Farley Mowat, Author of “Never Cry Wolf,” Born (1921)

We all love wolves today, but that was not the case 50 years ago.  Wolves were thought to be ferocious predators that killed for fun as well as food.  Among the events that changed our thinking was the 1963 book, Never Cry Wolf, written by Farley Mowat.

Mowat was born in Ontario on May 12, 1921 (died 2014).   The family moved often, as his librarian father sought work farther and farther west.  Their mode of transport was as unique as their son would become:  they traveled in a ship’s cabin attached to a Model T truck frame that they called Rolling Home. They settled in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, during the Depression.  Mowat became a lover of wild nature, even keeping a rattlesnake as a pet.  He visited the Arctic with an uncle when he was 15, fueling a lifelong interest in Arctic environments and peoples.  He fought in World War 2, including serving behind enemy lines in the Netherlands to coordinate a food drop that saved thousands of lives.

After the war, Mowat’s career as a storytelling author began.  In all, he wrote 45 books that have been translated into 52 languages and sold 17 million copies.  His books range from whimsical tales about animals for children to hard-hitting exposes of the treatment of Native Peoples in the Arctic.  Topics for his work ranged from the life of gorilla biologist Dian Fossey to the exploitation of whales in Newfoundland, to tales of his war experiences to the general slaughter of all animals species.

Farley Mowat being inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame in 2010 (photo by Tabercil)

He considered his work to lie between non-fiction and fiction, stating that he was suspicious of facts because they could be used to distort more fundamental truths.  He wrote, “Having eschewed the purely factual approach, I was not willing to go to the other extreme and take the easy way out by writing fiction.  My métier lay somewhere in between what was then a grey void between fact and fiction.”

His most famous book is Never Cry Wolf, published in 1963.  In 1946, he spent a season as a lone biologist, dropped in the wilderness of northern Manitoba to study the life of wolves.  His account portrayed wolves as gentle, loving animals that cared for their young and killed only what they needed to eat.  And they often survived on mice (which Womat tried himself and quite liked).  He described one adult male wolf as the ideal father:  “Conscientious to a fault, thoughtful of others, and affectionate within reasonable bounds, he was the kind of father whose idealized image appears in many wistful books of human family reminiscences.”

His books were either loved or hated.  Obviously, most peopled loved his work as he became one of Canada’s most popular authors.  But others criticized his casual relationship with the facts, naming him not Farley Mowat, but “Hardly Know-it.”  He was once denied entry into the United States, in 1985, because he was considered a subversive.

Nevertheless, his work on many topics—wolves, commercial whaling, treatment of native peoples—helped establish and motivate the modern environmental movement.  Elizabeth May, a Canadian environmental politician, noted that Mowat “…was telling stories that made you laugh out loud, but which made you see that the natural world was a big part of who we are.”

References:

Austen, Ian.  2014.  Farley Mowat, Author, Dies at 92; a Champion of the Far North.  The New York Times, May 7, 2014.  Available at:  https://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/08/world/americas/farley-mowat-canadian-writer-and-wildlife-advocate-dies-at-92.html.  Accessed May 9, 2018.

Historic Canada.  Farley Mowat.  Available at:  http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/farley-mowat/.  Accessed May 9, 2018.

Parini, Jay.  2014.  Farley Mowat obituary.  The Guardian, 8 May 2014.  Available at:  https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/may/08/farley-mowat.  Accessed May 9, 2018.

This Month in Conservation

January 1
NEPA Enacted (1970)
January 2
Bob Marshall Born (1901)
January 3
Canaveral National Seashore Created (1975)
January 4
The Real James Bond Born (1900)
January 5
National Bird Day
January 6
Wild Kingdom First Airs (1963)
January 7
Gerald Durrell Born (1925)
January 8
Alfred Russel Wallace Born (1823)
January 9
Muir Woods National Monument Created (1908)
January 10
National Houseplant Appreciation Day
January 11
Aldo Leopold Born (1887)
January 12
National Trust of England Established (1895)
January 13
MaVynee Betsch, the Beach Lady, Born (1935)
January 14
Martin Holdgate Born (1931)
January 15
British Museum Opened (1795)
January 16
Dian Fossey Born (1932)
January 17
Benjamin Franklin, America’s First Environmentalist, Born (1706)
January 18
White Sands National Monument Created (1933)
January 19
Yul Choi, Korean Environmentalist, Born (1949)
January 19
Acadia National Park Established (1929)
January 20
Penguin Appreciation Day
January 21
The Wilderness Society Founded (1935)
January 22
Iraq Sabotages Kuwaiti Oil Fields (1991)
January 23
Sweden Bans CFCs in Aerosols (1978)
January 24
Baden-Powell Publishes “Scouting for Boys” (1908)
January 25
Badlands National Park Established (1939)
January 26
Benjamin Franklin Disses the Bald Eagle (1784)
January 27
National Geographic Society Incorporated (1888)
January 28
Bermuda Petrel, Thought Extinct for 300 Years, Re-discovered (1951)
January 29
Edward Abbey, author of “Desert Solitaire,” Born (1927)
January 30
England Claims Antarctica (1820)
January 31
Stewart Udall, Secretary of Interior, Born (1920)
January February March April May June July August September October November December