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.