In the book, Pi describes the hyena as evil incarnate. Richard Parker isn't exactly seen as "majestic" or anything, but still has a more dignified presence. Any particular reason for this?
Troper is going off of the movie, but the hatred of the hyena seemed to stem from the fact that it killed the zebra and orangutang. Pi seemed to see all of the animals as allies, so he basically saw the hyena as a traitor. Richard Parker killed the hyena after that, so Pi seemed to make some connection that the tiger carried out justice for the hyena's "crime" (yes they're animals, but it's through the perspective of a scared teenage boy). If one took the second story to be true, the hyena represented the cook, who was pragmatic to the point of being terrifying, and ended up killing Pi's mother. Richard Parker represented Pi, and so his killing of the cook was, again, justice. At least, that's the impression this troper got.
Tigers are pretty and hyenas are ugly. It's not hard to see a tiger as a Noble Demon and a hyena as some kind of savage ghoul.
How does the second story make sense if the cook is present in both versions? Surely Pi could have just omitted him in the first story.
That's how it happens in the film: the last time the cook is seen is on the lifeboat while it's still attached.
But that's the movie. In the book, there's a scene in which the ship's cook appears while Pi is blinded (due to health complications brought about by the wonderful place that is a boat in the middle of the tropical Pacific) and attempts to eat him, only to be eaten by Richard Parker. If Pi was trying to keep the story ambiguous, surely he'd just remove that part.
That wasn't the ship's cook in the book. It was just another Frenchman lost out at sea.
If the pools of water in the carnivorous island are connected to the ocean, how can they possibly be freshwater? (Even a river flowing into the ocean has its own flow functioning to keep the salt out, and the estuaries are usually a mixture.) And if they aren't connected, how does a fresh assortment of fish get in there every night to be dissolved and absorbed?
Whatever makes the water acidic at night seems to make it fresh by the morning. As for the fish, they swim through and from the "roots"of the island freely, until the acid kills them at night and their bodies float to the top.
Yes, but poison aside, the lack of salt in the water should be killing or injuring the fish, even during the day. Every day seems to bring a fresh lot of newly-arrived open-ocean fish, which are species suited to live in saltwater. Pi is happily drinking the pool water, so clearly it's freshwater. Setting aside the question of how the saltwater in the ocean isn't mixing with the freshwater in the still pools, the saltwater fish shouldn't stay healthy when they swim from one to the other, even during the day when the water is acid-free.
Perhaps some of the pools are brackish?
How on earth did a human tooth end up in the middle of a fruit? Does the carnivorous island function like a clam, forming "pearls" around objects it can't dissolve? Why?
First, it wasn't a fruit, it was actually a clump of leaves. Second, Pi brainstorms this and decides a man arrived on the island before him and lived there until he died. He died in a tree, and it slowly began absorbing his body until only its hardest parts were left, ending with his teeth.
The animals of the first story symbolize people in the second story. What does the carnivorous island symbolize, if anything?
That's up for debate. Some interpret it as his mother's body, which he was able to live of off. In the film, the island is shaped like a person lying down, and some people say it resembles a common portrayal of Vishnu, so it could be some religion thing.
At the end of the movie, the author says that he prefers the story with the tiger. Pi replies "So it is with God." So...what's he saying there? It seems to be "God is a story we tell ourselves because it sounds better than the truth." Or is there another way of looking at it?
The book is one that encourages readers to interpret the story as they wish. Many do interpret it as saying that religion is another way of telling the truth, except it's usually more fantastic.
And some would say that religion is a convenient lie rather than "another way of telling the truth." Either he was in the boat with a tiger, or he wasn't. One of those two stories had to be false, and the one with the tiger was less plausible (though it was more pleasant).
While others see it as the book saying that atheism/cynicism is a bleak, depressing outlook on life that people turn to because they won't accept a seemingly less plausible (yet, in context, equally possible and much more encouraging) explanation.
It should be noted that atheism and cynicism are not even remotely the same thing.
In both version of the story, Pi survives 277 days at sea. (Or maybe it was about 250 days, if he spent a while on that island.) Is that plausible? It seems to me that you'd run out of fresh water long before you reached the halfway point, even if the lifeboat was well-stocked.
He did run out. He still had his salt water filter, though that wasn't perfect because his nutrition was dropping.