The children’s book turned film, Paddle-to-the-Sea was written in 1941 by Holling Clancy Holling.
In 1966 it was turned into an educational adventure film by award-winning Canadian director and photographer Bill Mason.
Presented for the National Film Board of Canada, it is a narrative tale of a handmade traveling canoe and its passenger voyaging through the waterways of Lake Superior, the Great Lakes and the Atlantic Ocean.
The story highlights the wonder of the sun and water systems, and how the environment is affected by them.
The seasons and their changing cycles are played out on page and on screen in a way that brings them to life and instills a sense of marvel and appreciation for nature in children and nostalgic adults.
It is entertaining, provides a geographical teaching opportunity and fosters a curiosity for exploration of natural surroundings. More than a vibrantly demonstrated tale, the author aims to convey a deeper message as well.
The storyline expresses the need to live in accordance with nature, a significant subject which is ever relevant, especially in current times.
When a curious man places the canoe back into the water, it symbolizes respect. Just because you want to keep an unearthed treasure doesn’t mean it’s always the right decision. Sometimes it is best to keep things as they are found, specifically regarding nature. As the man restores the canoe and chooses to set it free to keep traveling and telling its story, so goes the balance of nature.
Though the theme presented in Paddle-to-the-Sea is a pertinent classic, some literary critics have put forth the notion that there may be hints of unflattering portrayal of the native Indian’s canoed journey.
The simplification of canoe travel coupled with the limited statement on the canoe may be seen as stereotypical; however this is far from the author’s intention and the retelling on film. Both author and filmmaker, rather, are known for their love of the natural world and engaging readers and viewers in story, provoking thought about the characters as well as their relation to the environment.
What I recollect from first viewing this piece in elementary school was a strong man in a durable canoe that understood how to traverse the waters and demanded reverence for a sometimes brutal journey. Not to mention, I always wanted to be able to craft such a neat canoe! The massive water sources combined with a focus on the changing seasons beckoned wonder at the character’s navigation.
Paddle-to-the-Sea provides a welcome simple, yet grand lesson.
Additional works by Holling Clancy Holling feature stories based around nature and historical figures.
Other educational films by Bill Mason include works on the subjects of wildlife and ecological preservation.
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