Never Cry Wolf is set in the late 1940s in the middle of Keewatin, the easternmost district of Canada's vast Northwest Territories. When Mowat begins his assignment to study wolves, he is flown to the town of Churchill, on Hudson Bay's western coast. From there, Mowat flies some three hundred miles northwest of Churchill to the place he comes to call Wolf House Bay, where he begins his research. Early on, he establishes a base camp and discovers a family of wolves whose den is set in an esker, a glacial ridge formed by the action of water. He moves his equipment to a site near the den and begins his observations of wolf behavior. When summer comes and the wolves move to their summer den in a nearby ravine, Mowat moves with them in order to continue his studies. Finally, when the caribou make their seasonal migration, Mowat travels across the tundra plains to assess the manner in which wolves hunt caribou and the extent to which their predation has reduced the caribou herd. Never Cry Wolf is set in the vastness of Canada's northern territories and, at the same time, in the tiny household of one wolf family.
Because Mowat wishes to impart an important message in Never Cry Wolf, he presents his true story in a simple and direct manner. Despite its simplicity, the carefully crafted book displays Mowat's eye for details that reveal character.
Never Cry Wolf is structured as a tale of initiation, a story in which a young person grows up and learns valuable lessons. Mowat learns how to live in the wild and in the process finds, often through humorous mishaps, that much he has been told by the government authorities is false. Mowat also uses humor to teach lessons about outdoor survival and wolf behavior. Myths prove educational as well and provide a crosscultural perspective. Ootek's tale of the creation of the caribou and the wolf illustrates the different ways that the wolf is perceived in Eskimo and Western cultures. The contrasts between the wolf's role in these two cultures underscore the Western misunderstanding of the wolf. Finally, Mowat's comparisons of wolf and human societies enhance the literary effectiveness of this story.
(The entire section is 854 words.)