The Last of the Mohicans is the second book in The Leatherstocking Tales by James Fenimore Cooper.
Quick Review (read on for full review)
Lavish and lengthy descriptions of stunning scenery combine with a tale of adventure in this classic of American literature. Definitely worth a read if you are a fan of geography. 4 / 5
Summary (from Goodreads, same as back cover of book)
Skirmishes, captures, flights and rescues are only some of the ingredients of this classic tale of bloody conflict between the British and the French in the forests of North America. It also tells of the cynical exploitation of the native tribes by the two protagonists, setting Indian against Indian, Mohican against Huron.
However, there is one honourable European, natty Bumppo, the loyal and corageous woodsman, who prefers the simple code of natural law to the machinations of the white man. Together with Uncas, the last of the Mohicans, he helps to thwart the efforts of Magua, the sinister Huron, who tries to prevent Alice and Cora Munro from joining their father, the British commander of Fort William Henry.
James Fenimore Copper was the first great American novelist, and his love of the early frontier and the lore of the woodsman struck a chord with his readers that still finds echo today.
History, like love, is so apt to surround her heroes with an atmosphere of imaginary brightness.
(From The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper)
This book is almost two hundred years old, and set 75 years before it was written, during the French and Indian Wars. There were some things that I really enjoyed about The Last of the Mohicans and some things I liked a lot less. Let’s start with the positives.
The story itself is entertaining. There is action, a desire for revenge, plenty of chases, kidnapping, a hint of romance, and more, all played out against a backdrop of stunning, unspoilt scenery.
Then there are the characters. Hawk-eye is very interesting as he is a man caught between two worlds but not completely part of either. He moves between both with ease and fluidity, and is accepted by both, yet he appears very much as a man apart, a man alone. Cora is strong and courageous in the face of danger, whilst Alice is beautiful and so utterly pathetic which was prized in women at the time, but doesn’t translate particular well in the twenty-first century…
The American Frontier is richly described in all its vast, awe-inspiring beauty. Indeed, James Fenimore Cooper has captured and recorded this wild landscape in exquisite detail, which is wonderful for a reader like me who prizes geography highly in a book. There might be an argument, and a justified one at that, which questions whether the author has to describe absolutely everything the characters see in minute detail, but some of the descriptions really are wonderful.
What I really (read: really, really, really!) didn’t like was the lengthy and unnatural dialogue, and this did harm my enjoyment of the story. Here we find characters chatting away at the most inopportune times in order to facilitate the author’s need to explain everything. Also, the story doesn’t seem to move at a great pace, given how much action is involved in it.
Then we come to the question of racism…There is no getting away from the fact, that to a modern audience the story does come across as unpalatable, given the prejudices and stereotypes that are mentioned frequently in the book. Yet, I have also come across views that say James Fenimore Cooper had a great respect for the native population, which I can also see in the prose, if taken in the context of the time of writing. But still…
Part of me is a little bit tempted to read the other stories in The Leatherstocking Tales, but another part remains wary. Though there was much to enjoy in The Last of the Mohicans, there is no getting away from the fact that the narrative is heavy and I found it much too slow for my liking.
The 1992 film takes what is good about this story and presents it in a much better form for modern audiences, I think. So, if you have the chance to either read the book or watch the film, I would probably suggest the film. Gasp and Horror! I know, 9.9 times out of 10, I would have said go read the book, but there we go. However, if you are after reading a piece of classic American literature, give it a go and tell me what you think. After all, as I said above, there is much to recommend it if you have the patience for it.
April’s Book for The Very Informal Classic Reads Book Club Challenge 2021 – Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte