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A few decades too late

The Last of the Mohicans - Richard Slotkin, James Fenimore Cooper

I would have liked this book a lot better if I had read it when I was about 13. It is basically a buddy action movie set during the French and Indian War, which I would have totally grooved on, because that was exactly the sort of story I was into back then, and because I grew up in Northern New York State, where a lot of the French and Indian War was fought.



Reading this book about 30 years later, it seems a bit formulaic and clichéd -which may be unfair, because it may well have been fresh and innovative at the time of original writing. (1826) If it was, the freshness didn't last long, because by the mid 1880s readers enjoyed a good chuckle reading Mark Twain's essay on The Literary Offenses of James Fenmore Cooper.


So what are we talking about here?  We have two very stereotypical Native American characters: the Last Mohican and his son (you'll understand why the son isn't the Very Last Mohican, if you read the book), swashbuckling but aloof Natty Bumppo, Duncan Monroe- the presumed "accessable hero" - a "Royal American" soldier (this being the days of colonial America), a comic-relief church choir director, and two sisters who are respectively Snow White-sweet and Princess Leia-tough.


Here's some fun related artwork, through the ages:







So maybe I misspoke; it's not exactly an action buddy movie, but an ensemble piece with a mini "epic journey", lots of Saturday matinee-type action, and plot devices which I mentally file under the term "comic-bookery": tomahawks whizz by people's ears, missing them by nanometers; villains are faked out by ingenious disguises; unlikely alliances result in unexpected turns of battle; ancient Indian mystic rites bedazzle predictably snooty French cultural imperialsts; and the majesty of the untouched North American wilderness is painted as brightly in Cooper's prose as Frank McCarthy's paint.

That is to say, like this:








Yeah... that's pretty much the feel of these books. And I know some readers will take issue with a lot of political incorrectness- which there is plenty of-  but... well, that's why I wish I read it when I was 13.  It would have been fine for me not to think about that stuff at that age, and I would have just enjoyed this book as a fun story with some unexpected twists. That's obviously what James Fenmore Cooper was going for. Reading this, you just know he was psyched about what a kick-ass adventure he was writing. The end product isn't any more realistic than a Michael Bay film, and also like a Michael Bay film, it doesn't give a fuck that it isn't strictly realistic. Cooper wanted to be the storyteller around the campfire, telling a tall tale to his enthralled young audience, and if only I were younger, I would have loved being one of those listeners.