Farley Mowat Essay - Mowat, Farley (McGill)

Mowat, Farley (McGill)


Farley (McGill) Mowat 1921–

Canadian novelist, short story writer, nonfiction writer, scriptwriter, and editor.

Mowat is a popular and prolific writer for young people and adults. A naturalist, Mowat is an avid lover of the Canadian wilderness, of animals, and of nature and peoples unspoiled by the corruption of technological advances. Much of his writing is based upon his own experiences and adventures.

Mowat has been criticized for mixing fiction with fact, especially in his controversial book People of the Deer, in which he blames the Canadian government and traders for the ruin of a once-flourishing Eskimo tribe. He apparently feels that a writer's message is more important than accurate data, for in defense of his "subjective nonfiction" he has said, "Never let facts interfere with the truth."

Perhaps Mowat's best-known work for young adults is Lost in the Barrens, which won the Governor General's Award in 1957. This work effectively portrays his concern with the individual's struggle against natural forces. For Mowat, true human dignity lies in the ability to achieve an existence in harmony with nature. Mowat has a special affinity for young adults who, he feels, are not yet affected by the dehumanization of the modern world. He has written: "Writing for children, or rather for young people, is a particular pleasure since most of them have not yet been molded into the formal shapes of technological man; they remain really natural, and therefore really human in my eyes."

(See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev. ed.; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vol. 4; and Something about the Author, Vol. 3.)

Albert Hubbell

["People of the Deer"] is a book about the inland Eskimos of the Barrens—the half-million square miles of plains, lakes, and low hills west of Hudson Bay. It is a record of two years the author spent among one tribe of these people—the Ihalmiut—in the late nineteen-forties, and in that sense is a travel book. But it is more, too, because Mr. Mowat is something of a fanatic about the tribe—or what is left of it after twenty years of slow starvation. His book is another contribution to the growing literature that employs a new approach in evaluating primitive men and cultures, one that quite properly avoids judging aboriginal societies by standards and ethical codes of higher—or at least different—civilizations. (p. 138)

"People of the Deer" is a complete amateur anthropology. It is probably a definitive one, too, for the Ihalmiut are at the end of their tether. In 1900, Mowat says, thousands of them roamed the Barrens and prospered off the deer; today, there are less than forty left, among them only two women able to bear children. Until the first white traders came to the fringes of their territory, the Ihalmiut lived as they had since the Stone Age. Four times a year, when the caribou migrated, the men of the tribe intercepted the hordes at selected passes and fords and slaughtered them with bows and spears…. When the traders started edging into the Barrens, they wanted fox pelts. They gave the Ihalmiut rifles and ammunition and persuaded them to shoot the arctic fox, and in exchange for the pelts gave them more ammunition and food—not meat, which had been the tribe's sole diet from earliest times, but white flour, sugar, lard, and baking powder…. Around the end of the nineteen-twenties, the world market for arctic-fox fur collapsed and the traders decamped, leaving the Ihalmiut with rifles for which there was no ammunition. The supplies of...

(The entire section is 774 words.)

T. Morris Longstreth

["People of the Deer"] issues from [Mowat's] fondness for these People of the Deer and from his concern over their plight. Between these covers he has packed exploration of a region seen by few, an unforgettably vivid cyclorama of the caribou, an ethnological study of the Ihalmiut, an unconscious full-length portrait of himself, and a peppery denunciation of governmental paralysis or worse.

It is a serious moral document which would have been strengthened by less passion. But this Canadian war veteran was too outraged by situations brought home to him by human anguish to present both sides of the picture. He is right to be outraged, and fortunately he goes beyond sweeping statements and accusations to outline practical steps looking to a more intelligent conduct toward the northern races. One hopes his single-handed crusade will have effect.

The general reader, however, will thank Mr. Mowat chiefly for his striking account of the caribou and his intimate revelation of the Ihalmiut. He came to love these gentle, generous, and friendly Eskimos, and his feeling for them carried him through vicissitudes of a life rigorous in the extreme. The author builds up this life for us by factual details which only a sharp-eyed sharer would summon. Nearly every phase of Ihalmiut life is conveyed, and some phases are revolting. Yet the squeamish had better persevere, for nothing is magnified for sensation's sake, and the good far outweighs the bad.

