Fedallah

Whence he came in a mannerly world like this, by what sort of unaccountable tie he soon evinced himself to be linked with Ahab’s peculiar fortunes; nay, so far as to have some sort of a half-hinted influence; Heaven knows, but it might have been even authority over him; all this none knew. But one cannot sustain an indifferent air concerning Fedallah. He was such a creature as civilized, domestic people in the temperate zone only see in their dreams, and that but dimly; but the like of whom now and then glide among the unchanging Asiatic communities, especially the Oriental isles to the east of the continent—those insulated, immemorial, unalterable countries, which even in these modern days still preserve much of the ghostly aboriginalness of earth’s primal generations, when the memory of the first man was a distinct recollection, and all men his descendants, unknowing whence he came, eyed each other as real phantoms, and asked of the sun and the moon why they were created and to what end; when though, according to Genesis, the angels indeed consorted with the daughters of men, the devils also, add the uncanonical Rabbins, indulged in mundane amours.

—Ahab’s Boat and Crew, Fedallah

Arguably the strongest card in the game, the power of this character comes from Melville’s notes on Edmund in Shakespeare’s King Lear. Charles Olson discovered a scratched note beside Edmund’s monologue that read “the infernal nature has a valor often denied to innocence.”[1] Though the actual intentional sacrifice of a crewmate is never a part of Moby-Dick, it is our attempt to transmit this valor ‘denied to innocence’ into game balancing. This can also be deemed ‘playing with fire.’

Coming mostly from Stubb, it is the belief of many aboard the Pequod that Fedallah is the devil himself in disguise. Melville had made his career to the point of writing Moby-Dick describing this global ‘otherness’ in romantic tales of the South Seas—this book on whaling was ostensibly going to carry out the same purpose—however, in Moby-Dick, Melville uses the metaphysical power of this ‘otherness’ to cull from world culture and philosophy to rend ancient stories from ancient lands to his modern purpose: this is anti-romance, this is the inscrutable violence of the natural world, laughter in the face of all the stories of men.[2]

Hunting with Fedallah provides a merciless view of a crew of men, and weighs the strengths of their very characters against one another, and against the task at hand. The ability to kill a whale in one turn is grand indeed, but at what price? When the White Whale is fought, however, these other men, these pawns, are forgotten—Ahab and Fedallah enter the final chase at the front of their boats, each seeking to reach out against god and nature, to touch the flame of truth and self-annihilation.


[1] Charles Olson, Call Me Ishmael (San Francisco: City Lights, 1947), 48.

[2] Charles Olson, Call Me Ishmael (San Francisco: City Lights, 1947), 13.

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