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James Fenimore Cooper: The Leatherstocking Tales (Library of America) by James Fenimore Cooper, Blake Nevius (Editor)
Cooper's epic of the western course of the American frontier follows the exploits of Natty from the French and Indian Wars to the early nineteenth century. The five novels are presented in their order of composition. Volume 1: The Pioneers, The Last of the Mohicans, The Prairie. Volume 2: The Pathfinder, The Deerslayer.
The Village Voice
The first full-scale imaginer, the progenitor of a literature.
5 out of 5 stars Rediscovered treasure, July 4, 1999
By A Customer
Cooper's works are wonderful blends of action and character development, evoking every emotion from the reader. "Last of the Mohicans" may be his best known novel in the Leatherstocking series (story line order: Deerslayer, Last of Mohicans, Pathfinder, Pioneer, and Prairie), but all five are really great frontier adventures for the outdoor woods lovers.
3 out of 5 stars The Pioneers, March 20, 2003
By reza sami gorgan roodi (IRAN)
In The Pioneers (1823) James Fenimore Cooper, who created the forerunner of backwoods heroes, depicts the clash between individualistic and communal impulses of people in the early development of a frontier settlement in upstate New York. The founder of the settlement, Judge Temple, is the personification of a bourgeois planned and stable society. He believes that laws imposed on individuals separate people from savages and are prerequisites for a civilized society. By trying to educate his settlers in practical approaches to farming and building and conservation of natural resources for practical use, he wishes to establish social and economic relations which are essential for a firmly structured society. Richard Jones, business assistant to Judge Temple and, later, the Sheriff of the county, is an egotistical jack-of-all-trades and represents a spirit of restless competition by which one pursues riches in order to climb the ladder of success. In contrast, the old hunter, Natty Bumppo, the solitary individual who lives in harmony with nature, is a frontier individualist who has a vision of a frontier society coexisting with nature. He craves traditional attitudes while fearing and despising civilization and its wasteful ways. His individualism is considered as a threat to Templeton and his natural laws eventually bring him into conflict with the "civilized" Judge and the people who are destroying the wilderness, a conflict that ultimately makes him escape the encroaching civilization and the lawless settlers.
4 out of 5 stars Bumpo. Natty Bumpo (Nope, it just doesn't work)., July 4, 2008
By Todd Stockslager (Raleigh, NC)
Omnibus volume 1 of 2 in the Library of America edition of the "Leatherstocking tales"--five novels by Cooper that cover the live of a great woodsman in the 18th and 19th centuries. The most well known of the stories "Last of the Mohicans", was neither the first written nor the first in sequence, as Cooper compiled his life-work in scattershot style.
Library of Amerca Volume 1
1823 "The Pioneers"
1826 "The Last of the Mohicans"
1827 "The Prairie"
Library of America Volume 2
(James Fenimore Cooper : The Leatherstocking Tales II: The Pathfinder, The Deerslayer (Library of America))
1840 "The Pathfinder"
1841 "The Deerslayer"
Books in the Library of America series deserve praise for their quality binding and paper, portable size, minimal but useful supporting materials, and reasonable price. I was fortunate to find this 2-volume set at a library book sale brand new (still in shrink wrap!) for $4 (total list price of $75).
First, [let's] address the order in which the reader may choose to read the books--as written by Cooper, or in chronological order of the character Natty Bumpo. After some internal debate, I chose to read them as Cooper wrote them, looking for changes in his character and his writing style to see if either the books or the character notably improved or regressed. To read them in chronological order of Natty Bumpo'ls life, read in this sequence:
"The Last of the Mohicans" - set in 1757 near present-day Glen Falls, NY, during the French and Indian War (the story references historical events and characters from the war).
"The Pioneers" - set in 1780s in upstate New York, farther west than the events in "Mohicans"
"The Prairie" - set in 1805 in the American midwest.
Cooper started with "The Pioneers", placing the aging Bumpo close to the end of his scouting career as the pioneers of the title crowd into and cut down his wilderness in upstate New York. The pioneers clear out the forests that Bumpo knows and loves. and drive away the wildlife he knows and respects and on which he earns his living and his livelihood. The series starter is at once more philosophical (Cooper--through the voice of Bumpo--comes across as a thoroughly modern environmentalist) and humorous (much of the book centers around the comical characters of the pioneers) than "Last of the Mohicans". Cooper's environmentalism is best expressed by Bumpo in "The Prairies", where he prophesies with the wisdom of his 80 years:
"Look around you, men; what will the Yankee choppers say, when they have cut their path from the eastern to the western waters, and find that a hand, which can lay the 'arth bare at a blow, has been here, and swept the country, in very mockery of their wickedness. They will turn on their tracks, like a fox that doubles, and then the rank smell of their own footsteps, will show them the madness of their waste."
