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Moby Schtick
"I hate metaphors. That's why my favorite book is Moby Dick. No frou-frou symbolism, just a good simple tale about a man who hates an animal."
Ron Swanson, Parks and Recreation

Moby-Dick is considered one of the timeless classics of literature, yet many people today are more likely to have seen homages to its central Determinator vs. Animal Nemesis conflict than to have actually read the novel. A number of works, particularly animated ones, have paid tribute to this book and its cinematic incarnations, setting a tremendous, pale-colored whale or whale-analog against an obsessive opponent who'll stop at nothing to bring it down.

As not many works utilize a maritime setting, this trope is often Recycled IN SPACE!note . Or deserts. Or freshwater. Or the sky. Subverting the original ending so that both antagonists survive, with the pursuer coming to respect the pursued, is likewise common.

Sometimes a Whole Plot Reference, other times a Shout-Out or Homage. Actual adaptations of Moby-Dick, character names and all, are more remake than Moby Schtick, even if they happen to be Recycled IN SPACE!.


Examples:

Advertising
  • In an ad for the Audi Quattro, an elderly tow-truck driver obsessively muses about how he's tried for years to "hook" one particular quarry: a white Quattro shown driving stealthily through the snowy forest.
  • Jack in the Box used to call its fish sandwich the Moby Jack.

Comics

  • The original The Transformers comic did a Whole Plot Reference to Moby-Dick at one point. The Transformer in question lived on a world far from most of his race and was a Pretender (a Transformer covered in a pseudo-organic shell that allowed him to pose as an organic but was rather difficult to repair) and so couldn't get his leg properly restored. He finally incapacitated the beast responsible but decided against finishing it off.
  • In a couple of story arcs from The Incredible Hulk, the Hulk encounters a space-faring ship with an Ahab-like character, Captain Cybor, hunting a beast called Klaatu with electro-harpoons. At some point in the past, an encounter with Klaatu burned away the entirety of Cybor's right side, which was replaced with cyborg parts. In his first seen encounter, Cybor is dragged into a sun by Klaatu, burning away his human half. When we see him again he has had himself welded to the prow of the ship, acting as a living figurehead (if you can call that living). During both appearances they shanghai the Hulk to pull the "oars" on the ship.
  • From the pages of Marvel's Epic Illustrated Magazine comes "Abraxas and the Earthman" which is Moby Dick in space with added Mind Screw.
  • Legion of Super-Heroes: Early on, Lightning Lad had his arm destroyed by an ill-timed attack on a Space Whale, and became obsessed with revenge upon it. He got better.
  • In one issue of the Pinky and the Brain comic, one ingridient for the Brain's world-domination formula can only be found on the teeth of whales. Brain hears about a tiny white whale called Moby Dinky and decides to study it to build a ship based on it, thinking that other whales won't mind a smaller one approaching them. It turns out Dinky is actually a submarine built by Brain's rival Snowball, for exactly the same reasons.

Film — Animated

  • In Ice Age 3, Rudy the giant albino baryonyx plays the Moby Dick role to Buck the Weasel's Captain Ahab. In flashback, Rudy's humped back is seen looming up from a fogbank to menace Buck, who wields a stick in lieu of a harpoon.
  • In Brave, Fergus has an intense grudge against bears, hunting them relentlessly, because he lost a leg to Mor'du: an enormous bear covered in broken-off Annoying Arrows and battle scars.

Film — Live-Action

  • Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan wears the influence on its sleeve, to the point of having Khan directly quote Captain Ahab: "from hell's heart I stab at thee; for hate's sake I spit my last breath at thee!" The Enterprise itself is pale in color compared to the vengeance-obsessed Khan's vessel, and the scene of starships stalking one another through a nebula is reminiscent of the novel's scenes of Moby Dick lurking beneath the Pequod to ambush its longboats and wreck it.
    • Star Trek: First Contact was also partly inspired by Moby-Dick, with Picard as the obsessive Ahab-esque captain and the Borg as the white whale. It's even lampshaded in the film.
      Lily: I'm sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt your little quest. Captain Ahab has to go hunt his whale!
    • Ironically, Lily then admits she'd never read the book herself, which suggests she learned about it from either a movie adaptation or this trope.
  • The influence of Moby-Dick on Jaws goes without saying, particularly in the character of Quint.
  • El Blanco, the albino Graboid from the third Tremors film and TV series, is something of a Moby Dick Expy, with Burt Gummer as a hunter-nemesis turned Worthy Opponent.
  • Thorin against Smaug in The Hobbit. But unlike most examples, the Dwarves have something to gain from Smaug's death besides vengeance and personal gratification: their former home, Erebor.
    • Played with in Azog, a giant albino orc who lost his hand in battle with Thorin. He looks like Moby Dick in his size and albinism, yet shares Ahab's obsessive grudge for the dwarf who maimed him, effectively fusing both facets of this trope in a single character.

