Epic Journeys

Mocha Dick


Gregory Peck in the movie Moby Dick

“Call me Ishmael.”  That is what I remember about the opening scene in the movie Moby Dick.  The black and white movie had Gregory Peck as the evil Captain Ahab.  I remember as a young child thinking I was going to like the movie but do not recall enjoying it.  I stared at the peg wooden leg as mean Captain Ahab snarled at the sailors on his ship.  I wasn’t sure why.  I think I feel asleep until my older brother woke me when the whalers encountered the infamous white whale named Moby Dick.  The most vivid scene in my mind was when Captain Ahab got tangled up in the ropes and was pulled under by the huge beast.  When the whale finally did surface the mean Captain Ahab had drowned.  I assumed he got what he deserved and as a small child I did not understand why he hated the whale so much.  I also did not know why the whale did not swallow him.  I was well acquainted with the biblical story of Jonah and the Whale.  I just assumed the whale did not want to eat him but just drown him in order to get the whalers to leave him alone. 

            It is fun to recall some of our earliest remembrances of movies or books read to us.  Of course, I now know more of the story of Moby Dick.  I remember memorizing for English class that the book was written by an American named Herman Melville.  Sadly, I could not remember if the novel was written for some purpose other than an adventure tale.  Fortunately, it is quite easy today to quickly explore the internet to retrieve some interesting facts concerning this famous novel.  

sculpture of Mocha Dick

Herman Melville served as a sailor aboard a whale ship in the early 1840’s. His writing was influenced by other American writers who used fiction based on real events to tell their stories.  The characters in the writings would bring in the romanticism and drama element that was prevalent in early 19th century American novels.  As to what all the nuances in the book represent is still open for debate among literary critics.  For example, why Captain Ahab throws his pipe overboard, and the imagery it represents is open for debate.  What about the mysterious Fedallah, the harpooner, who seems to have some dark influence on the captain.  I am not acquainted with the novel well enough to merit much discussion on these regards.  Let me share what fascinates me about the story.

            Melville had heard stories of whales big enough that several accounts of lost whale ships had been due to their ramming by the whales.  One famous whale off the coast of Chile near an island named Mocha survived many dozens of encounters with whalers for many years, by some accounts for almost 30 years.  The huge whale was distinguished not only by his size but that he was white.  They called him Mocha Dick.  He served as the inspiration to Melville’s Moby Dick.  Mocha Dick was first encountered around 1810 and when he was killed in the late 1830’s he had several harpoons within him besides the many scars on his body from eluded previous whaler attacks.  Is there any truth to the existence of a white whale, an albino whale?



                                                                                                     In the early 19th century white whales were reportedly observed off the coasts of Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Peru, and Australia.  Sightings have diminished since those times for all whales,especially for sperm whales such as Moby Dick.  An albino humpback whale referred to as Migaloo has ocasionally been seen near Port Douglas, Australia.  

 photo courtesy of http://img269.imageshack.us/img269/3240/islamocha1.jpg

Mocha Island near Chile,photo courtesy of http://img269.imageshack.us/img269/3240/islamocha1.jpg

            The story of Moby Dick and the possibility of a large white whale continues to fascinate me.  I wanted to place a white whale somewhere on the game board of TreasureTrove because it would be a treasure to behold if an individual could captured it on film. I am sure it be worth a lot of money.  When I first created the game I was not totally sure a white albino sperm whale actually existed.  I knew there were Beluga whales in the Arctic Ocean that are white.  I placed White Whale near Canada and had it drawn like a sperm whale even though I knew it was doubtful many sperm whales migrate that far north.  I now wish I had placed it somewhere near Chile on the game board but at least if a child is playing the game they may learn there are actual whales in the northern oceans that are white, the beluga whales. I have sense learned that there are the occasional albino whales seen in the wild.  I have also learned that whales, some of whom are the largest of any animals to have ever live on earth are actually not capapble of swallowing a person.  Their mouths and throats are designed to swallow smaller fishes.  Ironically, the sperm whale is the only whale that could potentially swallow an adult human being.  In the bible most versions say a large fishswallowed Jonah, not a whale.  Treasure hunting entails adventure and Moby Dick is one of the great adventure novels. 


A Golden Fleece



logoLast week I watched the recently released movie Clash of the Titans.   A remake from an early 1980’s version.  My son commented on how much better the special effects are today.  I’m not sure I agree with him.  I say this because I believe the special effects from movies made years ago, even decades ago, seem to capture the imagination more.  At least they do for me.  Let me give you an example.

