Friday, February 4, 2011

Booty: Coincidence... Or Something

As anyone who follows a creative path (which is to say, everyone) knows, inspiration can strike anywhere. Like lightening, it is indiscriminate and seems to delight in taking us by surprise. For me, three things are sure fire inspiration: all things nautical, the Baratarians of old Louisiana, and Edgar A. Poe.

Though on the face of it this may appear an odd mash up, it’s actually not. Of course the Baratarians were a great bunch of sailing men but Poe spent at least a little time at sea (as a boy he travelled to and from Britain). He also liked to tell people that he had been a sailor in his youth. As one of my mentors once confided to me: good writers are liars.

All those issues and more are probably the reason that I was so taken by this
article sent to me by the First Mate. It’s from none other than the good folks at who have an unparalleled way of making history hilarious. The article discusses historical coincidences that most of us are unaware of and it starts off with an interesting factoid about Poe and his single novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket.

The novel, which yes I have read along with every other thing Poe ever wrote if it’s still available for reading, is an all-over-the-map story about young Pym who stows away aboard the Nantucket whaler Grampus. Everything imaginable occurs to our hero, from hostile natives to shipwreck, mutiny, Hollow Earth adventures at the pole and gruesome cannibalism. None of this is probably surprising given that it comes from a man who imagined a guy hacking his wife to death with an ax and then walling her up in the cellar (damn that cat!), but what is interesting is not the eating of humans, but who got eaten.

In Poe’s tale the survivors of the wreck of Grampus draw lots to see who will end up as their only hope for survival. The loser is a cabin boy “… of no more than seventeen” named Richard Parker. The kid is devoured and the men survive but, of course, Pym is dogged by guilt over this necessary evil.

Fast forward to 1884. History notes that a crew of four men aboard the pleasure yacht Mignonette sailed from Southampton, England to Sydney, Australia to deliver her to her owner. The yacht, which was evidently poorly built, foundered in a light gale and the four crewmen managed to escape in a leaky dinghy. Hundreds of miles from shore, and without any water at all, the men suffer for 25 days before at least one of their number begins to drink seawater and slowly succumbs to the effects. The others decided that eating one of their number was the only way to keep themselves alive and they discussed drawing lots but, as the 17-year-old cabin boy Richard Parker slipped into a coma, they decided he was their only hope.

The crew of Mignonette, just like Poe’s fictional whalers, killed Richard Parker and ate him. Five days after this desperate attempt at self-preservation, the three remaining men were rescued by a German merchant.

It’s a grim tale, of course, and a curious coincidence. Something to ponder as you go about your Friday routine. Pop over to Cracked to read the rest of the surreal offerings in the article. Find more on the Mignonette affair
here and read the novel by Poe here. Finally, for all things factual about Poe I highly recommend the best source on the web, my particular friend Undine’s blog. Enjoy!

Update: I completely neglected to mention that this is Triple P's 500th post, y'all. I am just rubbish at shameless self-promotion.

Header: Contemporary daguerreotype of Edgar A. Poe


Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! And congratulations (and props, yo) on your 500th Triple P post... Huzzah!

I thought you'd like that article, not only for the Poe thing, but for the fact that it does include quite a bit of "nautical nonsense", if you will. The "pimp" picture cracks me up too...

A couple other things that I find amusing, anyway: The title of Poe's novel almost sounds like the start of a really bad limerick and the name of the whaling ship "Grampus"... Oh well, I guess I am easily amused, Pirate Queen.

Pauline said...

Ahoy, Timmy! Yeah, nobody could be further from a pimp than Poe, but still funny.

And hey, there were lots of ships, including Navy vessels, named "Grampus". Let's name our next dog Grampus, shall we?

Undine said...

If I wasn't already such an insufferable egomaniac, I'd be blushing. Thank you!

Actually, Poe wrote a number of things (not just his fiction, but letters and newspaper columns) where he definitely seemed to "see" the future in odd ways. His writings have many strange coincidences to them. I believe he knew exactly what our modern world would be.

And that's probably why he drank.

Capt. John Swallow said...

First off, many congrats on post #500 - and all o' them worthy of a read!

Secondly, another coincidence...that the unfortunate crewman in question aboard the Mignonette dinghy is named "Richard Parker". A most fantastic account of more recent note (and a Canadian connection), Yann Martel's award winning book "The Life Of Pi" - about Mr. Piscine Molitor "Pi" Patel and his misadventure at sea...for 227 days in a lifeboat...with, among other things, a Bengal Tiger accidentally named "Mr. Richard Parker".
Neither the Tiger, nor Pi get eaten...however others do...
If ye've not read this semi-biographical novel I recommend it. The protagonist, Mr. Patel, is alive and well and living with his wife in Scarborough, Ontario (Canada) and related the story to Mr. Martel to write over the course of many weeks.

Pauline said...

Ahoy, Undine and Captain and thankee indeed.

Undine: I agree on all counts. Our modern world makes me drink, too. I'm particularly fond of Mr. Poe's satires a la "Psyche Zenobia". If only I knew who all those people he was making fun of were; although I've a hunch you will eventually clue us all in over at The World of EAPoe :)

Captain: Great stuff! I'll be looking into Pi and his tiger on your recommendation. Hoist a tankard for me!