Herman Melville’s obsession with vampires has been well-documented by scholars, but few critics have seriously considered the merits of Melville’s early vampire-centered drafts of Moby Dick. The final manuscript of Melville’s most celebrated work stands at just over 200,000 words, yet earlier drafts reached a word count of nearly double that final edit. I am prepared to argue that the literary world is ultimately poorer for these edits, edits shaped by a public hungry for adventure, travel writing, and exhaustive descriptions of whaling practices. While Melville’s contemporary audience may have been largely unreceptive to the more humdrum topics of vampiric whales and seafaring monster hunters, modern audiences often feel a deep resonance with omitted scenes like the fifty-page description of spectral bats coming to roost in the white whale’s blowhole or Captain Ahab’s long description of the dietary needs and proper hygiene of a “self-mastered foe of vampirekind” (3,244). Beyond question, Moby Dick; or, The Whale is a masterpiece of fiction. However, Melville’s first draft manuscript Mooby Gonk; or, The Vampire Whale-Fish that Ate Nantucket is a superior novel in ambition, scope, and subtle complexity.
In 1826, Herman Melville’s father described his son as, “backward in speech and somewhat slow in comprehension . . . of a docile and amiable disposition, but ridiculously preoccupied with vampires” (Wiggles, 2). Seldom seen in public without his “ask me about vampire whales” sandwich board, Melville is, by some historians’ estimates, the first writer ever to receive a punch to the face for, “refusing to stop blathering on [about the] undead,” (Pupu, 722). Known by his peers as a workmanlike occultist and sometime novelist, his works include Typee (1846), Redburn (1849), Omoo (1847), The Bloodsucking Whale-Brides of Vampire Island (1850), and Moby Dick; or, The Whale (1851). Modern readers will no doubt be familiar with the incredible variety of popular Saturday morning cartoon shows based on Typee, Redburn, and Omoo, yet relatively few understand the degree to which Melville influenced our modern image of the vampire as a huge, aquatic mammal who sneaks into houses and onto ships to drink human blood from the soles of feet. When publishing Dracula nearly fifty years later, Bram Stoker originally referred to his famous Count as a “land-vampire or landpire” (Stoker, 555) in order to differentiate his villain from Melville’s more established vision of the standard vampire whale so prevalent in the public consciousness.
Examples of the ways in which the original manuscript outshines Melville’s final edit are too numerous to mention, but here’s one anyway. First, let’s look at the version of the text from the heavily edited Moby Dick; or, The Whale:
“Hark ye yet again—the little lower layer. All visible objects, man, are but as pasteboard masks. But in each event—in the living act, the undoubted deed—there, some unknown but still reasoning thing puts forth the mouldings of its features from behind the unreasoning mask. If man will strike, strike through the mask! How can the prisoner reach outside except by thrusting through the wall? To me, the white whale is that wall, shoved near to me. (567)
Compare that to the original passage from Mooby Gonk; or, The Vampire Whale-Fish that ate Nantucket:
“Hark ye yet again—the little lower layer. All visible objects, man, are but as pasteboard masks. But in each event—in the living act, the undoubted deed—there, some unknown but still reasoning thing puts forth the mouldings of its features from behind the unreasoning mask. If man will strike, strike through the mask! How can the prisoner reach outside except by thrusting through the wall? To me, the vampire whale is that wall, shoved near to me. (567)
The observant student of literature will notice that only a single word was altered from one version of this passage to the next, however, that one word sums up the key point of my argument. “Vampire” is a word that, independent of context, carries vast meaning and symbolic connotations ranging from biblical allusions to the spilling of Abel’s blood by his brother Cain to the popular Don Quixote figure Blade from the film Blade 2: Bloodhunt. What symbolic weight does the adjective “white” carry? None. The potential for meaning just isn’t there. The point argues itself.
When Herman Melville bowed to market forces and revised the life and soul from his novel Mooby Gonk; or, The Vampire Whale-Fish that ate Nantucket, the reading public was robbed of everything from Mooby Gonk’s eight foot fangs to Ishmael’s telekinetic battle with the brain-squid. I’ve spent countless hours in university libraries piecing together Melville’s early drafts. It was fulfilling scholarship and I was happy to do it, but I recognize that few have the time or resources to follow my path. Yet, booklovers everywhere should be able to discover the true poetry and genius of Mooby Gonk. I call on some brave publisher to make right old wrongs and release the full 3,000 page work Mooby Gonk; or, The Vampire Whale-Fish that ate Nantucket in an affordable paperback edition that can easily be enjoyed in the classroom or on the beach.