T. Morris Longstreth, "'Song-Cousin's' Tribute," in The Christian Science Monitor (reprinted by permission from The Christian Science Monitor; © 1952 The Christian Science Publishing Society; all rights reserved), May 1, 1952, p. 15.

Clifford Wilson

A very long review would be needed to point out all the errors and misleading statements in [People of the Deer, a] well-written and plausible book, and to document them with references, so the present review will have to be confined to a discussion of the main points the author tries to make, in his charges against white men in the Canadian Arctic. (pp. 295-96)

[Perhaps] the weakest point in the whole book is that his tale of the starvation of the "Ihalmiut" is based on accounts given to him by a couple of Eskimos who spoke no English. Mr. Mowat tries to persuade us that he understood what they were saying to him. But since it takes years of contact with the Eskimos to understand their simplest phrases, and since he spent only 47 days in the Barrens, his long and involved tale of their misfortunes during the past half-century can hardly be accurate.

The author's "statistics" of their population, given on page 260, on which his claims of decimation are largely based, are vague, to say the least: "There must have been more than a thousand in 1880 and probably twice that many in the later years." (The italics are not his.) Indeed, one cannot escape the impression that he prefers readability to accuracy, and that, as he says on page 165, he believes "It matters little whether things happened as they are said to have happened." (p. 296)

Clifford Wilson, in his review of "People of the Deer," in The Canadian Historical Review (© University of Toronto Press 1952), Vol. XXXIII, No. 3, September, 1952, pp. 295-96.

The Times Literary Supplement

[People of the Deer] describes what has happened to the deer and the people since the white man began to trade in the Arctic…. It is at once a confession of regained faith in humanity by contact with a remnant of its most primitive and hard-pressed elements, a notable field study in human ecology and anthropology, and a sombre crusade against the decimation of Arctic natives by the fluctuations in the fur trade….

[Mr. Mowat] traces with a beautiful clarity the material and spiritual bonds between land, deer and people, and the precarious ecological balance which had been struck between the forefathers of this handful of men and the antlered multitude. The fat of this forbidding land, he points out, is literally the fat of the deer. Without it the Ihalmiut die though their rivers teem with fish, their sky with birds and their land with other animals, just as the health of the coastal Eskimo depends absolutely on the blubber of sea mammals. Disaster, of which Mr. Mowat saw the concluding stages, came to the tribe when the trading companies presented them with guns and ammunition and persuaded them to hunt the white fox….

However reluctant one may be to go the whole way with [Mr. Mowat] in his merciless analysis of the past of this people or in his passionate plea that in cherishing the future of the Arctic natives we defend our own economic interests and our strategical security, there is no doubt that this is the most powerful book to come out of the Arctic for some years. Much of its story is so tragic that any words recording it would wring the heart. But many of these pages do much more than that, they strongly uplift it. When Mr. Mowat transcribes the fantastic myth of the creation of the Ihalmiut world, he does so in the simplest prose, and makes a fine poem.

"A Barren Land," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1952; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 2641, September 12, 1952, p. 599.

Scott Young

A literary battle without modern parallel in Canada has been banging and crashing just below the horizon for the last few months. The fight is over the book called "People of the Deer" by Farley Mowat…. The antagonists are the author and a magazine called The Beaver, which is published by the Hudson's Bay Company.

In its June issue The Beaver, among whose functions is that of professional debunker of all views of the North which do not conform to the Hudson's Bay Company's long and not entirely distinguished experience in that area, blasted Mowat's book in a review…. The review was written by A. E. Porsild, an Arctic expert employed by the Government, which Mowat criticizes more...

(The entire section is 711 words.)

Janet Adam Smith

In 1935 a boy of fifteen looked out of the train window on the line from Winnipeg to Fort Churchill in Hudson's Bay; there, across the track, flowed a great brown river a quarter of a mile wide—not of water, but of caribou: the annual migration which the first French explorers had called la Foule. From that moment he was infected with the Arctic fever; and it was this disease of the imagination that brought him back to the Barren Lands in 1947. He was dropped by aeroplane on a frozen lake near an abandoned trading-post…. That summer Mr. Mowat … made his first contacts with the Eskimos of the Barrens, the Ihalmiut, before canoeing back to Churchill. Next year, with a zoologist companion, he came back to...

