Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Never Cry Wolf is a short work (160 pages) that incorporates the truth about wolf behavior as Mowat interpreted it in his assignment to investigate “wolf-caribou-predator-prey relationships.” He himself called it a “potboiler,” and the Holt, Rinehart and Winston edition is marketed as juvenile literature complete with pedagogical materials. His critics sneered at the depiction of wolves as fanciful, but whatever the book’s merit as a study of wolves, it sold more than 300,000 copies and established Mowat’s reputation as a spokesman not only for wolves but also for nature in general.
As the narrator of Never Cry Wolf, Mowat is a young man whose vicissitudes are sometimes comic. His experience with his radio, for example, revealed an embarrassing gaffe by his Ottawa superiors: He had been supplied with an instrument meant for forest rangers and which had a range of only twenty miles. Nevertheless, Mowat rigged it up and sent his call sign, “Daisy Mae,” crying out into the “darkling subarctic skies.” As it turned out, he contacted an amateur operator in Peru, a Spanish speaker whose English was no better than Mowat’s Spanish.
The substance of Mowat’s story concerns his relationship with three wolves he names Angeline, her mate, George, and a solo male, Uncle Albert. One of his first discoveries was that wolves ate mice, of which there was a generous supply. The researcher’s next step was to introduce mice into his own diet, and he created a dish he called Souris à la Crême. In many of his explorations, Mowat was accompanied by an Eskimo friend, Ootek, who interpreted wolf talk for him and helped track the three wolves and their cubs to their summer den. Mowat deflates some commonly accepted beliefs about wolves, especially the misconception that they always pose a threat to humans. Moreover, Ootek explains to him that a healthy adult caribou can easily outrun a wolf and that even a fawn is too fast for most predators. The wolf’s usual victim is an aged or ailing doe, but even when successful, the hunter usually spends a long night traversing fifty to sixty miles of country.
Just before he returns to the city, Mowat hears George howling for his family, and it is to him “a voice which spoke of the lost world which once was ours before we chose the alien role. . . .”
Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Never Cry Wolf is a narrative, first-person account of conservationist-writer Farley Mowat’s two summers and one winter on the Arctic tundra as a researcher for the Canadian government. In his 2008 memoir, Otherwise, Mowat writes of the years 1937 to 1948, hinting that the events in Never Cry Wolf may not be sequential. Also, in the added 1973 preface to Never Cry Wolf, Mowat admits changing names and locations and reworking his stories to add humor; he denies, however, that the work is fiction. He says that he never allows “facts to interfere with the truth” and denies altering the basic information. Indeed, libraries classify the book as nonfiction.
In Never Cry Wolf, Mowat traces the beginning of his interest in nature to age five. In a somewhat humorous tale, he says that he had captured some catfish, brought them into his grandmother’s home, and placed them in the commode to keep them alive. His grandmother found the fish on a night visit to the bathroom and flushed them down the toilet.
In the book, Mowat employs the stylistic device of anthropomorphism. He assigns human characteristics, feelings, emotions, and behaviors to animals—especially wolves. Some scientists, however, consider anthropomorphism to be folk theory and misleading to readers. By contrast, Charles Darwin and other scientists have noted only one difference in degree between people and certain other animals.
In 1958-1959, Mowat had accepted an assignment from Canada’s Dominion Wildlife Service (DWS) to survey the barren lands area in the Arctic area of north-central Canada. For the DWS, Mowat conducted a census of the wolves, caribou, and fauna in the area; he observed the actions of the animals, gathered appropriate statistical and analytical data, and led a somewhat solitary existence. Mowat’s assignment came as a result of complaints made to the Canadian Department of Energy, Mines, and Resources. Gun and hunting clubs had bemoaned fewer deer kills, and they blamed wolf hordes for fewer deer. The hunters argued that wolves were regularly wreaking carnage on the deer population.
Mowat had begun his assignment by air force transport, but the plane’s motor failed, forcing the plane to land in Churchill, Canada. After several days, Mowat and his pilot secured a 1938 bi-motor plane and continued their trip to wolf country. However, running low on fuel, the pilot had to set the plane down in an isolated area; Mowat was about three hundred miles north of Churchill. He remained at...
(The entire section is 1043 words.)
Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Never Cry Wolf recounts Mowat’s experiences as a biologist and naturalist sent by the Canadian government to study a group of wolves in the Canadian tundra of the far north. It had always been assumed that the wolves were a threat to other wildlife populations and, by extension, to domestic herds because they needlessly destroyed large numbers of animals. Mowat’s experiences living in the midst of the tundra, the wolves, and the caribou herd stand in direct contradiction to the Canadian government’s assumption that the wolves were to blame for the decline in those caribou populations. As Mowat was to discover, however, his findings were not information that government bureaucrats wanted to hear. Unlike the Canadian government, which did nothing to alter its negative treatment of the wolves, when Never Cry Wolf was translated into Russian, the Soviet government banned the slaughter of wolves, animals that it had previously considered dangerous predators.
Never Cry Wolf is as much about the way in which humans misperceive the behavior of other species as it is about the true behavior of the wolves that Mowat observed. The story brings the social dynamics of this wolf population to light; Mowat describes wolves as animals representing a complex family network, one making little impact on the ecosystem in which it lives. As well as these two issues, Mowat gives readers a humorous and revealing look at himself as he changes his...
(The entire section is 513 words.)