Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Last of the Mohicans

James Fenimore Cooper wrote The Last of the Mohicans, which was probably his best-known novel, in 1826.  Unlike many of the other 17th and 18th Century books I've enjoyed, this one wears its age on its sleeve.  It was clearly written in another era, one in which the women are referred to as the "delicate" or "fragile" ones, and the Native Americans are called "savages," with much being made of their savageness and lust for scalps and hatred of the "pale faces."  It was apparently also a time when novels were big on the long-winded, with far less regard for the story-driven plot line.

I started the book with only a vague recollection of the 1992 film of the same name.  That movie has very, very little to do with this book. 

  • That homestead massacre of Hawkeye's friends? Never happened.  In fact, those people weren't even in the book.
  • Hawkeye was not Chingachgook's adopted son.  They were friends, more of a respected peer relationship.
  • And of Hawkeye, who I fondly remembered as vintage 1992, super hottie Daniel Day-Lewis... The book neither confirms nor denies this was the case. (To be clear, it also never claimed Hawkeye to resemble vintage 2007, super creepy There Will Be Blood Daniel Day-Lewis, either.  Thankfully.)
  • Which might also be why there is no - read it, NO - romance.  None. 
  • Plus, different people die in the end.  In fact, the entire ending is different.
Anyway, the book tells the story of Hawkeye, the white scout who has a close, mutually respectful relationship with Chingachgook and his son Uncas, the titular Mohican.  The three of them rescue the Munro sisters (the moderately admirable Cora and the completely weak Alice) along with their military escort, after the hateful Huron Magua double-crosses them.  There are beautiful passages that talk of the natural landscape, when you can hear the streams gurgling and the mocassined feet making no sounds.  There are also long, wordy, plot-free passages that beg to be skimmed, and quickly.

With all of the wonderful literature out there, I can't recommend this to anyone who is reading as an escape.  Maybe as an assignment for class?

Next up: Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. 

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