Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George was one of my favorite children’s books back in elementary school. I remember picking out from the “free book” bin during our school’s Book Week. For anyone who doesn’t know what it is about (which should be no one, in my opinion) it is the story of Miyat, an Inuit girl, who runs away into the Alaskan tundra after an unhappy child marriage and survives thanks to her learned Inuit survival skills and the generosity of a pack of wolves she befriends. She is able to find peas, lemming meat, and caribou meat and uses her traditional Inuit tools to fashion warm clothing and a shelter. This book is half My Side of the Mountain (another George book) and half Animal Planet in Alaska. Every time I read it, I want to run outside and start eating forest mushrooms and build a little fire to cook squirrel meat. In other words, it makes me wish I was more attuned to nature than I ever will be.
So I was adding the book to my “favorites” list for college apps, when I felt the urge to reread it. Here’s my impressions:
1. Way darker than I remembered. I know I subconsciously recognized the attempted rape and threat of death by starvation, but the constant miseries that befell poor Miyat were more upsetting than I remembered.
2. This book perpetrates the “Noble Savage” stereotype a lot.
Miyat is understandably proud of her Inuit heritage, but is any racial group, American Native or not, really so connected with nature that wolves willingly tend to them when they are lost and hungry? Is George putting Inuit culture on a pedestal to admire instead of objectively analyzing it? Why am I getting worked up over the sociological implications of a children’s book?
I think it all goes back to the Garden of Eden.
In Judeo-Christian culture, man inherited the planet, but then as punishment was forced to cultivate the earth. That doesn’t sound like the Bible praises the origins of agriculture that much. Judaism is an agrarian religion, meaning that nature throughout the Torah is treated as either the place where food grows or where, after a year of agriculture, food will grow. And there is nothing wrong with that. (Anyone who has read Ishmael knows what’s going to happen)
But fast-forward to the present, and agriculture is now ruining the planet. Slash-and-burn tactics are destroying Mother Nature and its ALL YOUR FAULT.
Why couldn’t we be more attuned to nature, like *insert ethic background*?
All my life, I’ve wished I was part of an ethnic group with a history of worshiping nature as the giver of life, like the Hawaiian Natives, the Shintoist Japanese, the Laplanders of Finland, and the American Inuit. Western civilization destroyed the Earth, so now we need to undo centuries of agriculture-centric culture to become more eco-friendly.
Except that won’t work either. It turns out everyone is crap at being attuned to nature, even the above mentioned groups. They hunted the large mammals to extinction and messed up their ecosystems through depletion because humans are just too awesome at getting food.
So now what do we do?
International Uniformly Geormorphic Extraterrestrial Space Station (IUGES) or bust.