THE BOOK: Moby-Dick
THE AUTHOR: Herman Melville
THE PLOT: The captain of a whaling ship gets his leg bitten off by a white whale and goes on a doomed quest for revenge.
THE PAIRING: Queequeg/Ishmael

WHO ARE THESE DASHING GENTLEMEN?

ISHMAEL is the narrator, a young white American schoolteacher who goes to sea as an alternative to boredom-induced suicide. He’s never been whaling before and quite frankly he sucks at it, to the point where he doesn’t realize fighting a ten-ton undersea behemoth to the death might be dangerous until he’s been thrown into the ocean by one. Then he nearly capsizes the ship. And regularly falls asleep on his watch. Also he doesn’t know what clam chowder is.

He’s a little dense, is what I’m saying.

Dense, yes, but good-hearted. By 1850s standards for religious and racial tolerance (which to be fair are set pretty low), he would be the Tumblr social justice blogger of the crew.

Since the book is narrated by Ishmael, we get a few glimpses of the person he will become in addition to the person he was. The weedly ex-schoolteacher transforms into a tattooed globetrotting badass, no doubt inspired by his boyfriend completely platonic companion…

QUEEQUEG is a pseudo-Maori harpooneer and a complete badass. His career choice alone would be enough to qualify him for the title (harpooneers have the job of jabbing whales with pointy objects until they or the whales die), but wait, there’s more!

  • How did he become a harpooneer in the first place, you ask? Well he followed a whaling ship in his canoe (yeah, that’s right, one dude, one paddle, able to overtake a freaking ship), sank his canoe, climbed aboard, and was hanging on to the ship’s chains when the captain came out and threatened to chop his hands off if he didn’t let go. Did Queequeg let go? Heck no. The captain, impressed with Queequeg’s enormous balls, decided to let him aboard and teach him how to whale.
  • Speaking of Queequeg’s whaling prowess, wanna hear how he got his job aboard the Pequod specifically? He harpooned a spot of tar on the waves in the harbor while standing on the edge of the ship. Hawkeye has nothing on this dude.
  • He shaves his face with the head of his harpoon.
  • This same harpoon, fully assembled, is used to spear his breakfast of steaks from across the table.
  • He’s strong enough to carry a sea chest in a wheelbarrow slung over his back.
  • He’s also strong enough to chop through an iron chain with his hatchet in two strokes.
  • – Furthermore, his teeth are filed to points and he’s absolutely covered in tattoos, though that’s par for the course considering the culture he came from.
  • Over the course of the book, he leaps into the ocean to save no fewer than two people from drowning; the first is a man he tossed into the air for insulting him but rescued anyway, and the second, he cut out of the submerged, decapitated head of a whale with a sword.
  • Part of his job involves butchering whale carcasses in the water while surrounded by sharks in a feeding frenzy. Does he spear the sharks? No. Does he kick the sharks? No. He gently nudges them aside with his bare feet and gets on with his work.
  • And finally: he cuddles. Yes, you heard me, he cuddles. Like a whole bunch. He’s basically Herman Melville’s vision of the ideal boyfriend.

THEIR RELATIONSHIP AS PRESENTED IN CANON

Let’s start with their meeting, shall we?

Ishmael is a poor schoolteacher and can’t afford to rent a whole bed in the inn by himself. So the landlord has him share it with a mysterious harpooneer, sight unseen. (By the way, the bed in question is the innkeeper’s marriage bed. Keep that in mind.)

Ishmael goes to bed, still not knowing who his mysterious future bedmate will be. At last the harpooneer enters, and oh no, he’s a savage cannibal covered in tattoos and smoking a tomahawk! (Herman Melville, bless his heart, tended to mix up his non-white-people stereotypes.) Also, the landlord neglected to tell the harpooneer he would be sharing his bed, so he freaks out to find Ishmael in it. Pretty understandable reaction if you ask me. The landlord gets called in to straighten things out and properly introduce Ishmael to his new bedmate, Queequeg. Thus pacified, they both go to bed. And then…

Upon waking next morning about daylight, I found Queequeg’s arm thrown over me in the most loving and affectionate manner. You had almost thought I had been his wife.

– Chapter 4. Counterpane.

The next evening, Ishmael sees Queequeg sitting alone in the corner of the inn. At this point in the book, as far as Ishmael’s seen, Queequeg has no friends. Well, Ishmael’s not gonna stand for that!

