Julie of the Wolves
by Jean Craighead George
Adventure, Coming-of-Age, Pastoral
Miyax is on an adventure, that much is clear. She faces grizzlies, wolverines, lone wolves, and the endless tundra itself. Her life is constantly in danger, particularly in the novel's opening, where's she's just one meal away from starving. Luckily Miyax is up for the challenge, and her calm, cool, collected way of dealing with disaster makes us confident she'll survive the adventure until the end.
And survive she does. Miyax has the staying power to make this a coming-of-age tale, too. Although it's not chronological, we watch Miyax grow from a tiny tot (a four-year-old, to be precise) to a tenacious teen. Plus, as we observe her on the tundra, we see that she changes from a hopeful, if somewhat naïve young girl to a woman who is steadfast in her belief in Eskimo traditions. There's no denying it: Miyax grows up in this book, and fast.
Traditionally, pastoral literature involves shepherds in the countryside, talking about how life in the fast lane is bad for the soul. If this were the only way to think about a pastoral, then Julie of the Wolves certainly wouldn't fit the bill. There are, sadly, no sheep. But if we think a bit outside the box, and consider a pastoral work to be any work that sings the praises of the country life and complains about the drawbacks of the city, then our novel is definitely a pastoral.
Miyax, in the end, just can't stand civilization. She's wooed by the beauty of the tundra, and thinks a life of carving, hunting, and singing Eskimo songs is the cat's meow. If she lived in town, she'd have a bumper sticker on the back of her car that says, "I'd rather be fishing."
When she reaches Kangik, she's horrified to find her father has given into to technology, and it's only with deep regret and some major grief at the loss of Tornait that she agrees to ditch her life at the ice house and rejoin society. So what does all this mean? It means Julie of the Wolves is a book that loves nature, and it's not a big fan of the city. That, friends, is all it takes to be a pastoral.