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Melville in the Popular Imagination: An Introduction M. THOMAS INGE Randolph-Macon College T here has always been a conversation, a kind of critical discourse, going on between American writers and our popular culture. The one frequently seems to be commenting on the other, as when Hawthorne dismissed the popular female writers of his time as “a damned mob of scribbling women,” or when filmmaker Roland Joffe adapted The Scarlet Letter in 1995 and changed the ending entirely because he disagreed with Hawthorne’s conclusion. Perhaps had Hawthorne been able to see the impressive performance of Demi Moore as Hester Prynne, he would have agreed that she deserved a better fate and would have sent her off as well with Dimmesdale, and with his blessing. A large part of the conversation has been devoted primarily to Edgar Allan Poe, Herman Melville, and Mark Twain, or at least these three have been the most celebrated American writers in terms of their image and name recognition, and the frequency with which their works have been adapted to the popular media. Melville has always held a special place in the American popular imagination . In his own day he was celebrated as the man who lived among the cannibals, and today he is considered the author of difficult and complex works that challenge the minds and patience of his readers. Many, perhaps nearly all of his novels and short stories have been adapted in some way and more than once for the motion picture screen, radio, television, stage drama, symphonic music productions, opera, comic books, graphic novels, and other media. Moby-Dick, considered the Great American Novel, has been honored as often as not by going unread but has become, nevertheless, a pervasive influence in all aspects of our collective cultural memory. This special issue of Leviathan continues an exploration of this cultural discourse between Melville and the world by examining some familiar and some less familiar areas of interchange. For the 2006 MLA Melville Society panel, papers were solicited that addressed the subject of Melville’s presence in the popular imagination in any medium. Especially appealing were those that considered the meaning of his status as an icon and the continuing relevance of C  2009 The Authors Journal compilation C  2009 The Melville Society and Wiley Periodicals, Inc. L E V I A T H A N A J O U R N A L O F M E L V I L L E S T U D I E S 3 M . T H O M A S I N G E his works as popular texts. The panel chair received an unusually large number of proposals from all over the United States and as far away as Japan, Germany, and Jerusalem. When I wrote the chapter on “Melville in Popular Culture” in 1986 for John Bryant’s weighty compendium A Companion to Melville Studies, I documented eight film adaptations, seven television dramas, fifteen radio shows, eight recordings, and nineteen comic books based on Melville’s works. These numbers have greatly expanded since then, and a full accounting may well be impossible. The following essays contribute to our understanding of Melville and popularity in general, with specific attention to his presence in film, radio, and heavy metal music. In the initial essay, Richard Hardack takes note of this continuing widespread popularity and considers why some works of Melville continue to be read and remain accessible while others do not. This condition may have to do with their adaptability or the uses to which they can be put by critics and general readers alike, be they political, social, or personal, as well as how they read and misread Melville’s intentionally hybrid and ambiguous texts. Craig Bernardini takes the discussion in an unexpected but more specific direction by moving into heavy metal music, where he finds a fascination with Melville’s complex works on the part of the group called Mastodon and its popular 2004 album Leviathan. Like Moby-Dick, Mastodon rejects high culture and claims a specific place for itself in modern music through an “aesthetic of mightiness.” In an overview of adaptations of Melville’s works for radio broadcast , Tim...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1750-1849
Print ISSN
1525-6995
Pages
pp. 3-5
Launched on MUSE
2013-05-29
Open Access
No
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