One of my favorite books is Life of Pi. It wasn’t that high on my list when I first read it, but it has grown in my estimation as I have reflected on it.
One of my ambitions is to write stories. I have dozens of story ideas floating around in my head, some of which I may some day actually write. One of the ‘ideas’ that I had was ‘wouldn’t it be pretty cool to write a story that would mean entirely different things to different people – a story in which a casual reader would, perhaps, think that the story was an uplifting story of good triumphing over evil, while the more attentive reader would instead find a story of terrible tragedy hidden beneath dogmatism and an unreliable narrator.’ This is not an easy kind of story to come up with. Reflecting on it though, I realized that Martel had written a story much like the one that I was envisioning, though the divide he created was more between faith and rationalism.
If you haven’t read the book, I warn that there are spoilers.
Life of Pi presents two stories. Most of the book is dedicated to the first story, the story of a boy lost at sea with a tiger as his only companion. The boy struggles and overcomes amazing obstacles, including at least one near-mystical experience (the people-eating island). Then, at the end, this story is challenged as unbelievable, and so a second story is presented. This story is ugly and horrible, and many of the events in the first story seem to become metaphor’s for terrible tragedy. One of the key lines from the beginning of the book is that the story is one to make you believe in god. It seems fairly clear to me that the philosophical point of Pi’s story that if two stories are of equal consequence then why not believe in the better story (i.e. god). However, though I think this is the point of the story for Pi, it is not necessarily the point of the book.
When I first read the book, I was somewhat disappointed with the ending. I was disappointed for two reasons. First I was disappointed that the wondrous story I’d just read was false within the book’s narrative (which shows you many of my general philosophical tendencies). I was also disappointed though that the characters in the story settled for falsity, that they thought illusion was better then truth. However, in my reflections, I begin to appreciate the book more and more because of how differently it can be read. It is in many ways a barometer of its reader’s philosophical and spiritual inclinations. When one of my brothers saw the movie, his immediate reaction was “so… there was no tiger?” That statement immediately says so much about him. The book tells you so much about yourself. It can be taken as a beautiful story of faith, or a lament of our self-deceiving nature.
Thank you for reading,