Farley Mowat's autobiographical account Never Cry Wolf, written about his time investigating the causes of the decreasing population of caribou in Canada, is a hard-hitting and uniquely spiritual account of the Arctic Wolf. Early in his book, Mowat notes that his "original intention was to write a book satirizing another type of animal, the bureaucrat" (Mowat v). His mention of this is quite clear in its intention; Mowat equates the bureaucrat with wild animals like the wolf, though their territory and their methods are quite different. In light of the hazardous and fear-based imagery associated with the arctic wolf, often by bureaucrats who wish to subsume the environment and claim it as their own, Mowat likely decided to change his subject to the arctic wolf to advocate for their continued survival. By switching his focus to the arctic wolf, Mowat wishes to prove wrong the bureaucratic mindset that devalues nature and the wilderness, proving the bureaucrat to be the true source of fear.
Mowat clearly has a dim view of bureaucrats, as evidenced by his brief mention of them at the start of the book. The bureaucrat, says Mowat, is a "mutation of the human species" who has "become the dictatorial arbiter of all our affairs" (Mowat v). According to the author, the bureaucrat, a selfish and authoritative creature, removes itself from nature and places his own command over the liberty of others. Similar to pack animals, "Danteesque" bureaucrats move in "legions," but Mowat describes them as far more disgusting. His descriptions of their homes as "gloomy, Formalin-smelling dens" belies a distaste for the artificiality and lack of life the author attributes to bureaucrats on the whole (Mowat 11). Mowat, a decidedly informal creature, is taken aback by many of the bureaucratic and scientific community's emphasis on protocol and deference; in one instance, an aide drags Mowat to the bathroom to make sure that he refers to a government official by his preferred titles.
Mowat's shift of focus from the bureaucrat to the wolf allows him to create a narrative and autobiographical work that is much more romantic and fascinating, particularly due to our fascination with what is now alien to us. As man has become more civilized (a far cry from the hunting variety of man who was much more in tune with nature), Mowat argues that we have become more bureaucratic and anti-nature as a result. Modern man, an animal now largely removed from nature, now recoils in fright at the prospect of anything they might have to defend themselves from: "So-called civilized man eventually succeeded in totally extirpating the real wolf from his collective mind and substituting for it a contrived image, replete with evil aspects that generated almost pathological fear" (Mowat vi). With this statement, the author equates the wolf with nature and our own predatory instincts; he really means that we have extracted nature from our own sense of identity, choosing to couch ourselves in artificiality and sanitize our environment so it cannot hurt us. In the wild, early man had to fend for itself and form a loose communion with wolves and other predators; understanding their place in nature, they knew how to survive. However, with modern conveniences and civilization comes a removal of man from that nature.
This same divorcing of man from nature has caused us, as previously mentioned, to shy away from what might still hurt us. This extends to the arctic wolf, a creature bureaucrats ask Mowat early on to investigate, due to the caribou population declining. It is theorized that wolves are responsible, but no one has actually seen a wolf take down a caribou in the Canadian wilds during these incidents. As a result, Mowat reframes their request as one borne of fear: “We have doomed the wolf not for what it is, but for what we deliberately and mistakenly perceive it to be –the mythologized epitome of a savage ruthless killer – which is, in reality, no more than a reflected image of ourself” (Mowat viii). In that last phrase, Mowat reminds us of we fear most: man. By transposing the image of a killer onto the wolf, we deny that same nature in ourselves - we are capable of killing and perpetuating untold horrors, but wish to suppress that, choosing instead to reframe ourselves as the victims of cruel predators. With this type of projection, mankind chooses to treat the wolf with scorn based on our ability to recognize aspects of ourselves within the dangerous image of the wolf.
The metaphor of the man-wolf relationship is echoed in Mowat's investigation of the relationship between wolf and caribou. He discusses their symbiosis as mutually beneficial and important: “this is why the caribou and the wolf are one; for the caribou feeds the wolf, but it is the wolf that keeps the caribou strong” (Mowat 125). In finding similarities between the wolf and hunting man (the type of man far removed from the dreaded bureaucrat), Mowat demonstrates a wonderful symmetry that should exist between man and nature - something man denies with its emphasis on civilization and removing nature from its being. As the wolf's pursuit of the caribou forces the caribou to improve itself to survive, nature is meant to provide us with challenges in order to keep us on our toes and challenging ourselves. Mowat's thesis seems to be that, in emphasizing bureaucracy and eliminating inconvenient problems, we no longer benefit from those challenges, becoming complacent.
Mowat finds himself falling victim to this same type of insecurity modern man finds toward wolves, allowing for self-reflection into his own fear of nature: "Mine had been the fury of resentment born of fear: resentment against the beasts who had engendered naked terror in me and who, by so doing, had intolerably affronted my human ego" (Mowat 245-246). Here, Mowat, a decidedly honest and frank writer, delves into the nuances and psychology of man's fascination with the deadly image of wolves (purported by Mowat to be manufactured). Because Mowat is preternaturally fearful of wolves due to survival instinct still patterned into human behavior, this clashes with his own perception as top of the food chain. The fear turns to anger and resentment at himself and the wolves for making him feel so insecure. To that end, it can be said that bureaucratic, civilized man resents this insecurity, and seeks to eradicate it by wiping out all sources of that preternatural fear.
Mowat later notes of a wolf howling, “for me it was a voice which spoke of the lost world which once was ours before we chose the alien role; a world which I had glimpsed and almost enteredonly to be excluded, at the end, by my own self” (Mowat 246). Here, Mowat seems to have pinned down the major anxiety that lies at the heart of man's tenuous relationship with nature (a relationship bureaucrats wholly reject); man no longer has that same communion with nature it once had, leading it to become this alien entity that prevents them from truly understanding it. As humanity often fears what it does not understand, we take bureaucratic and orderly approaches to controlling it (as the Canadian government tries to do with the arctic wolves). Mowat successfully demonstrates the folly of the bureaucrat's thinking, while still providing glimpses of the kind of spirituality that is now lost on modern man - now reserved only for creatures of the wild.
In conclusion, I believe that Mowat's work in changing his focus was incredibly successful. Instead of creating a pedantic, possibly strident takedown of the Canadian bureaucrat, Mowat chooses instead to work from the inside and create a portrait of the arctic wolf that is sympathetic, lifelike and possibly life-saving for many wolves in the Canadian wilderness. Fighting against development by advocating for the wolves' harmlessness and positive attributes, Mowat works around his disgust for bureaucratic notions of natural imperialism. To that end, Mowat creates a positive portrayal of arctic wolves which works within the frameworks of cost-benefit comparisons that bureaucrats seemingly adore him. By focusing on the beauty of the arctic wolf, and framing its closeness to nature as a thing that humans now sorely lack and must regain, Mowat allows the wolf to become a welcome guide, instead of a bureaucratic nuisance that must be stopped.
Moway, Farley. Never Cry Wolf. McClelland and Stewart, 1963. Print.