The Canadian author Farley Mowat was a socialist and passionate environmentalist. He wrote with humour, keen perception and passionate social commitment, completing over 40 books and numerous articles. He is sadly not so well known in Britain but deserves to be. His family came from Scottish immigrant stock and he retained a special fondness for Scotland.
His works were translated into 52 languages, and he sold more than 17 million copies. He achieved fame with his books on the Canadian North, such as People of the Deer (1952) and Never Cry Wolf. Mowat's advocacy for environmental causes and his own claim to ‘never let the facts get in the way of the truth,’ earned him both praise and criticism. Nevertheless, his influence is undeniable: Never Cry Wolf, a fictional narrative of a man living among wolves in the sub-arctic which was made into a successful film. It is credited with shifting the mythology and fear of wolves. After the Russian version was published, the government even banned the killing of the animal.
His stories are fast-paced, gripping, personal, and conversational. Descriptions of Mowat refer to his ‘commitment to ideals,’ ‘poetic descriptions and vivid images.’
His first non-fiction work People of the Deer became a classic. In it he documented the disappearing communist way of life of Canada’s native Inuit people, among whom he lived while writing the book. He showed how a colonial arrogance and an exploitive system had driven the Inuit and their culture to the edge. The Siberians, written almost two decades later in 1970, showed how the Soviet Union, in contrast, was attempting to help the Inuit maintain their way of life but at the same time inter-relate with an industrialised society. He became a lifelong advocate of indigenous people’s rights, labelling Canada's treatment of them as ‘abominable’. Never one to shy away from controversy, Mowat was outspoken about many environmental and social issues.
During the Second World War, Mowat was commissioned as a second lieutenant, rising to the rank of captain. After the war he returned to Canada, desperate to escape from ‘what had been and seemed likely to remain, a world run by maniacs’, and fled north to live among the Inuit people.
Many of his works are autobiographical, such as Owls in the Family (about his childhood), and And No Birds Sang (about his experience fighting in the Second World War).
Mowat published a denunciation of the destruction of animal life in the north Atlantic entitled Sea of Slaughter in 1984. In 1985, as a part of the promotional tour for the book, Mowat was invited to speak at the university in Chico, California, but US officials denied him entry. His security file indicated he should be denied entry ‘for violating any one of 33 statutes.’ Reportedly, these statutes included being a member of a group considered radical by the US government. The result was a media circus, which brought worldwide attention to Mowat. The negative publicity eventually forced the Reagan administration to allow Mowat to enter the US, but he declined because to accept would be undignified as the permission was valid for only one visit—his book tour. Mowat documented the reasons why he was refused entry to the United States in his 1985 book, My Discovery of America.
He won a number of prestigious awards for his books and environmental work. The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society ship RV Farley Mowatt was named in honour of him.
Mowat was a strong supporter of the Green Party of Canada.
His friend, the author, Margaret Atwood said: ‘So sorry to hear that [Mr Mowat] has died. Wonderful colleague and friend of many years.’
Farley Mowat died on May 6, 2014, less than one week before his 93rd birthday.