Thursday, April 8, 2010

Farley Mowat

Farley Mowat's name pops up fairly frequently here on Making Owls Cool  - and I've mentioned that the blog title is a bit of a tribute to him - but I've been negligent in dedicating a post to talking about him. Until now.

Farley Mowat is a conservationist, naturalist, and one of Canada's finest writers. Now nearly ninety-years-old, Mowat's literary career stretches behind him for over a half-century. He's a prolific writer and I can't say I've exhausted his catalog. I'll give some brief descriptions of the works I've read at the end of this post.

Mowat used his stature as a writer almost exclusively to promoting issues of conservation of wildlife and protecting First Nation people, primarily in the Arctic. His memoirs are classic nature writing that explore the relationships between people and animals, though some also address his time as a soldier in WWII. Among his broad range of topics are his dog, his owls, wolves, Vikings, whales, Inuit people, Dian Fossey of Gorillas in the Mist fame, and the people of Newfoundland. He's a member of the Green Party of Canada and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society named a ship after him and he's donated money to that organization. If you're not familiar with the Sea Shepherds, they're pretty bad-ass and you should check them out.

Of course, like all public figures, he's not without some controversy. His book Never Cry Wolf has been attacked for being scientifically inaccurate, though Mowat has a degree in biology. In 1985, he was denied entry into the United States when he was supposed to speak in California. It made a lot of people angry and he was eventually granted limited entry, which is declined. The reason for his denial was unclear.

That's a very brief overview of the man, so let me give you a brief overview of his works that I've read. There's a lot more that I haven't read and look forward to reading.

People of the Deer (1952) - People of the Deer recounts time Mowat spent with the Ihalmiut Inuit tribe in northern Canada. The tribe had been nearly driven out of existence and the government didn't even acknowledge they were there. Mowat followed their way of life as migratory caribou hunters and exposed ways in which interlopers on their land were ruining their ancient culture. The book helped raise awareness and government support for previously neglected people.

The Dog Who Wouldn't Be (1957) - This book is a memoir about Mowat and his relationship with his dog, Mutt. It recalls Mowat's boyhood growing up on the prairies of Saskatchewan. Mutt is just that - a mutt - but he's a dog with myriad idiosyncrasies and questionable luck. I believe every dog would make a great literary hero in the right authorial hands - they often seem to believe themselves heroic -and in The Dog Who Wouldn't Be Mutt gets his chance to shine. There's one sad point here, though. The target audience of The Dog Who Wouldn't Be is older children and adults, which meant that I read it after I read Owls in the Family, which is a children's book. Owls in the Family ends with an optimistic nod toward the future of Mowat's owl friends, but The Dog Who Wouldn't Be reveals what actually happened to them. Needless to say, I was very, very sad about that part of the book.

Owls in the Family (1961) - This book is, as some of you may already know, the inspiration for the title of my blog. I read this in 1986 and I've been an owl devotee ever since. Like The Dog Who Wouldn't Be, this book recounts Mowat's childhood on the Canadian prairies and his adoption of two great horned owls, Wol and Weeps. Like Mutt, the owls are full of personality and make fantastic protagonists. Poor Mutt is often the target of their antics. Mowat describes his extensive critter collection, which made me intensely jealous as a kid, though I had a respectable critter collection myself.

Never Cry Wolf (1963) - Though the science and scope of this book is contested, Mowat's depiction of wolves is undeniably sympathetic and does a great deal to dispell myth about the species. In the book, the watched a wolf family through breeding season and keeps a journal about what he sees.

1 comment:

Angelo R. said...

Great writer, great post. I definitely need to read more of his work.