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Captivating Creatures: Zoos, Marketing, and the Commercial Success of Yann Martel’s Life of Pi

Tanja Schwalm


The visually striking tiger on the cover of Man Booker Prize-winning novel Life of Pi, originally published in 2001, highlights the role of exotic, charismatic animals for the marketing of fiction to a world-wide readership. Deploying zoo and circus animal imagery, Life of Pi emphasises commercially attractive animals in packaging and content. Indeed, the notion that animal entertainment within zoos especially is not only attractive, but also beneficial to the animals themselves, reassures consumers and alleviates feelings of guilt. Life of Pi succeeds commercially for many of the same reasons that zoos profit from exhibiting non-human animals. It portrays a mythology of “good zoos” as a kind of Ark, ostensibly underpinned by science and research, and thus represents a deeply conservative reaction to growing calls that for ethical and environmental reasons we need to rethink our consumption-based relationship to animals. This paper examines some of the novel’s arguments in favour of zoos and discusses the ways in which a “story with animals is the better story.” This paper makes use of an activist approach to literature and starts from the premise that an Animal Studies approach necessarily takes the interests of animals and their subjectivity as the central concern


Life of Pi; Yann Martel; zoo; entertainment; charismatic; exotic; Animal Studies; Critical Animal Studies; literary criticism; Marketing

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.7358/rela-2014-001-schw

Relations. Beyond Anthropocentrism
Registered by Tribunale di Milano (04/05/2012 n. 211)
Online ISSN 2280-9643 - Print ISSN 2283-3196

Executive Editor: Francesco Allegri
Associate Editor: Matteo Andreozzi 
Review Editors: Sofia Bonicalzi - Eleonora Adorni
Editorial Board:
Ralph R. Acampora - Carol J. Adams - Vilma Baricalla - Luisella Battaglia - Rod Bennison - Matthew R. Calarco - Piergiorgio Donatelli - William Grove-Fanning - Serenella Iovino - Luigi Lombardi Vallauri - Christoph Lumer - Joel MacClellan - Dario Martinelli - Roberto Marchesini - Alma Massaro - Barbara Muraca - Serpil Oppermann - Simone Pollo - Paola Sobbrio - Kim Stallwood - Sabrina Tonutti - Jessica Ullrich - Federico Zuolo