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Monday, June 18, 2012

The Last of The Mohicans (1826) by James Fenimore Cooper

James Fenimore Cooper (1789-1851)
                                  James Fenimore Cooper

The Last of the Mohicans
by James Fenimore Cooper
published 1826
This edition Fiction Wise Classics 2005

Guide to 19th Century American Literature

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Book Review: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, 1885, 10/15/13
Book Review: The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James ,1880 , 7/16/13
Book Review; Ben Hur by Lew Wallace,1880  6/13/13
Book Review: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott,1869, 3/9/13
Book Review: The Marble Faun by Nathaniel Hawthorne 1860, 9/19/12
Book Review: Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe 1852, 9/12/12
Book Review: The Blithedale Romance by Nathaniel Hawthorne,1851, 5/30/12
Book Review: Moby Dick by Herman Melville 1851, 8/27/12
Book Review: The House of the Seven Gables,1851,  6/21/12
Book Review: The Pit and The Pendulum  1842, 3/28/12
Book Review: The Purloined Letter by Edgar Allan Poe, 1844, 3/27/12
Book Review: The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe, 1839, 3/20/12
Book Review: The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper, 1826, 6/18/12

  You simply can't discuss James Fenimore Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans without discussing Sir Walter Scott's The Waverley Novels.

  The Last of the Mohicans is the second of a five-volume series called The Leatherstocking Tales.  The Leatherstocking Tales stand in relation to The Waverley Novels as the Rolling Stones and the Beatles stand in relation to Elvis:  One inspired and survived to maintain a presence during the ascendancy of the other.  Here, Sir Walter Scott's The Waverley Novels were Elvis, and The Leatherstocking Tales are the Beatles.

  The Waverley Novels are known as such because Sir Walter Scott wrote under a psuedonym- but Waverley was the first Novel in his series, and for the second book in the series it said that the Author was "The Author of Waverley;" referring to the TITLE of the first book.  Unlike The Waverley novels, which were just a series of Novels by the same Author set in the past (i.e. "historical, epic fiction."), James Fenimore Cooper's The Leatherstocking Tales refer to a specific character, birth name, Natty Brumppo, although in the books he goes by a variety of names:  the Pathfinder, the Trapper, Deer Slayer, Le Longue Carabine and, most hilariously,  Hawkeye.

 Similar to The Waverley Novels, The Last of the Mohicans is set in the past.  Written in 1826, the events of The Last of the Mohicans re-enact well known "current events" from a half century ago.   Like The Waverley Novels, The Last of the Mohicans and the other Leatherstocking Tales were not written in a political vacuum.  To talk about Sir Walter Scott and his line of descent, as some kind of autonomous "Art for Art's Sake" type work is to entirely miss the main point of these books, which is to entertain, and convince the reader of a set of viewpoints that corresponds to the strongly held beliefs of the Author.

 It may be a fascinating area of inquiry- parsing that out- but not really the concern of someone who is going to read The Last of the Mohicans because they saw the movie starring Daniel Day-Lewis or because, say, it's on the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die list.  For those readers, The Last of the Mohicans is an inevitable disaster because of the clunk methods Cooper uses to go "back in time."  All the dialogue is stilted, and the lavish depictions of scenery are hardly a revelation to anyone who has seen a photograph.

   It's easy to understand WHY James Fenimore Cooper has been canonized, because he's the first internationally famous American Author, and because America INVENTED canonization in the mid 20th century, a time that was more concerned with American roots then we are today.  However, the action doesn't hold the attention, and the politics are, to be kind, "politically incorrect."  Another way to put it might be "well-meaning racism."

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