Iowa Alumni Magazine | June 2005 | Reviews

Never Cry Wolf by Farley Mowat

By Carol Harker
Iowa Alumni Magazine editor Carol Wilcox recalls Farley Mowat's Never Cry Wolf (Back Bay Books), which remains one of her favorite books three decades after she first read it.

What’s it about?

The book recounts naturalist Mowat’s foray into the Canadian Barrens, where he’s on assignment from his country’s Wildlife Service. People have complained that there aren’t enough caribou to shoot, and the House of Commons blames that on wolves. The pressure is on to mount a widespread slaughter of the nasty carnivores, but legislators need to distance themselves from what could be construed as a controversial decision to extirpate the species. In other words, they need scientific proof that wolves’ dietary habits have decimated the caribou herds. It’s Mowat’s mission to provide that evidence.

Why did it have such an impact on you?

Mowat’s adventures in this book are always good for a healthy giggle. In rereading the book recently, I found myself snorting in helpless laughter at the author’s encounters with a family of wolves who turn out to be, in some cases, more playful, more intelligent, and more civilized than the scientist himself. As he debunks misconceptions about wolves that are probably not as prevalent now as they were in 1963 when Never Cry Wolf was published, Mowat uses humor to reveal the nutty political correctness behind his mission and the arrogance of his own species.

When did you first read it, and how many times since have you enjoyed it?

I first read Never Cry Wolf in the late 1960s and have gone back to it at least twice since. The book prompted me to read several of Mowat’s books, all of which are beautifully written, but not all of which are funny.

What would you tell people to encourage them to read it?

I might recommend Never Cry Wolf to a teenager as a memorable adventure story. As a junior high student, my son liked the book immensely and went on to devour other Mowat titles. In talking to friends in the biology department here at the UI, I’ve mentioned that Farley Mowat is a scientist so confident in his own perspective that he’s happily gone his own way in the field, serving as a sort of lightning rod among naturalists throughout a long career. He’s made biology exciting and accessible and he’s created an enviable following of enthusiasts.