Chapter 21: Going Aboard

“. . . hence I would have thought myself optically deceived in that matter, were it not for Elijah’s otherwise inexplicable question.”

“Going Aboard” plays a little bit like the first fifteen minutes of a horror movie (or Deliverance) — the kids pack up the van, drive into the woods somewhere, and ignore sign after sign of something being wrong about the situation. You really can’t blame the kids though — those signs of impending tragedy only stand out to the viewer because the viewer knows she’s watching a horror movie. In other words, events take on a new significance if you know the eventual outcome.

Ishmael and Queequeg clearly do not know the eventual outcome of shipping out on the Pequod, and so see little significance in the shadows of men vanishing mysteriously onto the ship, or Elijah’s cryptic warnings, or Queequeg’s tale of his country’s kings, who fatten up “the lower orders” to use as chairs and footstools. To Ishmael and Queequeg, the shadows are merely illusion, Elijah merely a crazy man, and Queequeg’s story in no way presages Ahab’s treatment of “the lower orders” on his ship. Perhaps this is what they mean when they say “hindsight is 20/20.”

“Going Aboard” creates an interesting kind of tension between the story and its reader, similar to that of horror movies. In a sick way, it can be almost fun to watch a character walk into his doom feeling that you, smartly, would not, even though, of course, you would.

Chapter 21: Going Aboard

The tongues of an ebbing tide
Lapping against the boat,
And the light of the coming dawn glowing far and wide.

The silence that stills a heart,
And the fog that begins to lift
With the shadows that stow away under the boards.

We’re the undertakers of the coming tragedy!
Turning our backs, the prophet makes us family.

We’re the undertakers of the coming tragedy!
Fatten us up for footstools, come the coming feat.

Warnings upon the breeze,
As it teases against the sails
As a portent of future speed bracing the yard.

Nowhere a soul to stir.
The cabin is locked up tight,
Smoking with sleeping rigors deep in the bow.

We’re the undertakers of the coming tragedy!
Turning our backs, the prophet makes us family.

We’re the undertakers of the coming tragedy!
Fatten us up for footstools, come the coming feat.

(c) and (p) 2008 Patrick Shea
Words and music written by Patrick Shea August 19, 2008
All parts performed, arranged, and recorded by Patrick Shea April 21, 2009

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