Saturday, February 20, 2016

Book review: "Never Cry Wolf" by Farley Mowat

I didn't expect "Never Cry Wolf" to make me laugh so much.

The cover on the edition I read featured a serious-faced adult wolf  shepherding a pup through a grass-and-rock landscape. On the back, an excerpt from a review called the book "an intimate casebook in wolf sociology." There was nothing there that shouted "funny."

Also, in my mind, I confused this book with Jack London's "Call of the Wild," a not-very-funny story of suffering, struggle and death among Alaskan sled dogs.

But "Never Cry Wolf," a 1963 book by Farley Mowat, finds plenty of room for humor.

"Never Cry Wolf" is Farley Mowat's description of his year studying wolves in the barren wilds of Canada at the behest of the government. Trappers and others living in the northern lands had claimed that bloodthirsty wolves were devastating the caribou population, so Mowat was sent to assess the situation.

Mowat finds his rigid, and sometimes clueless, government overseers to be ripe targets for sarcasm. Later, he finds that the Eskimos he encounters have difficulty fathoming his peculiar research (who boils mouse skeletons?).

There are great moments. There are the residents of Churchill, Manitowba, who find Mowat's story of heading into the wilderness to live with wolves such a ludicrous idea that they conclude he's really a CIA spy. There are the puzzled reaction of Eskimos trying to figure out why Mowat is dissecting the feces of animals. There's the image of a naked Mowat chasing wolfs through the grassy hills, alarming local natives who figured that the white man -- once again -- had lost his mind.

Observing courting and sex by a male wolf he named Albert, the author is too much of gentleman to tell all :

"My notes on the rest of this incident are fully detailed but I fear they are too technical and full of scientific terminology to deserve a place in this book. I shall therefore content myself by summing up what followed with the observation that Albert certainly knew ho to make love."

For all the humor, there are touching moments as Mowat illuminates the personalities of the wolves. They're not mindless killing beasts, he finds, a conclusion that puts him at odds with his bosses. That part is not funny.


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