(The entire section is 650 words.)

A. E. Porsild

In his recent article: "Storm over the Arctic" [see excerpt above], Mr. Young imputes certain rather farfetched motives for my review of Farley Mowat's "People of the Deer"…. Actually my review was quite objective, and written solely from the point of view of a scientist whose work has brought him in close contact with the Arctic and with Arctic problems, but not necessarily with the actual responsibility of administration of the North….

I speak the language of the Eskimo, I know a good deal about their customs and problems, and I am deeply concerned with their future welfare, for I have found among them some of the finest people I have ever known.

Unfortunately, the problem of...

(The entire section is 1061 words.)

Howard Boston

Across northern Canada stretch the Barrens, a region of swamps in summer and windswept, ice-encrusted plains in winter. Into this forbidding country, young Jamie Macnair and his Cree friend Awasin [the protagonists of "Lost in the Barrens"] accompany a hunting party of desperate Chipeweyans—the tribe of the Deer Eaters. The boys are separated from the rest of the group, and, with winter coming, are forced to hole up. How they face up to their predicament and learn—the hard way—to go along with nature rather than to fight it is the main theme. Illuminating it are the struggle for life's necessities; encounters with caribou, wolverine, grizzly bear and supposedly hostile Eskimos; and the discovery of Viking...

(The entire section is 197 words.)

Rose Feld

To ["The Dog Who Wouldn't Be"], the portrait of Mutt, puppy and dog, Mr. Mowat brings a tender memory, a sharp eye for observation and a gift of expression that holds both poetry and humor. The development of Mutt as a hunting dog, from the day of his first hunt when he frightened the ducks by racing and screaming at them to the high point in his career when, on a bet, he retrieved a stuffed grouse for want of the real thing, is told with a nostalgic warmth rooted in a man's devotion to a beloved childhood friend.

Besides painting the portrait of an unusual dog, Mr. Mowat also paints the portrait of the author as a boy. The same adjective, "unusual," may be applied to him, for his interests and his...

(The entire section is 213 words.)

Hal Borland

It would be much simpler to describe ["The Dog Who Wouldn't Be"] as a dog story, a good tale about an unusual dog, and let it go at that. But Mutt wasn't just a dog—indeed, as Farley Mowat says, Mutt was never content with being just a dog; he always wanted to be something more, and he pretty well succeeded. This is a good deal more than a dog story, for it is the story of a boy and his parents and dozens of neighbors and friends, tame and wild, human and almost-human. And it is a story about Canada, both the high, dry plains and the well watered area.

Mutt was a dog that Farley Mowat's mother bought from a small boy peddling baby ducks. The pup was an afterthought and cost Mrs. Mowat four...

(The entire section is 352 words.)

Walter O'Hearn

Canada's angriest young man is Farley Mowat, who writes out of a desperate concern for the vanishing Eskimo….

Mr. Mowat has told some of [the Ihalmiut's story] in his earlier book "People of the Deer." Last year, with military penetration and bureaucratic muddle added to their woes, the People of the Deer, the proto-Eskimo, were no longer a dying tribe. Only a handful were left. Soon they will have vanished.

Mr. Mowat's anger is honest; it is understandable. In rich words, whose poetry only rarely spills over to become rhetoric, he has built a solid emotional case. The Deer People, who breed leaders and rivalries worthy of a great empire, were fascinating and a writer's...

(The entire section is 338 words.)

Ivan Sanderson

One of the most difficult tasks any author can perform is to write a book that cannot be put down once one has started reading it—particularly when its theme is a pitiable cry in a wilderness. Farley Mowat has succeeded in achieving this with "The Desperate People,"… a well-written, sensitive, and lucid account of one of the most horrible sidelights of modern history.

