As part of a “Back to School Reading Challenge” for the Goodreads CanadianContent group, I revisited Farley Mowat’s Never Cry Wolf. Having read this book in either grade 7 or grade 8, it was an interesting trip down memory lane. Our class had also watched the movie although I had clearly forgotten many details.
Farley Mowat, author, environmentalist and activist, travelled North of Churchill, Manitoba in 1948. His assignment was to study the declining population of Caribou for the Dominion Wildlife Service. He shared the challenges of his trip (flying North in a bush plane that could only hold so much weight and seemed to be held together creatively), setting up camp and living in the North. I have to cringe at the fact that he cooked and ate mice as part of his experiment to understand the diet of wolves and will certainly pass on the recipe for Souris a la Creme which calls for one dozen mice:
Souris A’ La Creme
One dozen fat mice
One cup white flour
One piece of sowbelly (fat salt pork or bacon)
Salt and pepper
Skin, gut and wash some fat mice without removing their heads. Cover them in a pot with ethyl alcohol and marinate 2 hours. Cut a piece of salt pork or sowbelly into small dice and cook it slowly to extract the fat. Drain the mice, dredge them thoroughly in a mixture of flour, pepper, and salt, and fry slowly in the rendered fat for about 5 minutes. Add a cup of alcohol and 6 to 8 cloves, cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Prepare a cream sauce, transfer the sautéed mice to it, and warm them in it for about 10 minutes before serving.
He shared his experience living close to a family of wolves, watching their hunting patterns, their parenting skills and eating habits. As he completed his experiments, it seemed that the wolves were witnessing his behaviours as well. As I read the book, I did remember the parts of him urinating to mark his territory like the wolves and following them naked through the bush after a swim. I certainly did not recall the part about drinking Moose Brand Beer “liberally adulterated with anti-freeze alcohol”!
While Mowat is credited with challenging the stereotypes relating to the behaviour of wolves, there are certainly stereotypes about indigenous people in his book. He refers to the men he meets as “Eskimos”. He describes being surprised at the knowledge of his companion Ootek who he described as “an unlettered and untutored Eskimo” despite his expertise and keen understanding of the lifestyles of the wolves that inhabited his home area. Although this might have been typical of the late 1940s it would certainly be a point of discussion and education to myth bust for today’s students.
There has also been controversy surrounding the autobiographical nature of this book about Mowat’s experience. Some have referred to his book as fiction revering his storytelling ability. It seems that he was sent North as part of a group 3 scientists and there have been claims that not all of the research Mowat’s first hand experience. Regardless he has shared knowledge and helped Canadians to learn about the wolves of Northern Canada.
It was enjoyable to reread Never Cry Wolf. This Order of Canada recipient (1981) was born
in Belleville in 1921 and died in Port Hope in 2014 at the age of 92 years old. He is an alumni of the University of Toronto and has published 19 books. I have read and reviewed a couple of his books including Lost in the Barrens (which would be a fabulous book for young adults to study and learn more about the Barrens) and Owls in the Family (which is a terrific book for teachers to read to elementary school-aged children). He is published in 52 languages and 17 million copies of his books have been sold across the world. Farley Mowat has left a legacy of reading which helps individuals to learn more about Canada, our environment and the wildlife of his country.