You Are What You Read

Reviews of books as I read them. This is basically a (web)log of books I've read.

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Location: Lawrenceville, Georgia, United States

I am a DBA/database analyst by day, full time father on evenings and weekends.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Last of the Mohicans

I remember studying early American literature in college but I hadn't had the chance to read James Fenimore Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans until recently. I finally picked it up at the library and finished reading it last week. It is an insightful view into American history, and a stirring story.

The book centers around, Cora and Alice, the two daughters of Munro, the officer in charge of the British forces at Fort William Henry. Major Duncan Heyward leads the young women to the fort with the help of a Huron named Magua, also known as Le Renard Subtil. Magua leads the party into a trap and they are helped by an American hunter named Hawkeye and his two Mohican friends. Hawkeye and his friends manage to escape when the others are captured, and they come to their rescue. The group barely makes it to the fort through the advancing French army.

When Munro receives word that he will not receive reinforcements, he negotiates a deal with the French general to let them retreat. However, the Indian allies of the French are too bloodthirsty to let their enemies go and attack the retreating soldiers and their families. Cora and Alice are captured by Magua and taken north to the Huron lands. Heyward and Munro travel with Hawkeye and the Mohicans to rescue them again.

When they reach the camp of the Hurons, they use trickery to rescue Alice. They escape with her to a neighboring camp of Delawares, allies of the Hurons, where Magua has left Cora. Yet Magua follows and convinces the Delawares that Cora is his rightful prize. When he leaves with her, Uncas, the younger Mohican, follows with the Delawares. In the final fight, Uncas cannot save Cora from Magua.

The description of pre-Colonial life is fascinating, from the landscape to the Indians to the soldiers. Hawkeye is clearly the central figure: his actions lead all the others, and the rest look to him for leadership. Munro is nearly incapacitated with grief and lets the others lead him around. But Hawkeye's knowledge of the wilderness, and more importantly Indian ways, is what helps them the most. He is an interesting character because he is both a man of action and a man of words. He represents a kind of amalgam of civilized and native worldviews.

The action is pretty exciting throughout the story. From the start to the end their is suspense about the fate of the party. They are lost, betrayed, attacked, penned in, captured, rescued, and captured again. There is a lot of drama between the daughters and their rescuers, the French and British generals, and the Indians and the Americans. The relationship of the natives is complex. The Delaware associated with Uncas are nominally allied to the French but have decided not to fight. There are alliances and schisms. The book is a fascinating study in the events of the war and the powers behind it. But it is also a great adventure story and drama, highlighting the troubles of a small band of Americans and their friends.

The language is a little flowery for modern tastes. The style is closer to Shakespeare or classical works, using latinate words and long sentences. It takes a little to get used to, especially in dialogue from an uneducated scout. But in the end it won me over. It's a great story and an American classic. A


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