In the movie The Life of Pi, adapted from Yann Martel’s novel of the same name, we have a story within a story about a struggling writer who is looking for a story. Martel inserts himself into the plot as a blocked writer who has abandoned a novel he can’t finish, and is searching for a tale to tell. He is led to a man named Pi who provides the amazing story he needs to get himself writing again.
Much of Pi’s story involves being alone in a lifeboat, trying to survive while negotiating a relationship with the tiger who shares his vessel. On some level, I wonder if this story is an allegory for the life of a writer. Pi struggles alone on a sea of uncertainty, as writers do, and he experiences inspiration, exhaustion, exhilaration and hopelessness during his voyage. He must find a way to coexist with the tiger in his boat, or all will fail, just as writers have to learn to deal with mysterious and powerful forces of their own nature in order to produce their work and share it with others.
It may be that the frequent appearance of the blocked writer in fiction and movies is explained by the fact that the writer’s life resembles the “hero’s journey,” as described by Joseph Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces.
“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”
Writers are heroes, whether they are acclaimed or not, by virtue of taking on this daunting, lonely challenge and having the courage, curiosity and fortitude to stay in the boat with their tiger until the destination is reached and the story is shared.