Baby beluga in the deep blue sea,
Swim so wild and you swim so free.
Heaven above and the sea below,
And a little white whale on the go.--Raffi
REVENGE OF THE WHALE: THE TRUE STORY OF THE WHALESHIP ESSEX is Nathaniel Philbrick's adaptation for young people of his National Book Award-winning bestseller, IN THE HEART OF THE SEA. While I have not read the adult version, I can tell you that this edition of the author's compelling account of the real-life catastrophe of 1820-21, in which a whale attacks a whaleship in the middle of the Pacific, was detailed and gory enough to keep me horrified for hours, to the extent that it caused me to forget all about my initial delight that at least one whale had apparently gotten even with humankind for what our forefathers had done for the sake of lamp oil and ambergris.
Your mama told you never
to eat your friends
with your fingers and
hands, but I say you
ought to eat what
you will - shove it
in your mouth any way
that you can. --Silver Spoon by Grace Slick
Utilizing primary source material, including two accounts written by survivors of the wreck about their nightmarish journey across thousands of miles of the Pacific from the middle of nowhere to their rescue off the coast of Chile, the author has crafted a first-rate adventure story that is also a tale of unbearable tragedy.
"Like a giant bird of prey, the whaleship moved lazily up the western coast of South America, zigging and zagging across a living sea of oil. For that was the Pacific Ocean in 1821, a vast field of warm-blooded oil deposits known as sperm whales."
From the early portions of this saga, which take place before an obstinate, eighty-five foot long sperm whale decides that enough is enough, we learn a vast array of information about the port of Nantucket and the whaleships. The author clearly describes and provides illustrations of the ship's layout, including the names of the masts and individual sails, the crews makeup, including their respective duties and the system of remuneration, their navigational tools, and the graphic details of converting those floating oil deposits into big bucks for the shipowners. I was amazed to discover that the wind patterns dictate that in order to sail from New England around the 'Horn to the Pacific, the whalers would nearly scrape the west coast of Africa! And the fact that ambergris--literally worth more than its weight in gold to perfume manufacturers--was generated as the result of whale constipation.
But it's also fascinating to learn at the end about the later lives of those eight men who somehow survived for three months on the ocean in the worst of circumstances--and how the son of one of those survivors grew up to become a whaler, lent a shipmate his father's account of the Essex disaster, and thus became indirectly responsible for that shipmate, Herman Melville, being inspired to write MOBY DICK...