Literature

  • Granny Aching's story of the Jolly Sailor and the whale from The Wee Free Men is a non-comedic example. When Tiffany visits the realm of the elves, this trope is enforced on the Queen when she assumes the whale's form, as she's compelled to abandon her pursuit of Tiffany and chase the Jolly Sailor's ship.
  • China Miéville's Railsea deliberately incorporates elements of Moby-Dick, but ON LAND....WITH TRAINS . . . IN THE FAR FUTURE . . . WITH MOLE MONSTERS!
  • Jaws, okay it's a great white shark, not whale, but the weird old captain gets more and more crazy about killing it, even at the cost of his own life.

Live-Action Television
  • The first season of Farscape does this, with Moya as the Space Whale in question and Crais as Captain Ahab.
  • The Star Trek: The Original Series ep. "The Doomsday Machine" also had this element with Commodore Decker's obsessive pursuit of the titular (almost indestructible) weapon.
  • The Star Trek: Voyager episode "Bliss" has an alien humanoid in constant battle with a Master of Illusion bioelectric lifeform, that even when he and Voyager escape from it goes back for one more try to destroy it. The Doctor even likens the alien to being Captain Ahab.
  • The X-Files: It's mentioned several times that Moby-Dick has been Agent Scully's favourite book since she was a little girl. Her father with whom she was close used to read to her from it. His nickname for her was Starbuck, and likewise she called him Ahab. Scully's dog is named after the harpooninst Queequeg. In "Quagmire", she compares Mulder and his life warped by personal vengeance to Ahab:
    Scully: It's the truth or a white whale. What difference does it make? I mean, both obsessions are impossible to capture, and trying to do so will only leave you dead along with everyone else you bring with you. You know, Mulder, you are Ahab.

Newspaper Comics
  • In The Far Side:
    • The white whale is driving a car and rear-ends one with Captain Ahab in it.
    • From the masthead on a sailing ship, a lookout yells: "Thar she blows! The white whale! The whiiiiiiite wh— no, my mistake. A black whale! An ordinary blaaaaaaack whale!"
  • A recurring character in Sherman's Lagoon is Captain Quigley, a grizzled old fisherman who's leg was eaten by Sherman. Practically all of Quigley's appearances feature his attempts to catch Sherman. Apparently, this feud goes back father than most;
    Sherman: Heck...my mother ate his mother!

Video Games

  • Skies of Arcadia features an old fisherman named Drachma who chases the giant flying whale Rhaknam for killing his son decades ago.
    • He eventually forgives the whale after it saves his life and suffers a fatal injury in the process, caring for it in its last days.
  • In Portal 2, there's one test chamber where GLaDOS says she needs to leave, then stops herself and admits that this test requires some explanation. She says something fast and jumbled and tells Chell to remember it in slow motion. When you slow it down to listen, you'll find that it's a quote from Moby Dick, possibly as a reference to how GLaDOS finds Chell so hard to kill.
  • In the section of Doctor Who: Worlds in Time set on Starship UK, there's a plot line involving an alien captain learning of the Star Whale and coming to hunt it; an early attempt causes him to loose a leg, which only makes him more determined.
  • In Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag you can get an achievement/trophy for successfully harpooning a white sperm whale.
  • Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain contains numerous Moby-Dick references as part of its larger theme of Big Boss' descent into Revenge Before Reason.
  • Borderlands: T.K. Baha's grudge against the skag Scar (ate his wife, took off his leg, and blinded him). His name is even an anagram of Ahab. Somewhat subverted in that T.K. himself doesn't go after Scar, but has the player do it for him. Since, you know, blind and crippled.

