Strange Coincidences I: Edgar Allan Poe And The Two Richard Parkers

T. Barabas July 31, 2014 0

Before being the name of the famous tiger from Life of Pi, Richard Parker was a character’s name in Edgar Allan Poe’s only novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, published in 1838. A character whose cruel fate will be reflected in reality years later.

Photo by djandyw.com

Photo by djandyw.com

The book tells us the story of a young man’s passion for the sea. Seeking adventure, the main protagonist, Arthur Gordon Pym, helped by his best friend, Augustus hides on a whaling vessel. The vessel named Grampus is owned by the father of Augustus. Soon the atmosphere on board becomes tense. A mutiny brakes out and the majority of the crew is sent adrift a small boat. However Augustus managed to stay aboard and together with Pym and another man, Dirk Peters, they take control of the vessel through a clever scheme. They only keep one of the mutineers, a cabin boy named Richard Parker to help them with the vessel. The rest of the mutineers all die.

Even if their attempt to cease control of the Grampus was a success, the storm severely damaged the vessel and they soon run out of provisions. After days of starvation, one of them has a plan. Richard Parker proposes to draw straws in order to determine which one of them will be sacrificed so the others can survive. Parker himself ends up being sacrificed and consumed by the others in an act of cannibalism.

46 years after the publication of The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, this time a real Richard Parker shared a very similar fate to Poe’s character. In 1884 a yacht named Mignonette left England heading to Australia with a four-man crew. But the yacht could not stand the power of the storms in open sea, and the men barely escaped in a life boat. The provisions they had soon ran out, so they were left starving adrift the sea. One of their members, Richard Parker, fell overboard and he drank out of the salty water. According to the rest of the crew his condition quickly worsened. In order to survive the men decided that they should resort to cannibalism. One would be sacrificed so the others could survive. They considered drawing straws in order to determine who to sacrifice, but in the end, they agreed on sacrificing the 17 year old Richard Parker who was in a terrible shape. So, once again Parker is sacrificed and consumed in act of cannibalism by three other men. The remaining crew was rescued after a few days.

Both in the pages of a book and in reality, a boy named Richard Parker was consumed by three other men as they resorted to cannibalism in order to survive. This was discovered by a distant cousin of the real Richard Parker, Nigel Parker.

So, was this a strange case of coincidence, where the events in reality simply shared many similarities with an event described in a novel, 46 years earlier? Was it a premonition, did Poe foresee the future events, perhaps only in the form of a muse? Or was it a case of Carl Gustav Jung’s synchronicity: a significant coincidence of a psychological and a physical phenomenon sharing an acasual connection? In which case, we can only wonder about the possible significance of these events.

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