Published in 1980, there are nine sections to The World of Farley Mowat, each of which contains excerpts from one of more of Mowat’s published writings. Selections are grouped in chronological order. As such, given how much of Mowat’s writings were based on his own life, The World of Farley Mowat not only provides readers exposure to a variety of his writings but also a glimpse into his personal life.
Indeed, the autobiographical sections are my favorite. These include Saskatchewan, Tide of War, parts of Northern Territories, Siberia, and parts of The Rock and The Deeps. Although his childhood life in Saskatchewan hugely influenced Mowat’s love of nature, as of 1980, only two books boasted Saskatchewan as a setting. The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be is about Mowat and his dog, as well as his snakes, turtles, owls, cats, and other growing collection of animals. A most unusual dog, Mutt will make you laugh and cry. To my disappointment, perhaps due to its brevity, an excerpt from Owls in the Family wasn’t included in the collection. Tide of War also includes an excerpt from only one book, And No Birds Sang. The excerpt mesmerizes me every time I read it, perhaps because of how Mowat starts with a light-hearted story about his needing to drink as much water as he could before being weighed to qualify for his medical but then slowly switches to sharing horror stories of sickness, craziness, and death. Northern Territories includes excerpts from four books, of which my favorite remains Never Cry Wolf, a book that remains controversial to this day. Some critics of Never Cry Wolf consider that Mowat made everything up, while others credit this nonfiction title with having positively changed forever societal views about wolves. As for Siberia, it tells of two trips that Mowat and his wife made to that vast Russian province.
Being from Newfoundland originally, naturally, I have reason to take special interest in the excerpts included in the sections The Rock and The Deeps. My favorite within the first section is The Boat Who Wouldn’t Float. It tells of a love-hate relationship between Mowat and a roughly-built fishing schooner of “nauseous color” that he purchased while drunk on Screech. While this selection mostly made me laugh, a different selection made me sad. The Deeps includes only one title, A Whale for the Killing. Another controversial book, it depicts a time when Mowat was forced to stand up to the Newfoundland people among whom he had chosen to live. In some of his other books Mowat expresses clear admiration for these islanders whom he had come to admire for their rugged individualism, their tenacity in the face of nature’s harshness, and their refusal to give in to adversity. In a Whale for a Killing, Mowat recounts not only the erosion of the friendships that Mowat and his wife had established over many years, but also offers insight into the destruction brought about over time by the whaling industry. Two other sections, Western Ocean and The Ice, contain additional titles set in Newfoundland. Rather than being autobiographical, these are riveting accounts of seafaring disasters.
A one-volume collection of excerpts of an author’s writing is akin to a restaurant buffet. The first time I ate at a Chinese restaurant, I found foods to like and thereby gained appreciation for this ethnic cuisine. Similarly, The World of Farley Mowat exposes readers to the diverse writings of this Canadian author. I already own a few of Mowat’s books that were written for children. The World of Farley Mowat introduced me to his adult writings too, including fascinating ones about his life in the Canadian North, some of which are on my wish list. Thanks to my dad for passing this book on to me.
Reprinted from Allison’s Book Bag. This article is original in content and not to be reproduced without permission. Copyright 2016.