Monday, April 11, 2016

The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper

The Last of the Mohicans (The Leatherstocking Tales #2)The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My daughter recommended The Last of the Mohicans because James Fenimore Cooper wrote about the Lenni-Lenape Native Americans who are also included in a novel I've written. I found the comparison interesting, but I wrote about their day to day lives at the beginning of the seventeenth century whereas Cooper wrote about their warfare in the eighteenth century, more than a hundred years later. During those years the Lenni-Lenape changed from people who had rarely met Europeans to people who were fighting for their homes and their lives. The Lenni-Lenape were friends of the English, but all the Native Americans were portrayed as warriors. It stated in the book's introduction that “In these pages, Lenni-Lenape, Lenope, Delawares, Wapanachki, and Mohicans, all mean the same people, or tribes of the same stock.”

At times I felt I had to translate Cooper's complex writing before I could understand its meaning. Here is an example:

Duncan thrust forth a foot, and the shock precipitated the eager savage headlong, many feet in advance of his intended victim. Thought itself is not quicker than was the motion with which the latter profited by the advantage; he turned, gleamed like a meteor again before the eyes of Duncan, and, at the next moment, when the latter recovered his recollection, and gazed around in quest of the captive, he saw him quietly leaning against a small painted post, which stood before the door of the principal lodge.

I thought his style might have been due to the time when he was writing, so I looked back at some of his contemporaries to see if I had similar issues with other work from that era. I didn't. Edgar Allen Poe didn't have that same problem in The Fall of the House of Usher nor did Herman Melville in Moby Dick, even though that book is also a slow read. Other Cooper contemporaries include Louisa May Alcott and Mark Twain who wrote very clear text. Cooper was not favorably received by the critics at the time he was writing and I can understand why.

Racism is another issue with The Last of the Mohicans, something my daughter mentioned when she suggested I read the book. Here is an example of this problem:

Nothing but the color of his skin had saved the lives of Magua and the conjurer, who would have been the first victims sacrificed to his own security, had not the scout believed such an act, however congenial it might be to the nature of an Indian, utterly unworthy of one who boasted a decent from men that knew no cross of blood.

This, however, is more a product of the time when Cooper was writing and of his characters' beliefs rather than his own philosophy. In fact, in one section Colonel Munro believes that Duncan prefers his younger daughter, Alice, over his older, Cora, because Cora's mother was a mixed race woman. Cooper uses this scene to condemn racism.

The strengths of the novel are in its exciting plot and how much Cooper's work can teach us about life in early America.

Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul and White Horse Regressions

View all my reviews

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