Remembering Author Farley Mowat, Who 'Wore His Kilt Dangerously'

May 8, 2014
Originally published on May 8, 2014 5:49 pm

Canadian writer Farley Mowat has died at the age of 92. The prolific author published 45 books, perhaps the most popular of which was Never Cry Wolf. He is remembered by Doug Gibson, Mowat's publisher and longtime friend.

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Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

The Canadian writer and passionate environmentalist Farley Mowat had some 45 books to his name when he died this week at age 92. That list includes the nature classic "Never Cry Wolf." He also wrote about the famine-stricken Inuit people of northern Canada, the destruction of sea life in the North Atlantic, about his experience in World War II and much more.

His books have been translated into 52 languages and have sold many millions of copies. Mowat was accused of blurring the line between truth and fiction. He explained himself this way on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED back in 1983.

FARLEY MOWAT: I am a writer of subjective nonfiction. And my basic precept is never to let the facts interfere with the truth.

BLOCK: I'm joined now by Doug Gibson, who was Farley Mowat's publisher and longtime friend. Thanks for being with us.

DOUG GIBSON: I am pleased to be here.

BLOCK: Talk a bit about where Farley Mowat came by his love of the outdoors.

GIBSON: Well, as a kid growing up in the Canadian West, he started writing a column about his dog, "The Dog Who Wouldn't Be." And he was writing little nature columns and I think that interest in the environment and in nature started right there and obviously remained throughout his life.

BLOCK: He was sent in World War II with the Canadian military, sent to fight in Italy and described horrifying experiences that he had there. How did those experiences shape him and shape his writing?

GIBSON: Well, I think that's a good question for a whole generation of people who came through the Second World War and then tried to get on with an ordinary life. He had a real shooting war fighting in the Italian campaign and came back and took the usual decompression time and that is what led him into the quiet places of the Canadian North. And you've referred to the fact that he went up there and wrote books about the Inuit people there and the aboriginal Indian people.

BLOCK: You're talking about his first book from 1952, "People of the Deer." Farley Mowat did get criticized a lot for this blurring between fact and fiction. Do you think it discredited him and his work?

GIBSON: Well, I noticed that you ran that interesting quote from Farley at the beginning.

BLOCK: Uh-huh.

GIBSON: Farley was making the point that he was dealing with - let's call it, larger truths - and he thought it was more important to bang the drum very loudly, rather than to check on the nature of the skin of the drum.

BLOCK: I've seen pictures of Farley Mowat sitting by a manual typewriter. He's got a long sort of Russet colored beard. What was he like? What kind of character was he?

GIBSON: He was physically very short. His beard, on the other hand, was very long and far from well trimmed. He was a kilt wearing man. And I'm also a Scot, so I know what I'm talking about when I say he wore his kilt dangerously.

(LAUGHTER)

GIBSON: He got into the most appalling situations there and that kilt was frequently lifted up in the course of this or that adventure. He would do things like crawl on tables wearing his kilt and people were scandalized and totally delighted because Farley Mowat was intending to be outrageous and a great character. And, of course, it didn't distract from the fact that he wrote all these books.

BLOCK: One of Farley Mowat's last fights, I've read, was that he was outraged about Canada creating Internet hotspots in national parks.

GIBSON: Isn't that wonderful? Here we have a 92-year-old man just fighting that battle on behalf of the animals, the birds and the environment. So we all owe him a great debt.

BLOCK: Well, Mr. Gibson, it's good of you to talk to us. Thanks so much.

GIBSON: Thank you.

BLOCK: That's publisher Doug Gibson, speaking with us from Collingwood, Ontario about his longtime friend, the writer Farley Mowat. Mowat died Tuesday at age 92. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.