Set in upstate New York in colonial times, Cooper here tells the tale of the stolid colonial scout Hawkeye, nee Natty Bumppo (don't ask), who, with his two Indian companions Chingachgook (the Big Snake) and his son Uncas (apparently newly come to manhood), stumble on a party of British soldiers conducting two fair maidens to their father, the commander of British Fort William Henry during the French and Indian War. Under the watchful eyes of the young British officer who has the girls in his charge and led by a Huron scout, Magua, the party appears, to the indomitable Hawkeye, to be at greater risk than they realize as they trek through the wilderness toward the safety of the girls' father's garrison. And, indeed, Hawkeye's judgement is soon proved right as the scout Magua treacherously betrays the hapless girls in repayment, it seems, for a stint of corporal punishment inflicted on him previously by their absent parent. Since the Hurons, Magua's native tribe, are culturally akin to the Iroquois who are the herditary enemies of the Algonquin Delawares, from whom Chingachgook and his son hail and among whom Hawkeye has made his home and friendships, a natural antagonism arises almost at once between Hawkeye's party and the Huron and this proves salutary, when danger finally strikes. The tale quickly becomes a matter of flight and pursuit through thickly overgrown primeval forests, over rough mountains and across broad open lakes as the beleagured travelers first elude and then flee the dreaded Iroquois (allies of the French) who have joined the renegade Huron in an effort to seize the two girls. After a brief respite within the safety of William Henry however, the tables are once again turned as Magua's perfidy puts the girls once more at risk. And now the story shifts to a manic pursuit of the fleeing Magua who means to carry off his human prey in order to finally have his revenge on the girls' father, on the British and on the Europeans, generally, whose presence in his native country he blames (not altogether unjustifiably) for his myriad travails. Written in the fine tradition of the 19th century romance (which, of course, is what this book is), Cooper picked up where Sir Walter Scott (the venerable founder of this novelistic tradition) left off, creating a rich historical tale of adventure, nobility and marvelously sketched characters set against a brilliantly detailed natural landscape. If his characters are less keenly drawn than Scott's they are no less memorable for, in the quiet nobility of the scout Hawkeye lies the strong, silent hero of the wilderness which has become the archetypical protagonist in our own American westerns. And the Indians, Chingachgook and Uncas, are the very prototypes of the noble savage, so much used, and over-used, today. This is a tale of action first and foremost without much plot but so well told that you barely notice, as our heroes flee and pursue their enemies in turn -- until the very quickness of the prose seems to mirror and embody the speed of the action. Nor is this book only to be read for its rapid-fire rendition of flight and pursuit, for it touches the reader on another level as well, as the bold young Uncas moves out ahead of his comrades to place himself at risk for the others and the woman he loves. Although we never see Uncas at anything but a distance and never get to know the man he is supposed to be, he is yet a symbol of that people of whom he is the last chiefly descendant, the Delaware Mohicans. Nobly born into the finest of Mohican bloodlines, Uncas faces his final trial with heroic energy and resolve in order to defeat the nefarious and twisted Magua. Yet this struggle is also the final footnote in the story of a people, marking the closing chapter for all those Indians who, with the Mohicans, have, in Cooper's own words, seen the morning of their nation and the inevitable nightfall which must follow. If you give this book a chance and bear with some of the heavy nineteenth century prose, it will prove out in the end. An exciting and worthwhile read.
SWM author of The King of Vinland's Saga
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About the reviewer
Stuart W. Mirsky (swmirsky)
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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