by Farley Mowat
Never Cry Wolf is presented as the true account of Mowat’s time in the Canadian subarctic in the late ’40s, sent as a government researcher in order to investigate the impacts wolves were having on declining caribou populations. However, I’m led to believe from parallel reading that “true” may be more than a tad misleading, but I suppose I shouldn’t dwell too strongly on it. The author’s intention was to push back against popular opinion in Canada in the ’60s that vilified wolves, of a government that promoted the slaughter of what he presented here as innocent animals.
The structure of Never Cry Wolf put me very much in mind of Ronald Wright’s A Short History of Progress, and this probably lends itself to a significant part of the explanation of why Mowat’s book was so effective in its delivery. The book starts by concisely making the context clear––presenting the prevailing wisdom of the time and explaining the devastating impacts this was having on the species––and explaining the crux of his argument: that wolves are no real threat to us or the caribou, that humans are to blame for the decline. The book moves into the presentation of evidence convincingly suggesting that these beasts are noble, beautiful, and mostly harmless, and then we’re hit with the cruelties that Man actively inflicts upon them out of superstition, selfishness, or fear, and it left my blood boiling in the end.
Now, if Never Cry Wolf contains little to no connection to the author’s actual experiences, there’s validity to the criticism heaped upon Mowat’s perfidy for presenting a work of fiction as he did. However, the work still has its merit. Fiction or non-fiction, the story is well-told, and I feel that the message presented––denouncing Man’s continual cycle of destroying the natural world and shifting the blame in order to justify further destruction––is ultimately virtuous. Plus, he digs in with an acerbic wit, making a great deal of the book much funnier than I expected, and it all comes together to make something immensely readable and emotionally investing.