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The Deerslayer (Bantam Classics)

A book by James Fenimore Cooper

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Not The Last of the Mohicans, unfortunately...

  • Sep 8, 1997
Seeking to reprise his earlier success with The Last of the Mohicans, James Fenimore Cooper went on to write several other tales built around his heroic character Natty Bumppo (called "Hawkeye" in Mohicans and "Pathfinder" in the book of THAT name). In this one our hero is known as "Deerslayer" for his facility on the hunt and is shown as the younger incarnation of that paragon of frontier virtue we got to know in the earlier books. In this one, too, we see how he got his most famous appellation: "Hawkeye". But, this time out, our hero comes across as woefully tiresome (perhaps it's because we see too much of him in this book, where he's almost a side character in Mohicans). Yet some of Cooper's writing skills seem sharper here (he no longer avers that Natty is the taciturn type, for instance, while having the fellow forever running off at the mouth). But, while there are some good moments & excitement, this tale really doesn't go all that far -- and its rife with cliches already overworked from the earlier books. The worst part is the verbose, simple-minded self-righteousness of our hero, himself, taken to the point of absolute unbelievability. He spurns the love of a beautiful young woman (though he obviously admires her) for the forester's life (as though he couldn't really have both), yet we're expected to believe he's a full-blooded young American male. And he's insufferably "moral", a veritable goody two-shoes of the woodlands. At the same time, the Indians huff & puff a lot on the shore of the lake where Deerslayer finds himself in this tale (in alliance with a settler, his two daughters, a boorish fellow woodsman, and Deerslayer's own erstwhile but loyal Indian companion Chingachgook -- "The Big Sarpent," as Natty translates his name). But the native Americans seem ultimately unable to overwhelm the less numerous settlers who have taken refuge from them in the middle of Lake Glimmerglass (inside a frontier house built of logs and set in the lake bed on stilts). There is much racing around the lake as Deerslayer and the others strive to keep the few canoes in the vicinity from falling into the hands of the tribe of marauding Hurons who have stopped in the nearby woods on their way back up to Canada (fleeing the American colonists and the British at the outbreak of English-French hostilities -- since these Hurons are allied with the French). And there are lots of dramatic encounters, with some deaths, but the Indians seem to take it all with relative equanimity, while trying to find a way to get at the whites who are precariously ensconced out on the lake. (It seems to take them the better part of two days, for instance, to figure out they can build rafts to make up for their lack of canoes -- and why couldn't they just build their own canoes, in any case -- and how is it they don't have any along with them since it's obvious they'll have to cross a number of waterways to successfully make it back to the homeland in Canada?) The settler and the boorish woodsman, for their part, do their stupid best to attack the Indians unnecessarily, getting captured then ransomed in the process, while Deerslayer and Chingachgook contrive to get the loyal Indian's betrothed free from the Hurons (it seems she has been kidnapped by them -- the reason Deerslayer and Chingachgook are in the vicinity in the first place). In the meantime the simple-minded younger daughter of the settler (Cooper seems to like this motif since he used a strong daughter and a simpler sister in Mohicans, as well) wanders in and out of the Indian's encampment without sustaining any hurt on the grounds that the noble red men recognize the "special" nature of this poor afflicted young woman (Cooper used this motif in Mohicans, too). In the end there's lots of sturm und drang but not much of a tale -- at least not one which rings true or touches the right chords for the modern reader. Cooper tried to give us more of Hawkeye in keeping with what he thought his readers wanted but, in this case, more is definitely too much. --- Stuart W. Mirsky, author of The King of Vinland's Saga

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November 22, 2010
Too bad this didn't live up to Cooper's other writings. Very detailed and thorough review. Thanks for sharing!
About the reviewer
Stuart W. Mirsky ()
Ranked #232
I'm a retired bureaucrat (having served, most recently, as an Assistant Commissioner in amunicipal agency in a major Northeastern American city). In 2002 I took an early retirement to pursue a lifelong … more
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This novel, Cooper's last contribution to his five-volume "Leatherstocking Tales," introduces Natty Bumppo as a young frontiersman in early 18th-century New York and keeps him busy rescuing white women from Indians. Since Cooper actually wrote this book last in his series, one would expect it to be competently written. However, it's impossible to listen to it without thinking of Mark Twain's savage essay "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses," in which he calls The Deerslayer a "literary delirium tremens." Very apt. The book takes forever to go nowhere, and its dialog is a tortuous blend of stilted literary English and wholly imaginary frontier dialect. Such imperfections may be passed over on the printed page, but they are impossible to ignore when given voice. Narrator Raymond Todd reads descriptive passages just fine, but no one can make Cooper's dialog sound like real speech. This is better left to print editions. Kent Rasmussen, Thousand Oaks, CA
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.--This text refers to theAudio Cassetteedition.
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ISBN-10: 0553210858
ISBN-13: 978-0553210859
Author: James Fenimore Cooper
Publisher: Bantam Classics

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