Richard Parker, the Spider: A Miniature Life of Pi

Earlier this summer, while kayaking on Michigan’s Sturgeon River, a burly black spider scurried up my leg. I tried to swat it out of the boat but it retreated down to my feet, finding its way to the bow, where it lurked for the rest of the paddle. It reminded me of a miniature version of the Life of Pi: the black spider as the tiger, Richard Parker, and the kayak, my lifeboat.

Life of Pi had been on my mind. Shortly before the trip, I watched a portion of the movie on TV. I was struck by how much was lost during the transition from book to film–gorgeous language, internal thoughts, and the endless depths of imagination.

The movie was turned off–I rarely enjoy films made from favorite books–but later my husband Keith and I discussed the ending, the question of what really happened on the lifeboat.

It piqued my curiosity so I explored the myriad opinions one can find online about the meaning of the story: the lifeboat symbolized faith; the struggle between Richard Parker and Pi was the struggle between the many facets of one’s personality. The analysis went quite deep. One writer said the symbolism was so intricate the story might be impossible to completely fathom, kind of like the number pi with its endless decimal places.

But in the end, I think it’s the simple question of faith: do you choose to believe or not?

As I paddled along, I forgot about my spider passenger. The river pulled me past cottages and deep woods. Sun sparkled on the water and a black-and-yellow dragonfly flitted over my kayak. Later, on the drive home, we passed a field turned almost completely white by wild daisies. Black cows, munching on grasses, milled around. The sky slipped into dusky blue, that moment in the day when light caresses the landscape in soft shadows, giving everything an ethereal glow, a sense of completeness and hope. Back at Lake Emma, the sunset burned orange.

The answer was simple: yes.


4 thoughts on “Richard Parker, the Spider: A Miniature Life of Pi

  1. Lin August 27, 2014 / 11:37 pm

    Lovely piece, and great tying together of themes. I hope Richard Parker the spider, fared better than Richard Parker, tiger


    • Erin August 28, 2014 / 5:23 am

      Thanks! And, yes, Richard Parker, spider fared much better than his namesake… for all I know, he’s made a home in the bow of my kayak (although, I’d be much happier if he’d keep to himself).


  2. Ellen Morris Prewitt September 1, 2014 / 11:24 am

    This is a lovely piece (such a great first paragraph) but also so interesting to me, as I’ve mulled over from time to time the intro that frames the book where Pi carefully explains how he “sampled” religion and how that interacts with the story that follows. Thanks for this


    • Erin September 1, 2014 / 7:06 pm

      Thanks, Ellen. Life of Pi will stay with me forever, particularly Pi’s attraction to religion of all sorts.


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