RARA-AVIS: Last of the Mohicans

From: Michael Robison ( miker_zspider@yahoo.com)
Date: 29 May 2007

I've been looking back at the roots of the hardboiled genre in America, Ring Lardner, Twain, Bret Harte, and London. It was only a matter of time before I made it to Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans. There might be earlier American works that foreshadow the hardboiled genre, but I haven't found it yet.

He was the first major American author. He wrote thirty novels, his lasting fame with the five-book series about woodsman Natty Bumppo. Written in 1826, the most enduring of the series is Last of the Mohicans. Bumppo is protective of the weak and innocent, and more than willing to kill those who threaten them, a classic combination of traits that presages the hardboiled genre. Bumppo is independent, stoic, tough, and yet still capable of sentiment. Cooper uses Bumppo to accent the difference and provide a bridge between the laws of society and the law of the jungle. Last of the Mohicans contains a buttload of violence. It is not just the sanitary shoot-em-fall-down-dead type of violence, either. It includes bashing a baby against rocks and burying a hatchet in the mom's head. It is not just death-dealing, but well into brutal, another feature commonly found in hardboiled.

D.H. Lawrence made a famous comment about the American soul being a stoic killer. The quote was inspired by Cooper's writing. Cooper's style was overwrought and his technical expertise questionable, but he established a model for a tough American character that still survives today.


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