In the novel of 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C Clarke, published in 1968, in Chapter 25, Bowman asks Poole to wave at him to signal he is alive after his collision with the pod during his spacewalk. Poole waves but we then read the following sentence

"Poole's gesture was an echo of Captain Ahab's when, lashed to the flanks of the white whale, his corpse had beckoned the crew of the Pequod on to their doom"

Poole is dead and his gesture is due to the random motion of the pod.

Captain Ahab is the central character in the novel Moby Dick but it is not Ahab in that novel who ends up lashed to the whale, it is a character called Fedallah. Ahab is snagged by a rope and dragged violently and quickly underwater to his death. In the 1956 film by John Huston, with a screenplay by Ray Bradbury, Ahab's fate is changed to incorporate that of Fedallah and is exactly as Clarke describes in the novel of 2001. Note that there is no reference to Moby Dick in the film of 2001. You can see the relevant scene from the John Huston film below

scene from moby dick 1956

So my question is was Clarke deliberately and knowingly including this reference to the film version of Moby Dick because it had a connection to another science fiction author or had he simply not read Moby Dick and did not know any better?


1 Answer 1


Arthur Clarke did read Moby-Dick; in an interview with Studs Terkel, he said that the novel had a great impact on him.

And I got interested in whales, partly because of this, and part because I suppose "Moby Dick" had a greater impact on me than any other novel I ever read. And I did a book called "The Deep Range", which is about whale ranching, whale farming, which is a definite possibility in the near future, ...

Presumably, Clarke also saw the 1956 film and confused this famous scene with the book.

  • Invisible Trihedron, Thank you for that! Very very quick answer. I'd totally forgotten about The Deep Range. It must be more than twenty years since I read that. Thank you also for the link to the interview.
    – skyjack
    Commented May 17, 2020 at 3:39
  • 4
    Maybe Clarke was confused. Or just possibly, he figured that more of his readers would have seen the movie than read the book? If it was your book, would you have changed "Captain Ahab" to "Fedallah", or would you have just deleted the whole sentence?
    – user14111
    Commented May 17, 2020 at 3:54
  • 5
    At this point I'm inclined to think he went with what would be most well known image in popular culture. He is not know for mistakes in his work, I'm regretting not phrasing may question in this way as it sounds like I was being disrespectful of his work which I really wasn't.
    – skyjack
    Commented May 17, 2020 at 4:05
  • 2
    It's not disrespect to ask where an author got his inspiration, especially when there seems to be a contradiction. Usually it's harder to pin down, though! Commented May 17, 2020 at 14:11
  • 1
    Having read the book and watched the movie, I can say without any doubt the change in the movie is a big improvement.
    – Joshua
    Commented May 17, 2020 at 17:07

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