fish, consuming up to one ton of prey per day. Like other large whales, they were hunted for their meat, blubber, and the filtering structure in their mouths called baleen. They are still listed as an Endangered Species, but fin whales have been slowly increasing their number since commercial whaling was suspended in 1986.”

Furthermore, I believe Captain Nemo would classify the fin whale as a “good” whale, and not an “evil” one.

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Admiral Ackbar vs. the Nautilus

Sometimes I just have no words for the pictures. In those cases, The Orange Monk’s Squire comes to the rescue. The Orange Squire is a Tumblr blog I created as a sort of pictorial digest of the considerably wordier things happening here. It was intended to drive additional traffic to this website, but some of you may be coming directly here, and I hate for you to miss out on some of the fun being had at my sidekick blog.

I’ve put a link in the sidebar so you can check things out over there from time to time. If you yourself have a Tumblr blog, I invite you to follow the Squire. He’ll alert you when something is going on here.

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Kraken artwork by TheSeek (theseekproject.wordpress.com)

Courtesy of TheSeek (theseekproject.wordpress.com)

The breath-taking conclusion to a 7-part series of profiles on sea monsters.

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Part 6 in a 7-part series of profiles on sea monsters.

Megalodon

An artist's rendering of the extinct Megalodon, which—to judge from those motion lines—is hurtling inexplicably... backward.

If you think Jaws is scary, you’ll break into a cold sweat when you imagine that predator’s prehistoric predecessor, Megalodon (from the Greek meaning “big tooth”). The first paragraph of the Wikipedia entry on this behemoth shark reads more like a Marvel comic book than like a scientific encyclopedia entry, tossing around such terms as, “mega-tooth shark” and “super-predator.”

Partially-preserved Carcharodon megalodon remains suggest a creature approximately 66 feet long. Paleontologists have consequently deemed the Megalodon the “largest and most powerful macro-predatory fish in vertebrate history” (from Wikipedia).

When Renaissance folks discovered the large fossilized teeth of the Megalodon, they interpreted them as fossilized dragon tongues. Danish naturalist Nicolaus Steno corrected this misinterpretation in 1667, in his book, The Head of a Shark Dissected.

fossilized Megalodon tooth

A fossilized dragon tongue.

Its bite is estimated to be about 10 times greater than that of its modern-day relative, the great white shark; and over 5 times greater than that of Tyrannosaurus rex.

Megalodon jaws - Bashford Dean 1909

Talk about "Jaws." Bashford Dean's reconstructed Megalodon jaws, 1909.

Megalodon jawsFor all of its impressive monster qualifications, Megalodon is curiously lacking in a definitive fictional presence. It features in a host of tacky gore-fests, the sort of DVD titles you see on the “Hot Picks” shelf of your local Blockbusters (remember those?), but have never heard of anywhere else. Perhaps the most high-profile novel dealing with the Megalodon is Steve Alten’s Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror, which I actually read. Apparently the novel is inaccurate in so much as it suggests the Megalodon existed during the time of the dinosaurs, when in fact its fossil record dates it to the late Oligocene epoch and Neogene period. Still, I remember the reading experience as fun and frightening, so if you’re looking for a ripping good “super-predator” yarn, I recommend it. (Best not to hold your breath for the film adaptation, which has apparently been mired in development hell since 1997-ish.)

Mythological/fictional inactivity aside, anything which can gobble up the formidable Jaws like a seal gulping a sardine is worthy of mention among the Orange Monk’s aquarium of deep-sea terrors.

Megalodon scale

Join me next time for the conclusion of this series, in which we examine the chief dread in the minds of sailors across the Seven Seas, and arguably the king of all sea monsters…

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Part 4 in a series of profiles on sea monsters.

Moby-Dick

A big book about a big whale

Moby-Dick“Call me Ishmael.”

So opens Herman Melville’s 1851 masterpiece. Some consider Moby-Dick to be the Great American Novel (although perhaps more consider that to be The Great Gatsby). This country’s greatest novel or not, one thing’s certain: it is the American Beowulf: a tome equal in length to the proportions of its monster, dense, feared by college students, a national treasure.

Take it from someone who’s never read it.

See, I was one of those college students who tried to dodge Moby-Dick. But sooner or later, that great white whale found me. Fortunately, I had a great professor for it, who probably realized he was dealing with a roomful of kids who simply weren’t going to read Melville’s 600-page tome. He must have felt it was nonetheless vital that we leave his class with some kind of understanding of the work, because he would give us reading assignments, and then summarize the reading and explain it for us during the next class. By the professor’s own admission, much of Moby-Dick strays from the well-known conflict between the monomaniacal Captain Ahab, and the great white whale that robbed him of his leg. Often, it devolves into a whaling manual, or a seven-page description of a painting. Its meandering structure seems to be something of an open secret among literary enthusiasts, and for those to whom Moby-Dick especially appeals (such as another English professor of mine, in high school, whose claimed Moby-Dick as his favorite book), I think its flaws are a significant part of the novel’s appeal. I can appreciate this, and when the inevitable day comes when I finally break down and attempt to read Moby-Dick cover to cover, I will do so with my mind set on appreciating its digressions and oddities.

Herman Melville

Herman Melville

This portion of a letter from Melville to his contemporary, Nathaniel Hawthorne, written days before Moby-Dick‘s publication, indicates that the great novel’s tragic flaws were evident from its inception:

You [Hawthorne] did not care a penny for the book. But, now and then as you read, you understood the pervading thought that impelled the book—and that you praised. Was it not so? You were archangel enough to despise the imperfect body, and embrace the soul.”

(Incidentally, Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivener” is one of my favorite short stories. But I use the word “short” liberally.)

But enough backstory! Cut to the chase! Here’s something I took away from my college course on Moby-Dick. The novel has two titles: Moby-Dick, or The Whale. Is this just another artifact of what might be viewed by some cynics as a literary pig-sty? Or is there something deeper going on here? Assuming there’s a reason to have two titles, so radically different, what might it be?

Moby-Dick title page

Two Titles: Literary Indecisiveness, or Thematic Significance?

Moby-Dick vs. Captain Ahab

Vengeful Ahab tangles with a vengeful God. Or does he?

One of the questions at the heart of Moby-Dick is this: is the titular beast an instrument of God’s wrath for Ahab? “The Hand-puppet of God” is a phrase that sticks in my head, but I regret to say I don’t know if this was a term actually used in the text, or a phrase coined by my college professor. When Moby-Dick chomps Ahab’s leg off, is it a wrathful God rising from the sea, wearing a sperm whale as a mask? Ahab believes it is, and assigns it a proper name, Moby-Dick, to specify this whale from any other whale, to imbue it with a mythical status equal to his rage.

On the other hand, is it just a whale? Is the world in fact a random, God-forsaken place, without deeper significance? Is Ahab’s peg-leg simply the result of… chance? Does Ahab’s stalked whale have any awareness of its role in the mad captain’s revenge play?

sperm whale

Sometimes a whale is just a whale

Join me for the next installment of sea monster profiles: Jaws, or The Shark.

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