An admiring, rather placid biography of the Canadian filmmaker and wilderness proponent Bill Mason. Mason is best known for his films: Paddle to the Sea, adapted from a children's book about a little carved Indian canoeing and adventuring from Lake Superior to the Atlantic, and Cry of the Wild, his short feature in praise of wolves. He was also the author of several bestselling books on canoeing techniques and history (Path of the Paddle and Song of the Paddle). He brought to all of his various labors both knowledge and love of the great outdoors, as well as doses of Christian sermonizing. It didn't hurt that just as Mason was refining his artistry, during the 1960s and '70s, a great wave of environmental appreciation and concern broke across North America and Europe, giving his material additional currency and power. Raffan's (Outdoor and Experiential Education/Queens Univ., Ontario) biography is a linear model, starting at the beginning—Mason's early days in Winnipeg, his schooling, with much consideration given to his short stature—on through his start in commercial art and photography, his marriage and family life, his breakthrough into directing films, his abandonment of filmmaking and retreat into painting (no critical success there, nor much self-satisfaction), to his death at 59, in 1988, of cancer. There are plenty of excerpts from his journals and letters, but a clear picture of the man never emerges. Perhaps this has to do with Mason's religious bent, with which Raffan seems uncomfortable; you can almost feel him cringe when Mason talks of nature as ``God's creation'' and refers to the outdoors as ``this blessed wilderness.'' Raffan is much happier with Mason the environmental advocate, the canoeist, the guy who should have been a voyageur but was born 200 years too late. Lots of facts, background, and stories, but Mason never gets the breath of life from Raffan.
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