Eating Owen, by Anne E. Beidler
In 2010, Coffeetown Press released a work of historical fiction by Anne E. Beidler based on the mystery of the Nantucket ship Essex titled, Eating Owen: The Imagined True Story of Four Coffins from Nantucket: Abigail, Nancy, Zimri, and Owen (182 pages). The Hollywood blockbuster In the Heart of the Sea tells another version of the same historical events. The eBook of Eating Owen is currently being offered exclusively on Amazon at a special price of $2.99.
Eating Owen was the first novel of Anne E. Beidler, who lives in Seattle, Washington, with her husband Peter. She has a doctorate in educational research and is a lifetime history buff. She is also the author of a biographical work: The Addiction of Mary Todd Lincoln.
Eating Owen is a tale of mystery. What really happened to Owen Coffin, the cabin boy on the Nantucket whaling ship Essex? In the autumn of 1819, the unthinkable happened. Out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean a whale rammed into the Essex, sinking it within minutes (the event that helped inspire Melville’s Moby Dick). The crew had no refuge except to jump into the three small and very flimsy wooden boats they carried on board to help them chase the whales. During the next three months, bobbing around aimlessly on the open ocean, the men suffered terribly. They ran out of food to eat, and some of them died. And some of them ate each other. Including Owen. The few survivors returned to Nantucket with the story that Owen had been fairly elected to be executed—before he was eaten. But no one knows for sure what happened. Or do we? Eating Owen is the story of Owen Coffin and his family before the Essex tragedy. It is a story about a family, a story about surviving and not surviving. A story about a whale’s revenge.
Says the author, “My husband’s ancestors are from Nantucket, so he is sort of—after all this time—related to the Coffin family from there. We have been to Nantucket many times. The sinking of the Essex inspired Melville, and the story certainly captured my imagination, so I’m not surprised that it has now inspired a hit movie, In the Heart of the Sea. How much of the story is true? The wreck, of course, is true. And the men in the lifeboats trying to survive on the ocean. One lifeboat was lost, and the other two were rescued, but many of the occupants were lost and/or eaten. Nobody living really knows what happened on Owen’s lifeboat. The survivors, probably to avoid blame or trouble (did they have lawsuits back then?), told a party line about drawing straws. My version is made up, but seems more realistic to me.”
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