As I sat there in that now lonely room […] I began to be sensible of strange feelings. I felt a melting in me. No more my splintered heart and maddened hand were turned against the wolfish world. This soothing savage had redeemed it. There he sat, his very indifference speaking a nature in which there lurked no civilized hypocrisies and bland deceits. Wild he was; a very sight of sights to see; yet I began to feel myself mysteriously drawn towards him. And those same things that would have repelled most others, they were the very magnets that thus drew me. I’ll try a pagan friend, thought I, since Christian kindness has proved but hollow courtesy. I drew my bench near him, and made some friendly signs and hints, doing my best to talk with him meanwhile. At first he little noticed these advances; but presently, upon my referring to his last night’s hospitalities, he made out to ask me whether we were again to be bedfellows. I told him yes; whereat I thought he looked pleased, perhaps a little complimented.

– Chapter 10. A Bosom Friend.

Ishmael attempts to explain books to Queequeg, Queequeg offers him a smoke, and then…

If there yet lurked any ice of indifference towards me in the Pagan’s breast, this pleasant, genial smoke we had, soon thawed it out, and left us cronies. He seemed to take to me quite as naturally and unbiddenly as I to him; and when our smoke was over, he pressed his forehead against mine, clasped me round the waist, and said that henceforth we were married; meaning, in his country’s phrase, that we were bosom friends; he would gladly die for me, if need should be. In a countryman, this sudden flame of friendship would have seemed far too premature, a thing to be much distrusted; but in this simple savage those old rules would not apply.

– Chapter 10. A Bosom Friend.

Then Queequeg insists on giving Ishmael half his stuff, and they worship Queequeg’s god together (quite the friendly gesture for a Christian man, though it’s only fair that he return the favor after Queequeg attends a Christian sermon in a previous chapter) and go to bed.

How it is I know not; but there is no place like a bed for confidential disclosures between friends. Man and wife, they say, there open the very bottom of their souls to each other; and some old couples often lie and chat over old times till nearly morning. Thus, then, in our hearts’ honeymoon, lay I and Queequeg—a cosy, loving pair.

– Chapter 10. A Bosom Friend.

Literary buffs will be quick to assure you that the mentions of “marriage” and “honeymoon” are completely metaphorical and should in no way be taken to mean that Queequeg and Ishmael are anything more than buddies. To which I say, “All right. But…”

We had lain thus in bed, chatting and napping at short intervals, and Queequeg now and then affectionately throwing his brown tattooed legs over mine, and then drawing them back; so entirely sociable and free and easy were we…

– Chapter 11. Nightgown.

Yeah.

And when they check out of the inn the next morning, even the innkeeper and the other boarders are shipping it.

The grinning landlord, as well as the boarders, seemed amazingly tickled at the sudden friendship which had sprung up between me and Queequeg

– Chapter 13. Wheelbarrow.

Eventually Queequeg and Ishmael get on a ferry to take them from New Bedford to Nantucket so they can get on a real ship and finally get to the damn ocean already. One of the passengers gets knocked overboard, so Queequeg dives in to rescue him. Remember that this passage and most of the book is from Ishmael’s first-person POV.

For three minutes or more he was seen swimming like a dog, throwing his long arms straight out before him, and by turns revealing his brawny shoulders through the freezing foam. I looked at the grand and glorious fellow, but saw no one to be saved. The greenhorn had gone down. Shooting himself perpendicularly from the water, Queequeg, now took an instant’s glance around him, and seeming to see just how matters were, dived down and disappeared. A few minutes more, and he rose again, one arm still striking out, and with the other dragging a lifeless form. The boat soon picked them up. The poor bumpkin was restored. All hands voted Queequeg a noble trump; the captain begged his pardon. From that hour I clove to Queequeg like a barnacle; yea, till poor Queequeg took his last long dive.

– Chapter 13. Wheelbarrow.

We’re in the middle of a high-tension rescue scene, yet Ishmael takes time out of the narrative to describe how handsome Queequeg is. And then he never leaves Queequeg’s side, ‘til death do they part. That’s heterosexual, right?

When they finally get to Nantucket they check into yet another inn. Queequeg elects to stay behind in the room and let Ishmael pick out their whaling ship for the both of them. When Ishmael returns to find the door to their room locked and Queequeg not answering, his immediate reaction is sheer, bloody panic. No, seriously, he screams for the landlady and busts down the door. All out of concern for a dude he met three days ago. (Fortunately for the both of them, Queequeg turns out to be meditating and not dead.)

Now let’s talk about the ship they finally end up on, the Pequod. At first, the ship’s owners don’t want to let Queequeg aboard because Queequeg isn’t Christian and they’re super racist. Ishmael steps up to the plate and gives a very eloquent, proto-Unitarian-Universalist speech that moves them to give Queequeg a chance to show off how completely fucking amazing he is with his harpoon. While it is not explicitly stated in the text, one gets the feeling that Queequeg pays Ishmael back for this favor by convincing the rest of the crew not to throw the obnoxious failor who won’t shut up about whale philosophy overboard.

