Monday, March 09, 2009

Literary Coincidences

This post on David Lubar's blog got me thinking about cannibalism (no, really).

Which led, of course, to the case of R. v. Dudley and Stephens, in which Dudley and Stephens were cast adrift in a lifeboat and so killed and ate the cabin boy. The case established that necessity is not a defense to murder. More colorfully, as A.W.B. Simpson put it in Cannibalism and the Common Law, the case held that one may not kill and eat another human being, however hungry one may be (this may be a paraphrase).

It also got me thinking about strange literary coincidences: The 17 year old cabin boy aboard the Mignonnette who was killed and eaten by Dudley and Stephens (and another survivor who may not have participated in the murder) was named Richard Parker.

In 1838, Edgar Allen Poe published a novel called The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, in which three shipwreck survivors cast adrift in a lifeboat kill and eat a fourth, whose name is, of course, Richard Parker.

In 1898, Morgan Robertson published a novel called Futility or Wreck of the Titan, in which an "unsinkable" ocean liner named Titan strikes an iceberg and sinks in the north Atlantic. Fourteen years later, the White Star liner Titanic strikes an iceberg in the north Atlantic.

In 1963, Morris West published a novel called The Shoes of the Fisherman in which the first non-Italian in hundreds of years is elected to the Papacy. He is a Slav from Soviet-dominated Ukraine. Sixteen years later, of course, Pope John Paul II, a Slav from Soviet-dominated Poland, becomes the first non-Italian pope in hundreds of years.

Any more?


PJ Hoover said...

Ok, that is just weird and freaky about Poe and Richard Parker. Really?
You think there were out there on the boat and someone said, "hey, Richard, do you remember that story by Edgar Allen Poe?"

Greg Leitich Smith said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Greg Leitich Smith said...

Ha! Almost -- oddly enough to modern sensibilities, there was a long-standing "Custom at Sea" whereby under such circumstances you were supposed to voluntarily draw lots; the loser would then be killed and eaten. Although they didn't do the thing with the lots, Dudley and Stephens argued he would have been willing and were very sympathetic defendants to the public of the time.

Sara Latta said...

OK, so this gets curiouser and curiouser. Richard Parker is the name of the tiger in Yann Martel's Life of Pi (wonderful, amazing book). Now I know why he chose that name!

PJ Hoover said...

Really, Sara? That totally bumps up Life of Pi on my reading list!
Very cool!

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