Edgar Allan Poe’s Eerie Prediction Of Murder And Cannibalism

“The proof of the pudding is in the eating.” —Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote

In A Nutshell

In 1838, Edgar Allan Poe’s only novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, debuted to a fairly lukewarm reception. Poe’s episodic tale was bashed for being overly violent and sensationalized. In one telling episode, a young man named Richard Parker is murdered and eaten by his fellow sailors to stave off hunger. Uncannily, fact followed fiction down to the details just a few decades later.

The Whole Bushel

When Edgar Allan Poe completed his novel, he couldn’t have had any idea that his grim depiction of the “custom of sea,” would so closely foretell the future. Not quite 50 years after The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym was published, a wealthy Australian lawyer arranged the fateful voyage which would forever tie his ship to one of history’s most infamous cases of maritime cannibalism.

Jack Want purchased the Mignonette in England in 1884 and hired a crew to sail the yacht for him to his home in Australia. Naturally, the crew was a quartet, mirroring the number of survivors Poe had written about. Among the crew’s number was a young man named Richard Parker.

The Mignonette ran into trouble not long after setting sail. In the southern Atlantic, she faced a vicious storm, which revealed the ship’s varied weaknesses, chief among them its lack of a watertight hull. Though the ship rapidly sank, the crew was able to board and launch a dinghy. Unfortunately, the severity of the storm and rapid sinking of the Mignonette gave the men no chance to take with them any provisions or navigational equipment.

Even though the African coast was only a few hundred miles away, the Mignonette‘s crew possessed no gear with which to get there. Their only hope would be to drift with the current the thousands of miles to South America. The catastrophic storm had struck in July; without a significant supply of water, the entire crew immediately suffered from dehydration, slaking their thirst only with urine and the blood of a captured sea turtle much as the crew did in Poe’s fiction.

For three weeks, the lifeboat drifted and the condition of all aboard worsened, especially that of Parker, who had given in to drinking seawater. The men were starving, Parker was seemingly dying, and the conversation turned to cannibalism. Unlike that of the forlorn survivors in Pym, the men formerly of the Mignonette, decided against the casting of lots to determine who would sacrifice. Parker was only semi-conscious and the other three aboard decided among themselves to murder Parker.

Less than a week after they murdered Parker and began to eat him, a passing ship rescued the three survivors, still over 1,600 kilometers (1,000 mi) from the South American coastline. The rescuers’ ship bore the name Moctezuma, for the king of the cannibalistic Aztec nation. The ordeal wasn’t over yet. Upon their return to England, the survivors found themselves embroiled in a murder trial of O.J.-esque proportions. The crucial question being, “does necessity constitute a valid defense for murder?”

The proceedings dominated the public consciousness and the survivors were the beneficiaries of a great deal of public sympathy. Legally, the answer was a resounding “no,” however, and two of the three survivors were found guilty and sentenced to six months in prison. The Mignonette survivors’ trial remains the only one of its kind, as the failure to draw lots constituted conspiracy. Without the element of chance, the proceedings aboard the lifeboat of the Mignonette were little more than barbarity.

Show Me The Proof

The Ultimate Taboo
An Intellectual History of Cannibalism, Catalin Avramescu
The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, Edgar Allan Poe

  • Sometimes it feels like reality doesn’t abide by our rules.

    • P5ychoRaz

      Oscar Wilde said it best – “Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.”

  • WhiteExodus

    When the end of the world happens or something, I’ll probably first eat a person named Richard Parker just to stave off hunger.

    • Hadeskabir

      Your definition of “something” happening in order for you to turn into a cannibal scares me. I think that one day you’ll open the refrigerator and think “There’s nothing good to eat. Time to turn into a cannibal.”

      • WhiteExodus

        No no I meant something as “something like an apocalypse happening” or “something similar to the apocalypse or end of the world”. Thank you for the clarification and I shall promptly edit my post. 🙂

        • Hadeskabir

          I’m glad I could have been of service, sir.

  • Hadeskabir

    Quoth the Raven – Nevermore.

    • Ray

      Lol, you’ve obviously never read anything by Poe and that’s all you know.

      • Hadeskabir

        Actually I read most of his stories. At least the famous ones. My favorite is “The Tell-Tale Heart”. When I was young, that story scared me.

        • Robert Downey

          Both featured on the Simpsons, coincidents?

          • Hadeskabir

            If you only know them from the Simpsons, that’s okay. But I advise you to read the stories, they are so much better and creepy.

          • Robert Downey

            Writing of a peodophile usually are.

          • SickDaddy

            Your knowledge of pedophiles and their writings is creepy.

          • Robert Downey

            Knowing that an author of some creepy writings married his 13 year old cousin doesn’t make me an expert on either.

          • SickDaddy

            Edgar is one person. You spoke of several pedophiles as their writings are ‘usually’ creepy, meaning you know of many, and have read enough of several pedophiles to know their usual writings.

          • Robert Downey

            Sorry if i gave of the impression that i was a scholar in such thing, i was speaking more intuitively then authoritatively. For that sir i humbly apologies to you.

          • P5ychoRaz

            We were shown the Treehouse of Horror’s ‘Raven’ episode in English class in 1995 🙂

            As for the Tell-Tale Heart, are you referring to the one where they merely referenced the story in the episode’s title (Tell-Tale Head)? Or the one that actually mirrored the plot (Lisa’s Rival)?

          • Robert Downey

            Lisa’s rival, didn’t even remember the Tell-Tale head. Well done sir. I enjoy the way TV and movies rework these classics, give you a good excuse and reminder to re-explore them yourself or indeed to discover them.

          • P5ychoRaz

            I loved you as the Iron Man.

        • P5ychoRaz

          Best description of an eye ever.

          • Hadeskabir

            Strange thing is I don’t even remember describing an eye.

      • inconspicuous detective

        yea jump on the guy’s d*ck for no reason, offering nothing relevant to the discussion, let alone an obscure Poe quote (since you seem to think you know enough to go about deducing how much others know, it’s safe to assume you think you know your stuff). so lets hear it genius. whatchya got?

        • Karmala

          Aww come on, don’t spoil the trolls fun.

        • SickDaddy

          what is your excuse for jumping on someone’s dick? Do you feel better now?

          • inconspicuous detective

            my excuse? i’m the heat. if you don’t like me, get out of the kitchen.

  • This is hardly an eerie coincidence- lots of cannibalism has occurred in similar circumstances. Poe liked to write about the dark side of human nature, but he didn’t really need to exaggerate! Truth is stranger than fiction.

  • Ray

    They get stranded for a little while and immediately resort to putting dick in their mouths.

    • Hadeskabir

      At least they waited for a while unlike you who do it every time you have the opportunity.

      • inconspicuous detective

        he puts himself in his mouth?

        • Hadeskabir

          No, he doesn’t like his own genitalia because it’s too small, he prefers big ones.

  • Bambu

    Wasn’t there a movie made of this tale and does anyone remember the name?