It is hard, if not impossible, even to attempt to review a book when its contents raise your most elemental passions to such a white heat that you find tears in your eyes over and over again—tears as much of frustration as of horror and fury. Yet this book was never by the wildest stretch of imagination intended as a tear-jerker....

(The entire section is 694 words.)

Jim Lotz

North of the Canadian mainland lies a vast archipelago of islands, surrounded by a drifting, ever-changing mass of pack ice. Wind and tide so change the extent and location of this shifting ice, that any ship venturing into these regions can be trapped, held and sometimes crushed and sunk in a matter of hours. And yet, through this archipelago lay the way to Asia—the Northwest Passage….

How did the first explorers fare in this huge, dreary labyrinth of bare land and ever-moving ice as they sought the way west by sea? Farley Mowat, in ["Ordeal by Ice"], lets them speak for themselves. He has rescued from obscurity many fine accounts of early Arctic exploration, and, by careful selection and...

(The entire section is 413 words.)

Hal Borland

In his delightful all-ages book, "The Dog Who Wouldn't Be," Farley Mowat briefly told about the owls, Wol and Weeps. They deserved a book of their own, and here it is—["Owls in the Family,"] a wonderful tale of boys, owls and warm family life in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Mutt, the incredible dog, is here too, but only as a minor character. Wol was rescued as a pathetic owlet from a storm-wrecked nest. Weeps came out of an old oil barrel in an alley. They grew up together in the Mowat family and, like Mutt, wanted to be people too….

Mowat's charm and humor make his pictures of boyhood and family life memorable. His story is rich with unobtrusive natural history, and he achieves a rare combination...

(The entire section is 162 words.)

E.B. Garside

On Sept. 14, 1948, the Leicester, a former Liberty ship of the ill-starred "Sam" series (so named after Uncle Sam) found herself several hundred miles at sea due east of Cape Cod, bound empty and in ballast from London to New York. At this point she ran into a great cyclonic storm, known only as Hurricane VII on weathermen's maps of that year…. Within hours the ship was wallowing helplessly in enormous seas, canted at the almost unbelievable angle of 70 degrees. Yet against all odds the Leicester refused to go down. Two days later all aboard were taken off by an American and an Argentine freighter. The Liberty, lying on her side, was allowed to drift away, doomed, as it seemed, at any moment to take her final...

(The entire section is 300 words.)

Harry C. Kenney

Farley Mowat, official biologist for the Canadian government, plane hitch-hiked far to the Canadian north into the heart of the Keewatin Barren Lands to find out how wolves lived.

While his new book ["Never Cry Wolf"] seems to start slowly, it quickens considerably when a decrepit and creaky airplane, resuscitated by an ex-R.A.F. pilot, flew Mr. Mowat and a mountain of supplies out of Churchill onto a Barrens frozen lake the exact location of which neither the pilot, nor Mr. Mowat knew.

But the biologist, by a quirk of good fortune, had arrived safely at his "base." He was on his own. Now to find some wolves to see what they were up to. In the course of events, this took an Arctic...

(The entire section is 359 words.)

Gavin Maxwell

Farley Mowat is a trained scientist with a skeptic's mind. There is need to recall this at the outset, because in ["Never Cry Wolf"] he strains his readers' credulity to a point at which it would certainly snap in less trustworthy hands….

To some, no doubt, it will be a surprise that he found every wolf fable a fallacy, and over the months developed a profound affection and admiration for his study subjects, which he found to be kingly creatures possessed of every virtue and no vice, neighbors who accepted his presence with neither fear nor ferocity. He had names for each of them, and the book is dedicated to the wolf bitch: "For Angeline—the angel." He found the wolves capable of something akin...

(The entire section is 422 words.)

Laurence Adkins

[Farley Mowat] has already introduced the owls Wol and Weeps in a previous book, The Dog Who Wouldn't Be. [In Owls in the Family] their adventures are recorded for young readers, and their escapades are told with good humour and an accuracy which indicates an affection for the subject. It does not matter that the setting is Saskatchewan; children will respond to the genuine honesty and sensitive manner of the narrative. So rarely are animals allowed to remain their natural selves, that this is not an opportunity to be missed. Though Weeps is quite pathetic in his fondness for Wol, the relationship is never made the subject of slushy sentimentality.

