Literary Symmetry, pt. 3
Richard Parker is the name of several people in real life and fiction who became shipwrecked, with some of them subsequently being cannibalized by their fellow seamen:
- In Edgar Allan Poe’s only novel ‘The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket,’ published in 1838, Richard Parker is a mutinous sailor on the whaling ship Grampus. After the ship capsizes in a storm, he and three other survivors draw lots upon Parker’s suggestion to kill one of them to sustain the others. Parker then gets cannibalized.
- In 1846, the Francis Spaight foundered at sea. Apprentice Richard Parker was among the twenty-one drowning victims of that incident, though there were no cases of cannibalism.
- In 1884, the yacht Mignonette sank. Four people survived, drifted in a life boat, and finally killed one of them, the cabin boy Richard Parker, for food.
- Writer Yann Martel in his 2002 novel ‘Life of Pi’ picked up on these occurrences, surmising “So many Richard Parkers had to mean something”, and included a shipwrecked tiger by the name of “Richard Parker” in the book.
- Playwright Owen Thomas wrote a play called “Richard Parker”. The play was a dark comedy exploring the notion of coincidence.
“What a mind on that Poe fellow,” said a friend upon discovering & sharing with me these trippy coincidences. What a mind, indeed. Allow me to spin a reason. I don’t believe these things to be a coincidence at all. Poe was a particularly sensitive & eccentric conduit of the strange & deviant. He witnessed many dark doings during his imaginings, some of which may have been actual events whose traumas echoed back thru time to find Poe, pen in hand & willing to transcribe. The thread that ties together “Richard Parker” is fascinating & eerie to contemplate. The question remains: who is Richard Parker & should we eat him? Truth is (stranger than) fiction & they’re both equally twisted. Anyone can find it easy to adore his poetry but it takes a very special mind indeed to appreciate the murderous curve of Poe’s prose narrative. I think it’s high time we, the readers & leaders of a literary-minded society, rethink madness.