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.

One response

  1. Loki

    I don’t know who Richard Parker is, but it’s fairly obvious that he’s pretty damn tasty.

    To be serious for a portion of a moment however, I do find it interesting how stories often choose us rather than the other way around. The journey of an author isn’t one of learning to create stories, its one of learning how to best give voice to the stories that found us long ago.

    05/28/2011 at 21:32

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