Thursday, March 25, 2010

Book Review : The Last Of The Mohicans - J Fenimore Cooper 9*

Wow, taking into account that this novel was published in 1826 and that the author tends towards a very formal and verbose, The Last Of The Mohicans is non stop action almost from the opening words.

Like many people, I have seen the 1992 film before reading the book, and so I couldn't get the images of Daniel Day-Lewis as Hawkeye and Wes Studi as Magua out of my mind whilst I was reading it, so whether this enhanced my pleasure in reading the book I can't say. Cooper though, in the style of his era, provides a real action blockbuster of a book, with very little dallying he sets the plot in motion. The daughters of the British soldier Colonel Munro and being escorted by the, unknown to them at the this time, black hearted and vengeful Huron Indian Magua, they encounter the last two surviving Mohicans, Chingachgook and his son Uncas, with their white companion Hawkeye, who proceed to drive Magua away at gun point. Magua returns with his allies and the book becomes a narrative of the various flights and battles between the two sides.

Cooper set his Leatherstocking novels in the transitional period of American history as North America moved from being a group of colonies owned by the old European powers and towards self rule. He also spends some time in describing the relationships between white Europe and the red skinned Indian tribes. The character of Natty Bumpo/Hawkeye represents this transitional phase, he is not yet a fully fledged independence revolutionary, but despite answering in some token form to British rule he does not see himself a a total subject either, and of course he has thrown himself in, body and soul, with his Mohican companions.

Hawkeye's relationship with Chingachgook and Uncas is full of manly respect and love, homage paid to martial skills and deference towards the beliefs of others. There is more than an echo of this relationship in that of Tolkien's Frodo and Samwise.

Despite all the heavy meaningful stuff though is a rip roaring adventure yarn, barely a page goes by without violence and bloodshed, thrilling stand offs and battles both physical and verbal.

In writing the introduction to the novel, David Blair of the University of Kent humorously notes that the film adaptation which takes many liberties with the plot has been the downfall of some of his students..."many a credulous undergraduate who has though it less toilsome to watch the movie than to read the book." Which is a great shame, because TLOTM, like other great novels of a similar age such as Moby Dick, is a real treat to read.

63 of 1001.

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