Once aboard, Queequeg and Ishmael remain boyfriends buddies. Ishmael spends most of his time in the rigging chatting with Queequeg rather than doing his actual job; the first half of Chapter 47: The Mat-Maker is devoted to Ishmael and Queequeg’s joint manufacture of a sword mat, and Ishmael pointing out how weaving the mat together is totally a metaphor for how their lives are intertwined. Once Ishmael realizes whaling could get him killed, he makes Queequeg the executor of his will. Chapter 72: The Monkey-Rope is all about how Ishmael and Queequeg are literally tethered together for the task of slicing up a dead whale, with Queequeg in the water and Ishmael remaining aboard as his anchor.

And when a fellow crewman falls overboard? It’s Queequeg to the rescue, or as Ishmael puts it:

But hardly had the blinding vapour cleared away, when a naked figure with a boarding-sword in his hand, was for one swift moment seen hovering over the bulwarks. The next, a loud splash announced that my brave Queequeg had dived to the rescue.

– Chapter 78. Cistern and Buckets.

And in Chapter 110: Queequeg in his Coffin, when Queequeg gets sick and everyone believes he will die, some readers believe it is Ishmael to whom he confides his last wishes, which makes a hell of a lot more sense than having it be some random anonymous crewman if you ask me.

Finally, at the book’s end, it is the lifebuoy made from Queequeg’s unused coffin that ends up saving Ishmael’s life and leaving him the sole survivor of the wreck of the Pequod. Even in death, his boyfriend completely platonic buddy is looking out for him.

Any one of these instances, taken alone, could be chalked up to Having A Gay Old Time. All together, though? In the same book?

wow that's really heterosexual

THE META EVIDENCE, OR, EXHUMING THE AUTHOR

Herman Melville wrote Moby-Dick based on his own adventures at sea for the express purpose of impressing Nathaniel Hawthorne, upon whom he had the world’s biggest mancrush. (They met at a picnic. Heterosexuals don’t meet at picnics.) Unfortunately Hawthorne did not return Melville’s feelings, and everyone hated the book when it was published, and Melville died sad and alone and hating his wife. No seriously he hated his wife like a whole bunch.

While I would not recommend anyone emulate his rampant misogyny, it does provide some suspicion that Melville himself may not have been quite so heterosexual as some scholars like to believe. And when one considers that Ishmael is essentially Melville’s self-insert, one begins to wonder whether the author might have encountered a Queequeg of his own on his myriad travels.

tl;dr – The author ships it, why don’t you?

WHY SHOULD I SHIP IT?

1.) It’s canon. If I haven’t proved that by now, I’m sorry, but your case is hopeless and probably terminal.

2.) It’s stupid cute.

3.) See point #2.

4.) Okay, fine, you want more? It’s stupid cute BECAUSE it’s the ultimately heartwrenching and tragic tale of a naïve young man who goes to sea in search of a reason to live, meets an unfamiliar stranger from a culture on the opposite side of the globe, and makes a decision to befriend the hell out of him. Alternatively, it’s the story of an enormous badass a million miles away from home thrown into the life of this chatterbox weirdo, who takes said weirdo under his incredibly handsome wing. They should never have met, they should never have gotten along, they should never have bonded so tightly together, but they DID, and everything was beautiful and glorious until some bastard megalomaniac whipped the crew into a frenzy chasing after a force of nature that could not be defeated and got everyone killed but poor, orphaned Ishmael.

5.) It’s ridiculously adorable.

OKAY I’M CONVINCED. NOW SHOW ME THE FIC!

Tragically, there’s not a whole lot of Moby-Dick fanfiction out there in general, and only some of that small total is Queequeg/Ishmael. But what is out there is pretty dang good.

Title: Taniwha
Author: Norah
Rating: Mature
Summary: The first eighteen chapters of Moby Dick — from Queequeg’s point of view.
Many waters cannot quench love, nor floods drown it. – Song of Solomon

Title: Heaven
Author: n/a
Rating: Explicit
Summary: [599 words of Queequeg and Ishmael boning.]

Title: Reunion
Author: zzoaozz
Rating: Mature
Summary: After the events with Captain Ahab and the great white whale, Ishmael finds he cannot return to the life he left behind. Sometimes though, the ocean gives back what she has taken.

Title: The Queen of Rokovoko
Author:
Rating: Mature
Summary: A divinely decreed orgy, a ship full of eager men, 200 barrels of sperm oil … and a captain they decided not to invite. What could possibly go wrong?

Title: My Boy Carved Coffins
Author:
Rating: Mature
Summary: Ishmael copes with the aftermath of the wreck of the Pequod.

Title: Our Hearts’ Honeymoon
Author:
Rating: Teen
Summary: Ishmael may have left out an important detail or two from his most famous work.

The full original text of Moby-Dick itself is available online for FREE at Project Gutenburg.

Advertisements