In the High Peaks

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper

The Saga of the Reading of a Classic American Novel:
Last night Ken and I settled down with Sasha to watch the 1992 movie The Last of the Mohicans, starring Daniel Day-Lewis. After about 20 minutes, I jumped up from the couch and announced that I could not watch another minute because I had to read the book first before viewing. I immediately abandoned both Ken and dog to dash upstairs and download it onto my Nook. And I began to read. Yes, I made apologies to both husband and dog.

I've never read anything by Cooper, who, although not the first American to publish a novel, is recognized as being the author of the first bestselling or first truly popular American novel. The Last of the Mohicans was published in 1826 and is Cooper's most popular novel. Some scholars have agreed that many of its novelistic elements derive from Sir Walter Scott's novels, particularly Waverly. Like Waverly, Cooper's novel is categorized as a historical romance.

In any event, the plot of The Last of the Mohicans could not be more American. The novel is set in 1757 during the French and Indian War in upstate New York, particularly the region surrounding Fort Edward, Glens Falls, Fort William Henry, and Lake George, all of which were primarily wilderness at that time. Glens Falls had a settlement and there was a small hamlet on Lake George, in addition to Fort William Henry. In this conflict, the French recruited and allied themselves with Native American tribes against the power of the British regulars and American colonists.

As far as I've read so far, Alice and Cora Munro are being escorted to Fort William Henry to join their father, a commanding officer. Every step of their journey is filled with the deathly threat from members of tribes belonging to the Iroquois Nation. Fortunately, the sisters and their male escorts have the guidance of Hawkeye, a "forester," scout, veteran of the wilderness, and speaker of Indian languages to protect and lead them. It's thrilling stuff, even if Cooper's prose can be a challenge at times for the modern reader.

Why I'm Gung-Ho On This Novel: Cooper describes the upstate New York wilderness exquisitely. Secondly, I discovered when I started watching the movie that all these events took place in my backyard, two hundred and fifty years ago. Well, an hour's drive south of my backyard.


  1. My eldest brother was so in love with this book as a youngster that he told everyone that Fenimore was his middle name. I haven't read it yet but I have Deerslayer on my TBR pile. It also seems to have an upstate New York setting but between 1740 and 1745.

  2. Katrina,
    My older brother Doug was transfixed by James Fenimore Cooper's books as well! As a teenager, I tried to read what he picked up, but when he was in the Cooper stage of life, I was only in the third grade and mystified why he preferred books to tv.

    The Deerslayer! I know that like Last of the Mohicans, The Deerslayer is a Leatherstocking Tale, that is, one of the books that includes Natty Bumpus. I think there are four titles in all. Cooper did not write them in chronological order.