Friday, 9 May 2014

Farley Mowat (1921-2014)

Farley Mowat had lived a long life.  And as a literary figure - a very public literary figure, at that - he'd had a long and productive career.  He'd lived a full and rich life, it seems to me.  

After his passing earlier this week, in many of the tributes I saw about Mr. Mowat, most admirers focused on his work as an out-spoken advocate of Canada's natural environment.  He was that, for sure.  But it seems to me that fewer focused on his legacy as a writer.  It is quite a legacy--and a problematic one with serious controversies.  His tempestuous relationship to truth (he's known to have said "fuck the facts") I suspect will dog his reputation for years.  And this is no small concern as he is often regarded as a nonfiction writer.  

But problematic grey areas, serious controversies, a sometimes questionable reputation--these don't discredit him.  Not in the least.  These don't cloud his legacy at all but instead point to the very nature of that legacy: he was one of the most complex Canadian writers of our time. 


On a personal note, Farley Mowat was an important figure on the family bookshelf when I was growing up.  My father had many of Mowat's books in paperback (Dad kept these Bantam-Seal editions in mint-condition).  To name a few: Never Cry Wolf, A Whale for the Killing,  And No Birds Sang, The Boat Who Wouldn't Float.  

I still recall how saddened my Dad was after he had finished A Whale for the Killing.  I can still see him sitting on the edge of my bed one night when I was about 10 years old or so, telling  me about the book he'd just read.  The story had clearly moved him.  

Nearly 30 years later when I got around to reading it myself (I have no excuse for this procrastination), I was also disturbed by it.  No book I know reveals in such stark and memorable detail how the pastoral promise - that humanity might live amicably with nature - is just a pipe dream.  Human nature won't allow it. 

But that's all beside the point.  When I'd heard that he'd died, I thought of those pristine paperbacks, I thought of my Dad, and I thought of home.  And that's at the heart of my modest tribute to Mr. Mowat: When I thought of him, I thought of home.   

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