Western Animation
  • Codename: Kids Next Door
    • "Operation D.U.C.K.Y." features a giant rubber-duck robot that menaces a shipload of kids unwilling to take baths. The robot, of course, was called Moby Duck.
    • In "Operation: A.F.L.O.A.T.", the same trope is used, this time with a giant white asparagus that confronts Sector V and is killed, whaling-style, by Stickybeard.
  • The Futurama episode "Möbius Dick" gave this trope a Space Whale twist. It lampshades this trope, as the Space Whale Leela becomes obsessed with hunting feeds on obsession, so it naturally antagonizes ship captains. Leela eventually overwhelms the whale's will with a bigger obsession than revenge: finishing her delivery!
  • Thundercats used this trope for the episode "Ramlak Rising". Ahab-Homage Captain Koinelius Tunar, a Fishman who sails the sand sea, has sworn vengeance on the creature who destroyed his home and took his eye and leg. His nemesis the Ramlak is a giant Planimal, a Man-Eating Plant that's hybridized with the ambulatory capabilities of a Giant Squid. Like Captain Ahab, Tunar has degenerated into prizing Revenge Before Reason and shares Ahab's fate almost exactly, while quoting his dialogue.
  • One episode of Dragon Tales had the main characters help a sky pirate hunt down a giant flying whale for eating his ship. At the end of the episode, they successfully capture the whale, and it turns out that the ship said whale ate was a toy ship.
  • In the Woody Woodpecker short Dopey Dick the Pink Whale, Woody is press-ganged into helping a cowardly captain hunt down the whale that repeatedly tore his trousers.
  • Phineas and Ferb had an entire episode called "The Belly of the Beast" referencing Moby-Dick.
  • A story arc in Rocky and Bullwinkle starts off like this with Maybe Dick, before we learn that the whale is actually a submersible which Boris Badinov uses to steal treasure.
    For many years all the men who go down to the sea in ships - sailors, fishermen, garbage scow captains - have heard and repeated the story of the Legendary Wailing Whale, Maybe Dick. Maybe Dick was supposed to be big enough to swallow a whole ship - maybe. He could swim faster than any vessel in the sea - maybe. And he had been seen by sailors whose reputations for sobriety were beyond reproach - maybe.
  • There was a character in Disney's Aladdin: The Series who was obsessed with hunting down some sort of desert whale/shark. His quest was actually quite practical, as the belly of the sand shark was covered in precious jewels, but when he does catch it, he has no idea what he will do now, so he decides to cut the shark free and hunt it again.
  • In the Storm Hawks episode "Leviathan", Stork turns into a Captain Ahab expy and becomes obsessed with hunting down the eponymous Leviathan after it swallows the Condor and Radarr.
  • There's a Tom and Jerry short called "Dicky Moe" where Tom is on a ship trying to catch Jerry while the captain is trying to catch his white whale.
  • An episode of Beetlejuice had them doing a Played for Laughs reenactment of Moby-Dick, with B.J. himself in the role of Ahab, eventually nearly being taken over by the character (in a quite literal sense).
  • This was done in two episodes of SpongeBob SquarePants;
    • The episode "Clams" had Mr. Krabs take Spongebob and Squidward on a fishing trip, in celebration of earning his millionth dollar. Unfortunately, the dollar gets eaten by a huge clam during the trip while he was showing it off, leading to this trope.
    • In the episode "Sleepy Time", Spongebob's dream self enters Mr. Krabs's dream, where he finds Mr. Krabs trying to catch a huge dollar bill for his wallet.
  • The Johnny Bravo episode "Moby Jerk" had Johnny win a cruise, only to board the wrong boat and get shanghaied into helping the mad Captain Spleen in his Ahab-like pursuit of a heckling mer-man.
  • Parodied in the Dexter's Laboratory episode "Ocean Commotion" with an actual (though friendly) white whale as well as a captain named Ahab. But this Ahab is prone to change the subject of his obsession when something new comes along...
    Cap'n Ahab: Arh, the great big... crab-like thing...I been searchin' all my life for...
    Sailor: Excuse me? Cap'n, no you haven't.
    Cap'n Ahab: *glares* Harpoon it anyway!
  • The Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers episode "Moby" had a grizzled space captain who had dedicated his life to hunting the titular Space Whale ... and a Greenpeace-like organisation dedicated to stopping him.
  • Bounty Hamster. A white Sand Worm is pursued by mad Captain Rehab.
  • There's an episode of Arthur where Binky takes up collecting butterflies (live ones; he keeps them in a tent) and ends up obsessed with the one big blue one that he can't catch. Several of the characters describe this as being "like Captain Ahab and Moby-Dick!" When confronted, Binky responds that it can't be because "Moby-Dick was a fish."


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