Chapter 119: The Candles

“The boat! the boat!” cried Starbuck, “look at thy boat, old man!”

Ahab’s harpoon, the one forged at Perth’s fire, remained firmly lashed in its conspicuous crotch, so that it projected beyond his whale-boat’s bow; but the sea that had stove its bottom had caused the loose leather sheath to drop off; and from the keen steel barb there now came a levelled flame of pale, forked fire. As the silent harpoon burned there like a serpent’s tongue, Starbuck grasped Ahab by the arm—”God, God is against thee, old man; forbear! ’tis an ill voyage! ill begun, ill continued; let me square the yards, while we may, old man, and make a fair wind of it homewards, to go on a better voyage than this.”

Overhearing Starbuck, the panic-stricken crew instantly ran to the braces—though not a sail was left aloft. For the moment all the aghast mate’s thoughts seemed theirs; they raised a half mutinous cry. But dashing the rattling lightning links to the deck, and snatching the burning harpoon, Ahab waved it like a torch among them; swearing to transfix with it the first sailor that but cast loose a rope’s end. Petrified by his aspect, and still more shrinking from the fiery dart that he held, the men fell back in dismay, and Ahab again spoke:—

“All your oaths to hunt the White Whale are as binding as mine; and heart, soul, and body, lungs and life, old Ahab is bound. And that ye may know to what tune this heart beats; look ye here; thus I blow out the last fear!” And with one blast of his breath he extinguished the flame.

As in the hurricane that sweeps the plain, men fly the neighborhood of some lone, gigantic elm, whose very height and strength but render it so much the more unsafe, because so much the more a mark for thunderbolts; so at those last words of Ahab’s many of the mariners did run from him in a terror of dismay.

—The Candles

In what this lowly sub sub considers to be the most thrilling and breathtaking passage in the entire work, Ahab grasps the lightning rods of his ship, which glow with the mystical ‘corpusants’, St. Elmo’s Fire, in the midst of a terrific Pacific typhoon. He feels the elemental fire against the hotness of his coursing blood and cathartically exclaims that to the unthinking yet knowable spirit of nature, the right kind of worship is defiance, and in his defiance (his worship), Ahab is filled with the strength of the very enemy he wishes both to know and to destroy.

The tantalizing mechanics of a mutiny at sea were swimming around in our heads through the entire creation of this game. To not include some nod to this oft-narrated power struggle aboard a ship at sea would be to deny the impulses that many in the crew, first among them Starbuck, wish at times to express upon Captain Ahab, to the effect of turning the ship around and/or refusing to face the White Whale. In the earlier mini-drama of Steelkilt in Chapter 54: The Town-Ho’s Story, a rough and near-successful mutiny is lead by the dashing Lakeman, and though he is flogged for it, the White Whale himself exacts justice for Steelkilt, who was so corporeally wronged by the wicked mate Radney.

In the early iterations of the game, there were as many as three cards that prompted a Mutiny (the equal redistribution of all sailors in play), since we were quite taken with the dramatic nature of that classic archetypical story. Absorbing the mutiny mechanic into the chaos of The Candles ended up the best place for the wild effect, and Ahab’s relationship to Chapter cards in general has a nice way of restricting a total mutiny—after all, no man can stand against their supernatural captain.

(see Steelkilt, Ahab)

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