One of my all time favorite movies came out in 1964, Jason and the Argonauts.  I think it is one of the coolest movies ever made.  I first saw it when I was about 11 years old and have seen it many times since.  I remember the joy I had when I visited the video store in the late 80’s and checked the movie out to watch with my son when he was about six.  It is now also one of his favorite movies.  When he was about 11 years old the movie Jurassic Park came out and we saw it four or five times at the theater.  He collected dinosaurs for a number of years.  When he gets older I’m sure he will look back on Jurassic Park the way I do Jason and the Argonauts.  We all have movies that bring back good memories.

Jason and a group of Greek sailors( Argonauts) take the ship Argos on a long dangerous voyage overcoming many challenges in order to reach a land far away said to contain lots of wealth and a fleece made of gold that possessed supernatural powers.    talos

My favorite scene is when they have to fight the huge metal statue called Talos.  There was no way they could have defeated the imposing figure except he had a weakness, an Achilles heel.  Jason pops the plug on the heel of  Talos and all this green liquid comes pouring out and big Talos crashes to the ground.  I admit it looked like a bunch of antifreeze but I still think it was cool; pardon the pun.

Jason and his sailors go on to encounter and defeat other creatures and obstacles on their epic journey.  He asks for and receives the assistance of the Greek gods on his voyage.  Another scene in the movie I really enjoyed was when he fought a bunch of skeletons.  You could stab them but you couldn’t kill them.  It was not until about 30 years later that I saw a documentary on how the special effects for the movie were done.  The skeletons were actually clay figures and the special effects creator had to bend the clay figures a little, take a picture, bend, take a picture, and so forth.  The pictures were then sequenced to create motion.  This one scene took three months to create.  Think about that in the context of today’s computer generated special effects.

The scene that has never really done it for me was when Jason sees the “golden fleece,” but has to defeat the “Hydra,” to capture the prize.  The fleece looked fake to me even as a child and so did the hydra.  The hydra was a multi-headed dragon protecting the fleece that Jason had to fight.  Have you ever wondered where these strange creature stories in Greek mythology came from?

In high school I had to read the Iliad and the Odyssey.  Homer’s 8th century B.C. novels tell how Ulysses and his men on one their adventures had to fight a huge man called Cyclops who had one eye in the middle of his forehead.  Archaeologists now know that elephants once lived on the islands of the Mediterranean Sea but were probably gone by the time of Homer.  The skeletal remains of the elephants would have included very large skulls.  The people of the ancient world were intrigued by the one big hole in the middle of the front of the skull.  You and I know the hole is for the elephant’s trunk but for the people of Greece at that time they did not know much about elephants.  To them the skull was big and looked like a giant eye socket.  It would have been a huge man they thought.argonaut sea creatureThe term Cyclops was used by Homer to describe such a huge man or beast.

As for the hydra, sailors would tell stories of dragons and large sea creatures with long arms, (tentacles).  We know these to be giant squids as well as the Komodo dragons of the Far East, (Indonesia).  With a little imagination the writer of Jason’s story put the two together to create the hydra, the multi-headed dragon.

It is also thought that during the time of ancient Greece there were rumors of a wealthy kingdom that possesed much gold on the far eastern shores near the southeastearn portion of the Black Sea, near present day Armenia.  For the sailing vessels of those days it would have been a challenging adventure.


Researchers believe Jason’s journey took place in the Black Sea, probably on the north shores of Turkey.  I recently saw a documentary about a group of researchers who built a wooden ship to retrace his epic journey.  On the game board for TreasureTrove I placed a drawing of a ship with “Argonauts,” next to it.

A couple of footnotes worth mentioning:

  1. There is a small black squid indigenous to the Black Sea called an argonaut.  I should have included this in the footnote section of the game booklet but forgot to do so.
  2. A couple of excellent movies for the 7 to 12 year age range for journeys are, In Search of the Castaways made in the early 1960’s,  Journey to the Center of the Earth produced in the late 1950’s, and the Golden Voyage of Sinbad made in the 1970’s.   For adults, the original King Solomon’s Mines of the 1950’s, Shangri-La also of the 1950’s, and of course the recent Indiana Jones movies.
  3. There is a story in the Old Testament in the book of Judges where an Israelite judge named Gideon seekboxtops God’s advice as to whether or not he should lead the Israelites into battle.  He uses a fleece of wool to communicate with God.  (The Book of Judges, chapters 6 and 7).

To learn more about the board game go to www.TreasureTrovegame.com