{Book Review} Never Cry Wolf by Farley Mowat

Rarely does a book skyrocket into my top 5 favorites within the first twenty pages or so, but Never Cry Wolf certainly did. Farley Mowat is a Canadian-born author of several tomes, and Never Cry Wolf was written based on his purported experiences as a biologist for the Canadian government. In the late 1940s, Mowat was sent into the Arctic wilderness to research the relationship between wolves and caribou, against claims that wolves were decimating caribou populations.

There’s a lot of argument over whether Mowat’s book is fiction or non-fiction. Mowat was certainly sent by the government to study wolves and did some research, indeed, but the absolute facts are debated by Mowat and his opposers. To be perfectly honest, I don’t care if it was total non-fiction. In fact, not knowing makes the book better for me.

In the story, Mowat gets dropped off at a nondescript location in the middle of an ice field by a renegade pilot with a cargo-load of supplies procured by the government. He manages to find a pack of wolves and sets up camp for the summer, studying their habits. The wolves come to know his presence as non-threatening and he’s able to record a good deal of their basic behaviors, including their habit of subsisting on small mammals like mice.

Regardless of its truth content, the book had ramifications in North America: after reading it, many people opened their eyes to the plight of the Gray Wolf and started standing up for the species. A movie was made in the ’80s (which does NOT follow the book as well as I’d have liked) which got more people interested. The Canadian government was apparently angry at the allusions made by Mowat in the book (that they were interested in exterminating wolves) but, honestly, what government is really doing what’s best for the species? I’m not convinced, but maybe I’m just jaded.

I love the book because of Mowat’s writing style. It absolutely burst my heart at the seams between out-loud laughter and crying. He is hands-down one of the funniest writers I’ve ever read, between his descriptions of his harrowing adventure and self-depracation. When he suspects the wolves of filling their bellies with mice, he sets out to prove his own theory by attempting to subsist on mice himself, and includes a recipe for creamed mouse. He also spends days looking for the wolves and gives up, but stops in the forest to urinate. As he drops trow and turns around, the alpha pair is seated politely behind him, watching with curiosity. Startled and scared, he begins screaming at them about being peeping toms and the pair scurries off with their ears back.

It’s hard to describe Mowat’s writing in my own writing, but it’s a short book and one I really didn’t want to put down. It’s good to know going in that the literal “truth” of the story is up for debate, but as I said, that didn’t change how I felt about the book. Animal lovers will definitely enjoy this book, but Mowat is such a splendid story teller that I don’t think you have to be in love with wolves to enjoy it. Although, by the end of it, you may find yourself in love with them after all.

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Posted on December 5, 2010, in Book Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I watched the movie in the 80’s…but never read the book. I own it, but – haven’t taken the time to read it yet…since the 80’s were a while ago, and I was a kid, I forget most of it anyway…thanks for the reminder!

  2. I watched the movie also, back in the day. I really liked it. I’m sure I watched it many times. Never read the book. But that will shortly be remedied. I’m not much of a reader – I do most of my reading via CD while driving to work. But I do like to have something on hand for cold, gloomy, winter days.

  3. I think you’ll like it – it’s entertaining and educational, and it’s also a really quick read (especially if you get hooked like I did!).

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