Kids’ Treat

draw-straws.jpg

Drawing Lots – Illustration by Arianna Vairo

I collect illustrated editions of two books:  Candide and The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym and I have a particular thing for Pym.  I came across this etching from a children’s, or perhaps young adult, edition of the grisly Poe novel.  I imagine they edited out the “good parts.”  I couldn’t quite recall whether the drawing of lots to determine who would be sacrificed to feed the other surviving crew members was followed by an actual meal, and if the hero partook, so I checked the text.

I recovered from my swoon in time to behold the consummation of the tragedy in the death of him who had been chiefly instrumental in bringing it about. He made no resistance whatever, and was stabbed in the back by Peters, when he fell instantly dead. I must not dwell upon the fearful repast which immediately ensued. Such things may be imagined, but words have no power to impress the mind with the exquisite horror of their reality. Let it suffice to say that, having in some measure appeased the raging thirst which consumed us by the blood of the victim, and having by common consent taken off the hands, feet, and head, throwing them together with the entrails, into the sea, we devoured the rest of the body, piecemeal, during the four ever memorable days of the seventeenth, eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth of the month.

In searching for the text, and  yet again for illustrated editions of the book, I came upon several webpages dedicated to the “strange” pre-cognizance of Poe’s tale:  it seems that forty or fifty years hence, there was a famous shipwreck that led to some castaways in a lifeboat drawing lots and eating the loser.  The name of the victim was, as in Poe’s story, Richard Parker.  He was a mere cabin boy, and probably didn’t know about Poe’s book, or he would probably have shipped under a different name, just in case, that is.  And, of course, Richard Parker was also the name of the tiger (real or imagined) in Yan Martel’s The Life of Pi.

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