Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Rereading Never Cry Wolf by Farley Mowat

Never Cry WolfIt is a long way in time and space from the bathroom of my Grandmother Mowat's house in Oakville, Ontario, to the bottom of a wolf den in the Barren Lands of central Keewatin, and I have no intention of retracing the entire road which lies between. Nevertheless, there must be a beginning to any tale; and the story of my sojourn amongst the wolves begins properly in Granny's bathroom.

"More than a half-century ago the naturalist Farley Mowat to investigate why wolves were killing arctic caribou. Mowat's account of the summer he lived in the frozen tundra alone -- studying the wolf population and developing a deep affection for the wolves (who were of no threat to caribou or man) -- is today celebrated as a classic of nature writing, at once a tale of remarkable adventures and indelible record of myths and magic of wolves."

I'd of course read this book before, but not for a long time, so I wanted to revisit it. It's an amazing work of writing in many ways. At the time, it was ground-breaking, but it is still entertaining for those who already know that wolves are not the vicious, savage creatures that they were once thought to be. They're quite the contrary, and this book reveals that. Mowat's observations of the wolves and their behavior is fascinating, entertaining, and extremely important. I do think that some of what Mowat tells of might be fictitious, but the message is true, and probably he wrote down what basically happened to him. What did annoy me was that on the front cover, the book is described as "the amazing true story of life among Arctic Wolves", which automatically makes the reader doubt the book's authenticity. That really could have been left out. But unlike Mutant Message Down Under, Never Cry Wolf is, I think, a work of nonfiction. Though I'd be curious to know other opinions, or if there's anything in the book that is clearly fiction. 

In his introduction, Mowat mentions that he initially intended the book to be a satire of sorts - a satire of bureaucracy and government, but then the book turned into much more. It turned into a defense of wolves. But some of that satirical humor still definitely shines throughout the book. Mowat is given detailed instructions about his mission, all of which are utterly senseless and turn out to have no practical bearing whatsoever. He also writes with humor about his first encounters with the wolves, and having his ego taken down a notch. 

In other words, Never Cry Wolf is a fascinating book in many respects. The science element of it isn't difficult to understand, and great for a layman. There's also humor, and wonderful description. The sad thing is that even today, more than half a century after this work was published and more research has supported it, is that many people still view wolves as bloodthirsty killers, who maliciously kill caribou. Guess what? The only animal as far as I know that kills things for fun quite frequently is humans. We're the bloodthirsty killers, not the wolves. I think part of it is that in most fairy tales, the wolf is the villain: "The Three Little Pigs", "Red Riding Hood", "The Boy Who Cried Wolf" and many, many more. So right from when we're children, we learn that wolves are evil, which is absolutely untrue. It's awful. I'm going to stop my rant now. 

At any rate, Never Cry Wolf is a must-read; it's funny, entertaining, and groundbreaking. I would highly recommend it. 

Read Never Cry Wolf:
  • if you like science writing
  • if you like wolves
246 pages. 
Very Good! I would recommend this book!

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