Posted in Short Stories

Herman Melville: The Encantadas

J♠  J♠  J♠  J♠  J♠  J♠  J♠  J♠

It’s been a Melville summer with my Deal Me In 2014 project.  This week I drew the Jack of Spades and read Herman Melville’s story “The Encantadas”.  It’s the third Melville story I’ve selected since the beginning of June.  My Deal Me In 2014 list can be seen here.  DMI is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

“The Encantadas” is the mid nineteenth century version of the nature documentary.  I can imagine Morgan Freeman reading this.  The title gets it’s name from the group of islands in the South Seas that are known as either  the Encantadas, the Enchanted Isles, or the Galapagos.

To those of us in the 21st century, the third name is probably the more familiar.  The frequently associated tortoises of these islands get the full Melville treatment:

These mystic creatures, suddenly translated by night from unutterable solitudes to our peopled deck, affected me in a manner not easy to unfold.  They seemed newly crawled forth from beneath the foundations of the world.  Yea, they seemed the identical tortoises whereon the Hindu plants this total sphere.  With a lantern I inspected them more closely.  Such worshipful venerableness of aspect!  Such furry greenness mantling the rude peelings and healing the fissures of their shattered shells.  I no more saw three tortoises.  They expanded – became transfigured.  I seemed to see three Roman Coliseums in magnificent decay.

As with any good documentary, a few interviews get included.  A Buccaneer and a couple of castaways tell of their experiences on the islands.  These tales really don’t make up a plot.  They simply add to the intrigue of the geography.  I  can easily imagine them being told on film with the storyteller’s name at the bottom of the screen.

In reading this, I couldn’t help but realize that ten years ago, I probably would have dismissed this story or not even finished it.  Am I becoming a more mature reader – or just old?

While the enchantment of the islands’ name and the story’s title is not the enchantment of fairy tales, Melville’s poetic prose makes the natural world more than magical.





7 thoughts on “Herman Melville: The Encantadas

  1. I really need to do a mini-Melville project soon and revisit these shorter works. I’ve read them all before, but more than twenty years ago, and your posts are highlighting how (shamefully) little I remember of them… 😦

    I also remember enjoying his “lesser” novel, “Typee” but couldn’t tell you much about the plot.

    1. I really was surprised at how much I enjoyed this story. I know that I would have found it tedious 10+ years ago. Melville has definitely become a favorite!

  2. On one hand, I feel like I really should have read more Melville at my age and education level. On the other hand, I’m not sure I would have appreciated him in the past. That description (of turtles!) is magical.

    1. I’m discovering with certain authors that this just happens to be “my time” to appreciate them. George Eliot is another one like that.

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