Laurence Adkins,...

(The entire section is 132 words.)

Gavin White

"Never Cry Wolf" is a humourous tale on the pattern of the "Eye-Opener," beginning with an hilarous take-off on that mine of comedy, the former Department of Mines and Resources. On their behalf the author is sent to study wolves in the Barrenlands, and specifically to determine the extent to which they eat caribou. He concludes that wolves do not eat caribou, they eat mice. If wolves occasionally do eat caribou, it is good for the caribou, who ought to like it.

As the study of wolves develops, not all of which is to be taken seriously, one basic conclusion emerges. Once you get under their skins, wolves are very human, but if you get under the skin of a human being you will find he's a bloodthirsty...

(The entire section is 297 words.)

Virginia Kirkus' Service

[The Curse of the Viking Grave is an] unnecessary sequel to Lost in the Barrens … and an anticlimax compared to that book. The Black Hole …, and the author's other excellent adventure stories set in the wilderness of northern Canada. In Barrens, the Scotch boy Jamie and his Cree Indian friend Awasin had been lost for a winter in the Barrenlands and finally rescued by Peetyuk and his Eskimo tribe. Here, Jamie, Awasin and Peetyuk make plans to go trapping and then in the summer to return to the region to investigate what they believe to be evidence of Vikings…. Awasin's sister is foisted off on the expedition, and despite the accounts of her athletic prowess as well as physical charm,...

(The entire section is 216 words.)

Robert Cohen

As is usual with Mr. Mowat's books, [in The Curse of the Viking Grave] we are presented with excellent descriptions of the terrain and inhabitants of the Northlands. He presents an Eskimo group that is quite different in their history and culture from their better-known cousins. We are instructed in the ways of the Barrens and the people who dwell there without the slightest hint of pedantry. Those readers unfamiliar with Lost in the Barrens will find this a well-written and interesting story of adventure in the Northlands. Those who loved the earlier book will be disappointed. In the earlier book the boys had to pit all their skill against the deadly power of winter in the Barrens and their survival was...

(The entire section is 272 words.)

Marguerite Bagshaw

Sequels are often disappointing and [The Curse of the Viking Grave] lacks the spontaneity, careful planning and craft of Lost in the Barrens. Frequently the story seems forced or contrived and the characters suffer too in a plot which to all appearances has been hastily thrown together. This is somewhat compensated for by the author's knowledge of the North and by his concern for the Eskimo.

Marguerite Bagshaw, in her review of "The Curse of the Viking Grave," in In Review: Canadian Books for Children, Vol. 1, No. 1, Winter, 1967, p. 38.

(The entire section is 89 words.)

Clinton J. Maguire

Farley Mowat's effort [in The Boat Who Wouldn't Float] is to show that a vessel may have a mind of its own such as to constitute a continuing frustration to its owner. Jocose the statement may be; many sailors will insist that a fabrication of wood, or even steel, into an "artificial contrivance used, or capable of being used as a means of transportation on water", can result in a being with understanding and will which must be cajoled, coaxed, entreated and persuaded before the human in control can get, or get to, what he wants—and sometimes cannot.

Mowat and a partner decided to spend $1000 on a vessel which they could use to make voyages to exotic places and it was agreed that...

(The entire section is 384 words.)

Robert Berkvist

The best boats float. Ask Farley Mowat, who bought one that wouldn't. Oh, his floated all right, after he'd had her hauled from the muck of a Newfoundland harbor and rebuilt her somewhat (from stem to stern, that is); but there was something about the Happy Adventure (sic) that made her more interesting than most pleasure craft (sic). She loved to fill herself with water and head for the bottom. Perhaps she really wanted to be a submarine. God knows, she tried often enough, the miracle being that Mr. Mowat lived to tell the tale [in "The Boat Who Wouldn't Float"].

But she met her match in her doughty sea-crazed skipper, who raised her, patched her, polished her, caulked her endlessly,...

(The entire section is 244 words.)

