Chapter 113: The Forge

“Look ye here, then,” cried Ahab, passionately advancing, and leaning with both hands on Perth’s shoulders; “look ye here—HERE—can ye smoothe out a seam like this, blacksmith,” sweeping one hand across his ribbed brow; “if thou could’st, blacksmith, glad enough would I lay my head upon thy anvil, and feel thy heaviest hammer between my eyes. Answer! Can’st thou smoothe this seam?”

“Oh! that is the one, sir! Said I not all seams and dents but one?”

“Aye, blacksmith, it is the one; aye, man, it is unsmoothable; for though thou only see’st it here in my flesh, it has worked down into the bone of my skull—THAT is all wrinkles! But, away with child’s play; no more gaffs and pikes to-day. Look ye here!” jingling the leathern bag, as if it were full of gold coins. “I, too, want a harpoon made; one that a thousand yoke of fiends could not part, Perth; something that will stick in a whale like his own fin-bone. There’s the stuff,” flinging the pouch upon the anvil. “Look ye, blacksmith, these are the gathered nail-stubbs of the steel shoes of racing horses.”

—The Forge

An absolutely brilliant chapter, The Forge takes us through Ahab’s metallurgy, indeed his alchemical strategy for destroying his foe. The harpoon that is tempered with the blood of his three pagan harpooneers is baptized in the name of the devil (diaboli instead of patris), perverting the standard Christian prayer for Ahab’s unholy purpose. This second covenant is made between Ahab and his men, and deepens both their resolve and their terror.

The effect on Ahab is wondrous. The old man rises to new heights as he musters all his human power to strike out against the natural world. For Ahab, who would ‘strike the sun if it insulted [him],’ there is no challenge he cannot face, and indeed the challenge of Moby Dick is what drives him to his ultimate power. In this chapter, Ahab gains both +2 strength and the Harpooneer ability, by way of his covenant and new-forged weapon. The increase in general whale strength is meant to temper that power with the great payment that must be made for Faustian bargains such as these. Conceptually, here, the harder one strikes out at the natural world, the more dangerous that environment becomes.

(see Ahab, The Blacksmith, Harpooneers)