In a 2002 interview with PBS, Martel said "I was sort of looking for a story, not only with a small 's' but sort of with a capital 'S' – something that would direct my life." He spoke of being lonely and needing direction in his life, and found that writing the novel met this need.
Richard Parker and shipwreck narratives
The name of Martel's tiger, Richard Parker, was inspired by a character in Edgar Allan Poe's nautical adventure novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket (1838). In this book, Richard Parker is a cabin boy who is stranded and eventually cannibalized on a lifeboat (and there is a dog aboard who is named Tiger). The author also had in mind another occurrence of the name, in the famous legal case R v Dudley and Stephens (1884) where a shipwreck again results in the cannibalism of a cabin boy named Richard Parker. A third Richard Parker drowned in the sinking of the Francis Spaight in 1846, described by author Jack London, and later the cabin boy (not Richard Parker) was cannibalized.
Having read about these events, Yann Martel thought, "So many victimized Richard Parkers had to mean something."
Martel has mentioned that a book review he read of Brazilian author Moacyr Scliar's 1981 novella Max and the Cats accounts in part for his novel's premise. Scliar's story describes a Jewish-German refugee crossing the Atlantic Ocean with a jaguar in his boat. Scliar said that he was perplexed that Martel "used the idea without consulting or even informing me," and indicated that he was reviewing the situation before deciding whether to take any action in response. After talking with Martel, Scliar elected not to pursue the matter. A dedication to Scliar "for the spark of life" appears in the author's note of Life of Pi. Literary reviews have described the similarities between Life of Pi and Max and the Cats as superficial. Reviewer Peter Yan wrote: "Reading the two books side-by-side, one realizes how inadequate bald plot summaries are in conveying the unique imaginative impact of each book," and noted that Martel's distinctive narrative structure is not found in Scliar's novella. The themes of the books are also dissimilar, with Max and the Cats being an allegory for Nazism. In Life of Pi, 211 of 354 pages are devoted to Pi's experience in the lifeboat, compared to Max and the Cats, in which 17 of its 99 pages depict time spent in a lifeboat.