Yann Martel vists Calgary
Yann Martel, author of Life of Pi, recently visited Calgary and discussed his newest novel, The High Mountains of Portugal, and why he likes putting animals in his stories.Associate Professor Harry Vandervlist, from the University of Calgary, interviewed Martel on stage at the Calgary Public Library’s John Dutton Theatre.
Associate Professor Harry Vandervlist, from the University of Calgary, interviewed Martel on stage at the Calgary Public Library’s John Dutton Theatre.
The two men both sat in lounge chairs, exuding an informal, yet informative atmosphere.
“Since Life of Pi, I’ve been very interested in animals,” Martel said.
He was also adamant that he wasn’t just trying to copy the success of Life of Pi.
“We share the planet with animals. Why shouldn’t we share our movies?”
Martel isn’t planning on giving up this trend anytime soon, for his next book will feature a“magical animal”.
The High Mountains of Portugal features animals as well, including a chimpanzee.
The High Mountains of Portugal consists of three interconnected stories, each one taking place in Portugal in different time periods across the 20th century.
The book explores issues of faith, loss, and even evolution.
Despite the book being made up of three stories, Martel said he considers the entire work to be a novel.
Martel explained why he often associates animals with religion in his books.
“Animals are conveyors of wonder,” he said. “Religion, meanwhile, is a depository of wonder.”
Martel said this is the main reason why animals are highly prevalent in both religion and children’s literature.
One example he gave of animals in religion is the story of Noah’s ark. Hinduism also features many animals, such as the god, Ganesh, who has an elephant head.
“When you’re with your dog, just invert the letters.”
Martel also said Jews partly define themselves in their relationship to animals. Specifically, Jews separate animals into clean verses non-clean categories, refusing to eat certain animals like pigs.
Martel said that animals, like God, love people unconditionally, even if they are beaten by their owners.
People also love animals very deeply, he’s never heard of owners divorcing their dogs.
“People are more devoted to their dogs than they are to their spouses.”
Out of all religions, however, Martel said Christianity has the lowest amount of animals, especially in the New Testament, where animals are only there for symbolic purposes.
Martel said animals work well in allegories because people so often project things onto them.
Fittingly, Martel has often been asked about what Richard Parker, the tiger in Life of Pi represents.
“And you think I would of thought of that myself.”
Martel said readers create their own version of the book inside their head and that they often pick out things he never saw himself, such as how the tiger in Life of Pi could represent God.
Born in Salamanca, Spain, in 1963, Martel studied philosophy at Trent University, and worked numerous odd jobs, including dishwasher, security guard and tree planter. He then took up writing at the age of 27.
He had this to say about the intelligence of animals: “We’re rapidly destroying our planet. Animals live in equilibrium, though it’s a rough equilibrium.”