Farley Mowat has written his last book. Well maybe. At 87, he says that writing is like breathing and Farley is very much still breathing so I’m not so sure that Otherwise will be his last book.
He does insist it will be the last book he goes on a promotion tour with. And he continues to write every day, tapping out the words on an old 1910 Underwood. (Where he finds those ribbons is a mystery.)
Farley Mowat is considered the greatest living Canadian writer today and his 40 books have made him a legend and a national literary treasure. His book Sea of Slaughter illustrates the 500 years of exploitation that decimated life in the oceans of the North Atlantic. It was such a damning expose that Farley was prohibited from doing a book tour in the United States which led to his writing the book My Discovery of America.
“Otherwise” deals with the years of Farley’s life between 1937 and 1948. The book, based largely on his meticulously detailed journals is part of an “autobiographical experiment” to retrace those formative years that helped determine the path his life would take.
“I’ve gone back and relived my life through my journals mostly, and what memories are still available to me in my antiquated state, in an attempt to discover who and what I was and why I lived the life I have,” Farley says.
Much of the book focuses on the period after he returned from World War II in Europe and was attempting to focus on a path for his life.
“And this I was helped to achieve by the animals I was encountering,” Mowat says. “I went to the Arctic and I was meeting wolves and caribou and all sorts of other animals and they helped me find myself — re-establish a feeling of worthiness of existence, and that’s really what the book is all about.”
Farley has long referred to the non-human world as the “Others” and he like I, believe that the others are far wiser than we humans.
I have known Farley as a friend for over 25 years and it has always been one of the great honours in my life to have a friend who was such an inspiration to me when I was in High School. His book Never Cry Wolf was required reading in Grade Ten. Since then he has written the forward to my book Seal Wars and has served as our International Chair.
In response to media reports that this may be Farley’s last book, he said “Writing is my function — it’s the only function I’ve got that really works and has worked for the last 50 years,” Mowat says. “I would be a fool to give it up, so I will continue to write, but whether I publish or not, it remains very much in the air. I am not anxious at all to publish any more books.”
Farley has an enormous sense of humor, a characteristic absolutely essential if you choose to side with the others against arrogance of humanity.
A few years ago Media magnate Conrad Black, the Rupert Murdoch of the Great White North attempted to expose Farley as a fraud in the pages of the intellectual literary magazine Saturday Night that Black had purchased and then degraded.
The author John Goddard who was more hitman than writer, savaged Farley and called him “Hardly Know-it”. His big expose with a cover depicting Farley with a Pinocchio nose was to suggest hat Farley was not telling the truth in the pages of his books. “He makes things up and fabricates and exaggerates his stories,” according to the writer.
Farley defused the entire scandal by simply pointing out that he was a story teller and a writer of fiction. He uses fiction to convey ideas and when he writes non-fiction it is non-fiction but Goddard made the mistake of suggesting that Farley’s fiction books were non-fiction.
In the end, Farley was exonerated and acclaimed, Goddard was dismissed as a hired poison pen and Conrad Black, well Mr. Black is serving time in prison for bribery and fraud in the United States.
I was very touched when Farley in a CTV interview on the morning of November 3rd said that his proudest achievement has little to do with his books.
At the top of the list, he said, is the fact that the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has named their ship — one which intervenes to protect seals and whales from illegal hunting — after him.
“She single-handedly, with her crew of volunteers, engages the whole of the commercial whaling fleet of the world and has done for 20 years,” Mowat says. “She engages those who are trying to exploit the seal populations and she fights for the survival of life in the seas, and to have my name on the bow and stern is one of, if not the greatest, compliment ever paid to me.”
The honour is of course ours. To have Farley’s name on the bow of our ship is something all of us in Sea Shepherd are very proud of.
Captain PAUL WATSON is director of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.