I’d kind of forgotten about The Last of the Mohicans. I’d read and enjoyed it as a kid, and thought of it again when I was filling my 11-year-old nephew’s Nook with classic children’s books. Then I thought I would read it again. I got about one chapter in before I called the nephew and told him to skip it. I must have read a children’s version. I remember gripping, fast-paced action, plenty of violence, along with illustrations.
Well, this seemed like a different book altogether. And I’m really used to reading 19th century writers. I have no problem with a somewhat slower pace and a lot of exposition. But this was ridiculous. While there is a great deal of action, it’s interspersed with pages and pages of descriptions of landscape and ruminations upon the noble nature of The Savage.
I don’t know if I even want to get into the whole plot. Let’s just say it’s set during the Seven Years’ War, also known as the French and Indian War. There are some historical figures, like Lt. Col. Munro, the British commander at Fort William Henry, which is practically a character in its own right. In the book, Cooper adds Major Duncan Heyward, Munro’s two daughters Cora and Alice, a completely irrelevant musician, David Gamut, a white woodsman-raised-by-Indians, Hawkeye, and his adopted father and brother, Chingachgook and Uncas. There is also an evil Huron scout, Magua.
There’s a lot of running around upstate New York, where you can still detect traces of the amazing wilderness that once was there. There’s a lot of shooting, captures and rescues of maidens fair, and the upsetting surrender of Fort William Henry with the subsequent massacre of its inhabitants by the vengeful Huron. Oh yes, and scalpings galore. It’s all very bloody and lurid. I’m sure it was shocking at the time. I know I found it shocking, thrilling and wonderful when I was ten.
Unfortunately, the non-children’s version was a difficult and mostly boring read. There’s no question that Cooper was fascinated by the natives and saddened by their destruction. He still manages to be totally patronizing, although I’m sure he was very enlightened for his time. The book was a huge bestseller at the time and became very influential in the way generations of Americans saw the early frontier, however inaccurate.
Unless you have an exceedingly high tolerance for boredom (and I thought I did), I can’t really recommend this book. Instead, watch the 1992 movie, starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Madeleine Stowe. It’s extremely loosely based on the book, but it’s much more fast-paced and exciting. Plus, there’s some serious eye-candy. Like the book, it’s very gross and bloody, but a lot more fun. Also, it has one of the greatest love scenes in movie history.
This is also why I’m using an image from the movie, rather than the book.
Since nephew is still too young for the movie, I need to see if I can find a good children’s version for him. Preferably in digital format.