Re: RARA-AVIS: Last of the Mohicans

From: Kevin Burton Smith (
Date: 30 May 2007

On May 29, 2007, at 4:15 PM, Michael Robison wrote:

> 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.

What a great post, miker.

It should also be noted that Hawkeye's study of footprints was said to have inspired Conan Doyle.

And that "I'd dare to speak the truth consarnin' you or any man that lived" is as good a code as anything Spade or Marlowe spat out.

And Nathan (not Bumpo) wrote;

> Am I the only person that finds Cooper unreadable? Every time I've
> tried to
> read something of his I've never been able to finish it.

Oh, yeah, his writing is pretty turgid. Cooper never let an epigraph slip by, or a classical allusion get through, without trying to hitch a ride. And why spend a line describing something when you can spend a chapter?

Hawkeye may be hard-boiled, but the prose style is about as floral as you can get (just ask Mark Twain). Still, if you can plow past the verbiage... Wow! Whadda story!!!

And now, the obligatory Canadian bit:

WACOUSTA, (1836) by Colonel Something Something Richardson, is generally considered the first Canadian novel, and of course spins the similarly themed (but American) LAST OF THE MOHICANS on its head. The title character appears to be a crazy native hell-bent on revenge who kidnaps a white woman and leads her rescuers on a nasty, violent chase. It gets nice and grim and the bodycount rises steadily and everyone ends up in some sort of hell or another. It's drawn comparisons to everything from FRANKENSTEIN and IVANHOE to -- yes -- Cooper's works.

It's also pretty much a hard slog, for today's reader. But, as Five- Star Harriet might say, it's just the perfect type of thing to read for those who like that type of thing to read for which I'd heartily recommend.


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