We have lived to witness the fulfillment of his prophecy.
"Mohicans" is 2/3 of a ripping fast adventure story, that bogs down in the last 1/3 in arcane Native American politics. Cooper makes much--too much--of the political differences between and among Native tribes, distinctions made by a 19th century writer of an 18th century tale, distinctions based on 16th-century white European biases, none of which are meaningful or accurate to 21st century readers steeped in 20th-century revisionism to try to correct the tragic history of those last 5 centuries.
That said, it is easy to see why "Mohicans" is the centerpiece and most popular of the books, and the one most accessible to Hollywood (12 movie and television versions, including some foreign language films, most recently starring Daniel-Day Lewis in 1992). Cooper knows how to write a chase and a cliffhanger which that best screenwriter would have trouble improving upon, and his main characters (Bumpo and his native partners Chingachgook and Uncas) are not only strikingly modern in their environmentalism, but also in their laconic heroism. Clint Eastwood surely must have studied and copied their delivery to create his anti-heroic Dirty Harry Callahan persona.
"The Prairie" may be the strangest to read, as the reader progresses through the tale with the foreknowledge that he will see the end of the life of Natty Bumpo the person, but not the end of Natty Bumpo the literary character. This, and Cooper's writing style that now reads as wordy and stilted, take some of the edge off what could have been a great deathbed ending. Plus, like "The Pioneers", this book returns to the semi-comic style, with characters inserted for comic relief who engage in long monologues that just don't hold up as well today as when written 150 years or more ago. The Library of America notes on the texts says that "Mohicans" was aggressively edited to accelerate the pace of the narrative, and it shows.
"The Prairie" as the title suggests, was set on the flat grassland at the western edge of the "settled lands"--but still east of the Mississippi when Cooper originally wrote the novel! A measure of how quickly America was expanding west is evidenced by notes in revised editions just 20 years after Cooper's original writing that the setttlers had now overcome this territory and that "the 'settler' preceded by the 'trapper,' has already established himself on the shores of that vast sea [Pacific Ocean]."
Natty Bumpo is now a very old man (regularly admitting to four score years, and at one point referencing four score plus seven winters, or 87 years old) for his time. He is weak, shaky garrulous, forgetful and losing his eyesight, but still smart enough to think before acting, and wise enough to lead the motley crew of characters who stumble across his path out of harms way.
I would rate "Mohicans" five stars, "The Pioneers" four stars, and "The Prairie" three stars, and thrown in a bonus to Library of America for its aforementioned virtues. In general then, the experiment in reading the books in the sequence written didn't show a falloff of the quality of Cooper's writing, but rather reflects the writing style of the time and demonstrates the value of judicious editing in the case of "Mohicans." Interestingly, "The Prairie" was written and published during an extended stay in Paris, at a time when Cooper's financial straits demanded financial more than critical success. While born into landed wealth in upstate New York (Cooperstown is named for his family), Cooper endured periods of financial and critical failure during his career, and embroiled himself in several lawsuits that, won or lost, cost him money and reputation.
One interesting thing I took away from these three novels was how Cooper's writing preshadows (and possibly influenced?) J. R. R. Tolkien
1. The use of landscape and weather as characters and portents. The weather moves, predicts, and influences the actions and attitudes of characters.
2. The role of the "hidden king" taking his rightful place when identified after proving his worth as a commoner and a warrior among his people (Uncas in "Mohicans" and Aragorn in "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy).
3. The use of names to impart different meanings, perceptions, and purposes to a character based on the names others used to describe them- for example
Nathaniel Bumpo - given English name.
Natty Bumpo/Bumpho - informal English name.
Leatherstocking - English nickname for his long soft-leather leggings and moccasins he was known for wearing.
Hawkeye - name given by English-ally Indians for his accurate shooting aim
"the scout" or "the trapper" - names used often by Cooper to identify the character by his role
Longue Carabine - name given by French-ally Indians for his long-barreled rifle (which in a critical confrontation about which white man is really about
After writing these notes pointing out ways in which I found similarities between Cooper and Tolkien, I found this hit in Wikipedia:
"Cooper's work has greatly influenced J.R.R. Tolkien, whose Elves have many elements of Cooper's portraits of noble Native Americans, while some passages -- like the journey down the river Anduin in The Two Towers -- read like passages from The Last of the Mohicans."
However, finding additional hits to confirm this was difficult, and would make a worthy subject for future research for [an] English or American literature masters thesis.