Classics Clash: Moby Dick vs. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Moby Dick by Herman Melville and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson

Audiobooks are so convenient for us multi-taskers, but so damned expensive.  “Classics” are relatively inexpensive, so I tried a pair of highly divergent tomes, as you can see.

Moby Dick was about a guy really obsessed with catching a particular whale he blames for cutting his leg off.  I already knew that much about the book going in, and it turned out that was all there was to it, story-wise.  I liked the beginning 10% or so, where the narrator, Ishmael, a merchant sailor, gets introduced to the peculiarities of whalers.  I also liked the last 10% or so, which involved the showdown between Ahab and Moby Dick.  The 80% in between those parts was laborious detail about every type of whale known to man, every type of task performed on a whaling ship, and every single encounter between Ahab’s vessel, the Pequod, and other ships.  That 80% desert was decently written, but boring and of no seeming importance to either Ishmael’s story or Ahab’s.  It felt like filler, and a lot of it.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas on the other hand was about a guy who takes a lot of drugs.  I knew that much going in, too, and it turned out that was almost all there was to it, story-wise.  Hunter Thompson a/k/a Raoul Duke is supposedly a journalist covering events in Las Vegas for Rolling Stone Magazine, first a motorcycle race, then a conference of district attorneys about the growing drug culture.  He attends these events with his drug supplier, known as “my attorney,” and their ensuing intoxication generates a few laughs, some embarrassing moments, and lots of paranoia.  I’d call Fear and Loathing the grandfather of Jack-Ass, Borat, and their ilk.  Congratulations.

I’d heard Fear and Loathing was funny, but for the most part, it wasn’t.  Like Cheech & Chong, drug humor may have been hilarious when it was new and edgy.  Nowadays, it comes off as a lazy attempt at a laugh, kind of like yelling cuss words in a public place.  Just not that funny, unless you’re stoned, maybe.

This battle of the classics was a tie.  I’m not saying either book was awful, just disappointingly average-at-best.  Made me wonder if all the books considered all time greats were only great in their time and place.  Are there ones which truly pass the test of time, and are entertaining to read decades, even centuries, after they were written?  I might try a few more classics just to see.  It doesn’t cost much.


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