Never Cry Wolf by Farley Mowat – Book Report
For my book report, I have chosen the novel Never Cry Wolf by Farley Mowat. In this report, I will give a brief summary of the novel as well as why I have chosen it for my report. Finally, I will give my reactions to the novel with regards to its analysis of the place of human beings in nature, whether the destiny of humans and nature is intertwined, and how nature is regarded by the different religious and political philosophies demonstrated in the novel.
Never Cry Wolf is based upon the true story of the author’s experiences during two years spent as a biologist studying a family of wolves in northern Canada during the mid-nineteen fifties. When Mowat is sent on his expedition his goal is to bring back proof of the wolves decimating effect on the northern herds of Caribou. After arriving at the remote location, he finds a group of wolves and begins his research. He then discovers the different peculiarities of the wolves and finds that they are more than the savage and merciless hunters that he had previously believed them to be. He discovers that they are in fact a very efficient and resourceful and have their own distinctive culture. For example, he discovers that they in fact have a symbiotic relationship with the caribou in that they keep the caribou population strong by hunting down only the sick and weaker members of the herd. This leads to a situation where the strongest caribou survive and thus the herd is made stronger. As well they have their own social orders that ensure peaceful co-existence with one another instead of being reduced to fighting amongst themselves. Before Mowat’s excursion conventional wisdom thought that that was the only interaction that the wolves were capable of. In his group, he finds a monogamous pair who are raising their litter with assistance from another male wolf who Mowat terms to be an “uncle”. His previous assumptions which portrayed the wolves as cold heated killers who lived only for the hunt is challenged as he observes these animals play and interact within their environment his previous assumptions about the role that these animals play in nature. His attitude metamorphosis’ from one of disdain and contempt to one of genuine respect and admiration.
I chose this novel for study instead of Siddhartha because I felt that this novel speaks more directly to me. I felt this way firstly, because of the location of the novel, northern Canada, in which I travelled for a summer, and secondly because I enjoy spending time in the outdoors. This meant that I could more easily identify the setting and thus relate better to the author’s feelings and perceptions. Meanwhile, Siddhartha was set in India and my mind was dated and unreal humankind (society) seems today to have more of a desire and a need to get back to nature and the simple life. The spirit of peace that emanates from Mowat’s book allows one to focus on what is possible when one has time to reflect In this I mean that Never Cry Wolf seemed to hold a more meaningful message for modern times. As well I found the style of writing in the Mowat novel to be clearer than in Siddhartha. These were some of the factors that combined to produce a situation where Never Cry Wolf captured my attention more than Siddhartha. It was for these reasons that I chose the novel by Farley Mowat.
In my opinion, Never Cry Wolf placed humans in the role of intruders as far as nature is concerned. Mowat cites several instances where humans violate nature and represent a threat to its sanctity. Even though this threat is not reciprocated by nature, humans continue to infringe upon nature and then deny the consequences of their actions. Two prevalent examples of this occur: when Mowat accidentally wanders into the wolves den when the wolves’ are there, and again when he discovers a herd of deer that have been slaughtered by hunters. Both examples show humans intruding upon nature and using it for their own purposes.
In the first example, Mowat decides to explore the wolves’ den without realizing that they are still inside. Once inside he discovers that they are still there and he fears that he is going to be killed by them. Even though he is an intruder the wolves take no action against his presence and he manages to escape. The most disturbing aspect of this event is afterwards when he describes the rage and fear that overcame him at the thought of having been at their mercy:
“I sat down on a stone and shakily lit a cigarette, becoming aware as I did that I was no longer frightened. Instead, an irrational rage possessed me. If I had had my rifle I believe that I might have reacted in brute fury and tried to kill both wolves.” (P. 175)
In the second incident, Mowat illustrates how humans brutally use nature for their own benefit and pleasure. The situation occurs when a trapper comes to Mowat to show him “proof” of the savage and merciless ways of wolves. Following the trapper, they come to a spot where approximately 50 deer have been slaughtered. However, he quickly finds out that the deaths were the result of human hunters. Of the herd only two or three had been touched after the kill, their heads taken home as trophies. Despite the evidence, Mowat is unable to convince people of the true nature of the predators and in response to the incidence, the bounty on wolves is raised by twenty dollars.
Overall I would say that Mowat’s book makes the point that the destiny of humans and animals are closely entwined. Several times in the novel he illustrates how each affects the other. As well he also demonstrates how humans can still learn from nature. One example of this
occurs when Mowat’s food supplies run low and he adapts the fishing tactics of the wolves to catch fish.
The final aspect of Never Cry Wolf that I will examine is how nature is regarded by the various religious and political philosophies demonstrated in the novel. The two different philosophies which are demonstrated are one which are diametrically opposed. The first philosophy is that of mainstream western culture. This philosophy views nature as something to be feared and ultimately conquered. Throughout the book, there are examples where people with this viewpoint attempt to dominate nature or at least attempt to impose human moral judgment upon it. This is especially prevalent in people’s attitudes towards wolves. They see the wolves bloodthirsty, merciless killers, who are pillaging the caribou herds for mere blood sport. And yet those people fail to recognize that the true slaughterers are the human predators who blatantly overhunt the caribou herds. For instance, Mowat finds that conservatively, trappers kill a combined 112 000 deer every year but still blame the wolf for the caribous’ decimation.
The other philosophy demonstrated in Never Cry Wolf is that of the native Americans of northern Canada. Their philosophy, as presented by Mowat is one which views humans as only being a fraction of the total importance of nature. In their culture, they are taught to have reverence for nature and
to be efficient in their use of natural resources. This philosophy causes them to see wolves, not as bloodthirsty menaces, but as animals simply fulfilling their role in the natural chain.
In conclusion, I believe that Never Cry Wolf illustrates the various beliefs that different people have about nature and the environment. Mowat also effectively demonstrates how these beliefs influence people’s interaction with nature. Finally, Mowat leaves no doubt that humans do have a large and sometimes traumatic impact upon nature. However, with his experience changing Mowat’s own change of thinking, we see that humans can correct the error of their humanistic thinking. This can particularly be seen in Mowat’s closing sentences…
“I thought of Angeline and her pup cowering at the bottom of the den where they had taken refuge from the thundering apparition of the aircraft, and I was shamed.” (P.175)