Monday, March 17, 2014

Book Review: "Never Cry Wolf" by Farley Mowat

I will admit it, I didn't realize that this was a book. However, I knew this story well because the VHS of the movie that was based off of this book was in heavy rotation during my childhood. There's man's naked bum in the movie, which was so scandalous (and hilarious) to a young Wesley. Anyway, I digress...

This is the true story of Farley Mowat and his time in the middle of the wilderness. Farley is a biologist, nearly fresh out of school and since he had "nothing in particular to offer in the biological marketplace..I ended up working for the government". (His relationship with a few of the government agencies were rocky from the start, things do not improve as time goes on.)

Farley's unenviable assignment is spending a year, by himself, in the middle of the Canadian wilderness. The Canadian government is concerned about the declining caribou population, and (wrongly *cough cough*) suspect that wolves are to blame. Farley is to observe the wolves, how wolves interact with the caribou, and write report after asinine report about his observations.

The expedition has a rocky start: reluctant pilots, left behind supplies, no long range communication, no navigation (it was the 40s, so it's not like there were tons of options), only a third of a canoe, and no beer. (He manages to get some beer before he sets off.) However, Farley does eventually arrive. And when I say arrive, the pilot just puts him down somewhere in the generalish vicinity, even though there's no signs of wolves or anything that made this area particularly habitable.

Yeah...this looks good.

He eventually finds an observes a wolf family unit. There's a female, a male, their pups, and an older male. Though he knows that he should try to remain as unattached as possible Farley gives them human names. Mom and Dad wolf are George and Angeline, the single older male wolf in Uncle Albert.He is amazed by the routineness of their schedules and the roles that they play. Every night George and Albert go for a hunt while Angeline and the pups sleep. They get back early, share the food they find, and then sleep while the pups and Angeline are not in the den. Though there are a lot of times where Angeline clearly needed a break and so Albert would roughhouse and wrestle with the pups for hours while she got some time just for herself. He began to recognize the different howls that they used, or when their behaviors were out of the ordinary. Like there were a few times where the boys were late coming back from hunting and Farley watched Angeline pace nervously.

He finds that the wolves are not the reason for the caribou decline. While they do occasionally take down a caribou they are always the old,sick or weak ones. Their main source of food seems to be mice, hares and other smaller creatures. (You discover these things when you have to analyze wolf poop for hours on end, not a job I'd want!)

Farley is not a lone this whole time. He meets Mike and Ootek, local Inuit men. They and their mutual family members are the only other humans for a great distance. Through broken English and broken Inuit they can communicate well enough. Ootek provides a lot of assistance helping Farley to understand the different habits and behaviors that the wolves exhibit.

This book is not without it's critics. Some say Farley was a bad scientist, that the book is mostly fictionalized, that he plagiarized other people's research. Honestly, I don't care. If the book was 100% fiction it would still be a wonderful read.

I give this book a 3.5 out of 5 stars. Though Farley is a scientist, the book is easy to read and is entertaining. He has an easy, dry humor that I really appreciated. (Like the story from his childhood of putting catfish in the toilet to keep them alive overnight and how it scared is grandma nearly to death). I recommend this book,but I also recommend the movie. I think that the movie really helps to show the starkness and the isolation of the situation that Farley was in, in a way that the book doesn't quite capture.


  1. I'm going to have to check this book out. My favorite book growing up was Julie of the Wolves (and subsequent sequels) and this sounds like the grown up version. Those books started my life long interest in both wolves and Alaska/Canada tundra. Not that I'd actually want to go live up there and do what he was doing....

    1. Im all for being an armchair biologist! I was constantly amazed at how smart and clever the wolves were, we humans think we got all the brains in the animal world and we are so wrong!


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