Books

3 classic novels that inspired Nobel Prize winner Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan's Nobel Prize lecture explored the music and literature that inspired his songwriting, especially the classic novels Moby-Dick, All Quiet on the Western Front and The Odyssey.
Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016. (Sony Music)

Bob Dylan has delivered the speech required to receive the Nobel Prize for literature, the Swedish Academy announced this week. While details of when and where the speech were delivered were kept under wraps, the Academy posted the 30-minute lecture to YouTube. You can watch it in the video player below.

Dylan won the Nobel Prize for literature in November 2016 "for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition."

The lecture is an exploration of what has inspired Dylan's songwriting over the course of his career. He referenced several songwriters and authors but focused on three books in particular: Moby-Dick, All Quiet on the Western Front and The Odyssey.

1. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville

Herman Melville is the author of Moby-Dick. (Modern Library)

Dylan said Moby-Dick "is a fascinating book, a book that's filled with scenes of high drama and dramatic dialogue." The classic tale of one captain's obsession to track down a whale is deceptively simple, but filled with allegory and legend. "We see only the surface of things. We can interpret what lies below any way we see fit," Dylan said in the lecture. "That theme and all that it implies would work its way into more than a few of my songs."

That theme can be found in "Bob Dylan's 115th Dream" from the 1965 album Bring It All Back Home, a song filled with nautical references and includes a recurring character named Captain Arab.

2. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

Erich Maria Remarque was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1931. (Random House)

In his lecture Dylan called All Quiet on the Western Front "a book where you lose your childhood, your faith in a meaningful world, and your concern for individuals. You're stuck in a nightmare. Sucked up into a mysterious whirlpool of death and pain. You're defending yourself from elimination. You're being wiped off the face of the map." After he finished he "put this book down and closed it up. I never wanted to read another war novel again, and I never did."

That didn't stop him from writing about war, pain and death. "Masters of War" from 1963's The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, is Dylan's most scathing anti-war song.

3. The Odyssey by Homer

Homer is the author of The Iliad and The Odyssey. (WW Norton)

The Odyssey is Homer's retelling of Odysseus's long journey home to his wife and child from the Trojan War. Dylan said "The Odyssey is a strange, adventurous tale of a grown man trying to get home after fighting in a war... He travels far, and then he gets blown back... And when it's all said and done, when he's home at last, he sits with his wife, and he tells her the stories."

The song "Isis" from his 1976 album Desire follows a similar plot — a married man who leaves his wife behind for an epic journey only to return to his wife to tell her his story.

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