The Times Literary Supplement

Fabulous events are rare and even rarer is a fabulist worthy of them. A Whale for the Killing is a magnificent instance of this conjunction, perhaps because Farley Mowat was not merely the chronicler of this little tragedy which provides a microcosm of our planetary condition, but also the fabulously conscious participant.

The scene was Aldridge Pond, a salt-water enclosure on the southern side of Newfoundland, not far from Burgeo. Burgeo used to be one of many small "outposts" from which fishermen would catch cod in the time-honoured way, but when Newfoundland was merged with Canada, Joe Smallwood, the Newfoundland Prime Minister, pursued a policy of industrialization at any price.


(The entire section is 580 words.)

Patrick O'Flaherty

Farley Mowat is the latest in a rather long list of foreign and mainland authors of distinction who have come to Newfoundland, settled for a time, and written books about their experiences here. I think it is fair to say that all of them have created distorted images of life in the province in their books, but some have nevertheless illuminated in a striking and original way the particular aspects of Newfoundland which interested them…. The outsiders who have given significant responses to Newfoundland have been those with no axes to grind, who came, suppressed their own egos and theories, and simply observed and shared experiences….

There is no such sense conveyed in Farley Mowat's Wake of...

(The entire section is 524 words.)

Sheila Egoff

No definition quite encompasses or fits animals like Mutt, the Prince Albert (?) retriever, the hero of Farley Mowat's The Dog Who Wouldn't Be …, written for adults and adopted by children, or Wol and Weeps, the equally surprising owls of Mowat's Owls in the Family …, written for children and adopted by adults. Both books brought joy and exuberance and a sense of fun and mischief for the first time into Canadian children's literature.

Mutt, the dog who wouldn't be, was a dog all right, but he was also sensitive to his appearance and to comments made about him. He early learned to avoid trouble with more combative dogs by balancing on the top of back fences; then he graduated to tree...

(The entire section is 570 words.)

Sheila Egoff

The combination of dramatic setting and narrative skill that makes for a compelling tale is best exemplified in the books of Roderick Haig-Brown and Farley Mowat. These writers stand far above their Canadian contemporaries and rank high internationally.

Both Haig-Brown and Mowat have come to the writing of outdoor books almost inevitably. Confirmed naturalists who have given years of their lives to exploring the Canadian wilderness, active and dogged campaigners for conservation, they have a feeling for the Canadian land and a knowledge of it that are genuine and deep. More important, they are thoroughly professional writers who have learned how to shape their feelings rather than just express them;...

(The entire section is 790 words.)

Jim Harrison

Depending on one's immediate mood, a lot can be found wrong in the writing of Farley Mowat: all sorts of laughable excesses, from sloppy style, overweening sentimentality, a kind of con brio enthusiasm for windmill tilting, to the sort of verbal keening one associates with a traditional Boston Irish wake, with the whisky flowing so freely one forgets just who is dead and why.

This is not so much a disclaimer as an announcement of fact, and in Mowat's very particular case the fact doesn't matter. Of Farley Mowat's 19 or so books I've read 12, and after a few weeks' mulling over his latest it seems to me that "The Snow Walker" is the best. The precious sniping of the littérateur is simply not relevant...

(The entire section is 576 words.)

Michael A. Peterman

[When] a book is as dull, repetitive and simplistic as The Snow Walker too often is, one can only hope that readers will quickly learn to mistrust McClelland and Stewart's unblushing declaration that this collection of short stories "is among Farley Mowat's finest contributions to Canadian literature."

This is not to say that The Snow Walker is without virtues…. The title story summarizes what might be called the thematic heart of the collection—the noble, dignified yet troublingly fatalistic manner in which the undiluted Innuit nature chooses to meet death, the spirit of the Snow Walker. These twice-told … tales reveal many interesting aspects of Innuit life and folklore. Native...

(The entire section is 895 words.)

Alec Lucas

Mowat's children's books (and all are boy's books) demonstrate his desire, on the one hand, to indoctrinate boys with his social concepts and values and, on the other, to retain the pleasant memories of his childhood.

