Edgar Allen Poe wrote about a murder – even identifying the victim’s name – 46 years before it happened. Morgan Robertson described the Titanic over a decade before it was built. Charles Dickens wrote a ghost story that later came true. In each of these stories, the authors wrote about events in specific details years before they happened. Was Edgar Allen Poe a time traveler? Could Charles Dickens have been psychic? How did Robinson know an iceberg would sink a great ship fourteen years before the Titanic was even conceived of? Did these authors have premonitions about the future? The answers to these questions still allude us, but the mysterious questions these tales leave behind remind us that we live in a truly supernatural world.
In 1837, Edgar Allen Poe wrote his first and only full length novel “The Narrative of Arthur Gorden Pym of Nantucket.” The gruesome story is about a young boy named Arthur Gorden Pym who stows away on a whaling ship in search of adventure. One part of the novel tells how the ship sank and the crew had to survive off turtle meat. When that ran out, they pulled straws to see who would be killed and cannibalized so the rest of the crew could survive. A young cabin boy named Richard Parker pulled the short straw and his short life ended.
Forty-six years later, a ship named the Mignonette left Southampton, England for Sydney, Australia. The ship sank and the crew initially survived off turtle meat. When that food ran out, the crew, starving and near death, decided to draw straws to see who would be killed and eaten so the remaining crew could live. The young cabin boy pulled the short straw and was soon cannibalized and eaten. His name? Yes, you’ve guessed it. His name was Richard Parker.
Could this be a coincidence? Two ships sinking and resorting to cannibalism could be coincidence. But two crews deciding to cannibalize one member and that one member having the same first and last name? That’s a bit more than chance. Did Edgar Allen Poe have a premonition of the event almost 50 years before it happened?
This is what seemingly happened to author Morgan Robertson when he wrote his book “Futility” in 1898. The similarities between the great ship he describes and the Titanic are incredible to consider. Morgan Robertson wrote a fictionalized account about a ship named “The Titan” which sank under almost identical circumstances to the Titanic – 14 years before it sank. Both the fictional Titan and the very real Titanic were made of steel with three propellers and two masts. Both departed from Southampton, England. The fictional “Titan” and the real Titanic both carried 3,000 passengers. The Titan weighed 46,328 tons and was 800 feet long. The Titanic weighed 45,000 tons and was 882 feet long. Both were hailed as the largest passenger ship and were both called “unsinkable.” However, they also shared the same flaw – neither carried enough lifeboats.
Robertson’s “Titan” and the real Titanic were traveling the same speed when they struck an iceberg. 400 miles from Newfoundland. Near Midnight. In the month of April. How could Robertson have known? Did he have a dream about this event? Was he a time traveler? Or could he have time slipped and seen a vision of the future without meaning to?
Many believe something similar happened to Charles Dickens. One of his stories was so close to the truth, he was sued for plagiarism. In 1861, Dickens wrote a ghost story about a young painter on a train who meets a pale young lady. She asks him if he could paint someone’s portrait from memory. The artist says that he could. The young woman replies, “Look at me again. You may have to take a likeness of me.” The painter feels the encounter is a bit odd, but they soon part and he thinks nothing of it. Two years later, a grieving father comes to his studio and asks him to paint a portrait of his deceased daughter based on his descriptions. The artist agrees but after several failed attempts, he’s about to give up when he remembers the strange young woman on the train. The artist quickly sketches her and the grieving father lights up explaining, “That is she!” As the artist paints the portrait he asks the father when the young woman died. The father tells him she passed away two years ago on September 13th – the exact day the painter met the young lady on the train.
Shortly after the story was published, Dickens received an angry letter from a portrait artist who claimed the story had actually happened to him and was not a work of fiction. The artist had written down the entire story and was getting it ready for publication when he read Dicken’s story. The artist claimed Charles Dickens even stole the exact date of the incident – September 13th. The artist said he’d told the story to several friends but had never told anyone the date. This is what most troubled Dickens. When he wrote the story, it had no date but his editor asked him to put one in to give the clichéd ending more validity. Dickens hastily added in September 13th.
Did Dickens unknowingly plagiarize this story through a psychic premonition? Or is it just another coincidence? Stories like these aren’t uncommon. Olaf Stapledon wrote a story called “Last and First Man” in 1930 which describes Italy being overrun by a dictator named Mussolini who was defeated in war and later lynched by an angry mob. It also describes a European Union being formed after the war and America and China becoming the two greatest super powers of the world.
Jules Verne described submarines and rocket ships before they were ever conceived of. Tom Clancy wrote about a 9/11 attack in his 1994 novel “Debt of Honor.” Were they all able to see the future? Or were they just good guessers of what would soon come to pass?
Time is an invented concept. If you imagine time as the Mississippi River, you’ll agree that the water beginning in Minnesota is not the same as the water that empties into the Gulf of Mexico, yet it is still a part of one river. If we could rise above the river we’d see from our aerial view all of the Mississippi River. Perhaps the writers featured here were able to do this – to rise above the constraints of time and see the past, present and future as one. Many writers have described going into a meditative, trance-like state when they write. Most authors have experienced a time slip phenomenon where they think they’ve written for an hour when they’ve really been at it for hours. Or maybe, just maybe, some writers have learned how to glimpse the future.