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 Cracked.com 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