For the most part Mowat skilfully disguises his didactic intent. He hides it under narrative motifs and themes that have to do with wish-fulfillment, with the search for affection and security, with animals as a way of satisfying a child's wish to love and be loved, and with success achieved through brave and noble deeds or through skill and resourcefulness. These motifs and themes are not only those of much adult fiction, but also (especially those relating to deeds) of much of Mowat's...

(The entire section is 4370 words.)

Pat Barclay

In common with the majority of his previous works, The Snow Walker provides Mowat with a convenient platform from which to expound his passionately held convictions about the North and its people, but it also proves, to this reviewer's satisfaction at any rate, that Farley Mowat can be counted among the top story-tellers writing in Canada today.

There are nine short stories in The Snow Walker, each of which plays some variation on the general theme of character in conflict with environment, and two non-fictional pieces which are used to introduce and conclude them. (p. 129)

[The] concluding piece in The Snow Walker, "Dark Odyssey of Soosie", is vintage Mowat…....

(The entire section is 507 words.)

David Weinberger

In And No Birds Sang Mowat tries to do what in the midst of war he knew he could not: make those far removed from battle understand what it was like. Even after almost 40 years, the material is too powerful to accommodate itself to a personal memoir….

Through anecdote and story, the book does entertain.

But surely this is not what Mowat intends, for as he makes the war interesting its tedium remains hidden. Mowat is at pains not to glamorize his subject, yet there remains something glamorous about his tales of crashing shells, impossible treks and scaling cliffs. For war memoirs to succeed, they must subvert the romanticism which naturally accrues to the record of war...

(The entire section is 322 words.)

Christopher Lehmann-Haupt

Veterans of bloody battle are not inclined to reminisce. Farley Mowat, the Canadian naturalist and author of some two dozen books, is no exception. According to the epilogue of his latest book, "So awful" was his experience of World War II "that through three decades I kept the deeper agonies of it wrapped in the cotton-wool of protective forgetfulness."… [Presumably] to demonstrate that it is not at all sweet and honorable to die for one's country, he decided to unwrap his deeper agonies and write "And No Birds Sang."

He paints the horrors of war gruesomely in this deceptively conventional account of his participation in the Mediterranean campaign of 1943–44 as a young lieutenant in a Canadian...

(The entire section is 715 words.)

Ted Morgan

[In "And No Birds Sang" Mowat has written about his experiences as a soldier in World War II] in a departure from his usual subject matter, natural history, which he covered in such fine books as "Never Cry Wolf" and "A Whale for the Killing."

His purpose in doing so, he informs us, is to put down the lie that it is worthwhile to die for one's country. The discovery he made, in the shell-pitted hills and valleys of Italy nearly 40 years ago, is that there are no good wars. One resists the urge to tell him: You are not alone. It would take a writer of considerably more power than Mr. Mowat can summon to bring any freshness of feeling to this worn theme. Most of us know by now that in war men are...

(The entire section is 384 words.)

Tom O'Brien

Mowat is probably best known for "Never Cry Wolf" and "A Whale for the Killing," two accounts of his close personal involvement with these maligned and abused animals, written long before their cause became fashionable. His is a "world" of tundra and outcrop rock, a place where "only the disembodied whistling of an unseen plover gave any indication that life existed anywhere in this lunar land where no tree grew." Like the scenes before him, his writing is lean, evocative, haunting. And beneath his "achromatic landscapes," Mowat uncovers surprise, complexity, magnificence….

In such a world, nature can seem sublimely inhuman, vast, terrible. Yet Mowat avoids either sentimental falsification of its...

(The entire section is 488 words.)

Wayne Grady

Farley Mowat has written twenty-four books since People of the Deer (1952)—which Hugh MacLennan called "the finest thing of its sort to come out of Canada"—and it's a rare and lonely season when no new Mowat graces the stands. This season Peter Davison has saved us with The World of Farley Mowat [a collection of Mowat's work]. Mowat's immense popularity has remained as constant and as changing as his favourite elements, snow and sea…. Adored by the masses and ignored by the critics, Mowat wouldn't have it any other way. He described himself in 1977 as a "storyteller who is far more concerned with reaching his audience than with garnering kudos from the arbiters of literary greatness." When asked...

(The entire section is 832 words.)