The Last of the Mohicans has been on my “to read” list since I first watched and fell in love with the movie when it came out in 1992 when I was 14. I loved it! I even purchased a hard cover classic copy from Barnes and Nobles to read and have held on to it since then. My Grandma Arlt scared me off from reading it when she described how tedious a read it was for her. I finally made my way through this novel as part of our new Back to the Classics Book Club at the Kewaunee Public Library. I selected this novel for our second pick as I have wanted to read it for almost thirty years and I was hoping the action and adventure would be a broad appeal to readers.
The book and movie are separate items and characters storylines vary widely between the two. Events take place at different times between the two and the ending is very different. Duncan Heyward is one character who has a very different personality in the book versus the movie. In the movie he is rather unlikeable and loves Cora. In the book he is a good character, likable and in love with Alice. His ending is very different in the book versus the movie. Usually I like the book better than the movie, but I think in the case of The Last of the Mohicans, the movie improved on the book.
Although The Last of the Mohicans in a classic book, be warned that is violent. It has a horrifying scene with a baby’s head being smashed. We discussed this at book club on Monday and we were all surprised and horrified by this.
I knew that The Last of the Mohicans was a historical fiction novel, but I didn’t realize this was based on a real event and included some actual historical figures. Colonel George Monro was a real man, but he didn’t have any daughters to come to visit him at Fort William Henry. Colonel Monro really did surrender to French Major General Louis Joseph de Montcalm after General Webb refused to send backup to Colonel Monro. The massacre described in the novel really did happen as the English tried to peaceably leave the fort under a flag of truce with the French not protecting them. I was fascinated by this real history.
I was also fascinated that Cora was mixed race. This is not in the movie version and indeed I had to read the passage two times in the novel to pick up on it. It provided a great source of conversation for our book club. Does Cora’s mixed race heritage lead to her fate in the novel? The book had a lot of discussion about race. This is not a new problem in America.
Although Cooper used the resources he had at the time, he doesn’t represent Native Americans accurately. There were many errors that were easy to pick up on, although I think people that do not have any understanding of Native American culture may believe a lot of inaccuracies due to this novel. One item that really got me was that in the novel Native Americans keep bears at pets and don’t really notice when one shows up to their gathering and sits down among them. And then Chingachgook dresses up as a beaver and no one notices. I’ll admit I had to put the novel aside after these two assurances as I was so annoyed.
Mark Twain liked to pick on James Fenimore Cooper for being basically too verbose in his writing and I tend to agree. I had a really hard time getting into this book and could see why my Grandma warned me about it so many years ago. It is a great historical romance and adventure story, but Cooper’s dialogue is very flat and doesn’t seem like how people would be talking at the time. There are also entire pages of French with no translation. Hopefully I wasn’t missing anything pertinent to the story.
This book did provide lively discussion for our book club. We went over the background of the French and Indian War, Native American history and current affairs, what was going on in the 1820s when the novel was published, and how The Last of the Mohicans was one of the first American novels to show that there was American literature to the rest of the world.
“Should we distrust the man because his manners are not our manners, and his skin is dark?”
“Why, because it is better for a man to die at peace with himself than to live haunted by an evil conscience!”
“Book! What have such as I, who am a warrior of the wilderness, though, a man without a cross, to do with books?” (I was horrified by this statement by Hawkeye!!)
“I would I had a thousand men, of brawny limbs and quick eyes, that feared death as little as you!” (Hawkeye to Cora)
“There was a strange blending of the ridiculous with that which was solemn in this scene.”
“The gifts of our colors may be different, but God has so placed us as to journey in the same path”
Overall, The Last of the Mohicans is an important part of American literature and is a great adventure story, but it can be tedious to read at times. It is a good book to discuss at a classics book club.
Book Source: Purchased at Barnes and Noble over twenty years ago.