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Though this book was the last of the Leatherstocking Tales series (which follows the life of backwoods hunter and scout Natty Bumpo Leatherstocking and Deerslayer are two of the several nicknames he'll bear during his career) to be written, it's actually the first in the internal chronology of the series, set in 1744 at the outbreak of King George's War (This was one of several English vs French wars in North America, leading up to the French and Indian War depicted in The Last of the Mohicans Neither the date or the name of the war are explicitly given in the book, but enough clues are supplied to make them clear.) Having read two books of the series out of order, as a gradeschool and juniorcollege student, I'd resolved, after this long hiatus, to finally read the whole corpus, in as close to the internal order as I could Now that I've finished this one, my only regret is that I waited so long; it's the best of Cooper's works that I've read yet The cover copy of this 1982 Bantam classic printing (not the same edition Goodreads depicts above) characterizes this as Cooper's masterpiece Since I've only read three of his other novels, I can't say for certain if that's true; but I think it well may be.We first meet the roughly 22yearold Natty here about to arrive at Lake Otsego, in the New York Appalachian mountains just about due west of Albany (the later site of the reallife settlement of Cooperstown, where the author grew up) An orphan raised by the Delaware Indians (how that came about isn't explained in this book), he's on his way to meet his Indian friend Chingachgook on an at first undisclosed errand, and traveling in company with slightlyolder trapper Henry Hurry Harry March, just because they're bound for the same place March is interested in visiting the lake's residents: widowed, mysterious (and maybe shady) Floating Tom Hutter, who's built a residence/fortress on a shoal well out into the lake, and his two comely daughters, Judith and feebleminded Hetty It's a situation already fraught with danger and suspense, because the recent outbreak of war makes isolated settlers like these probable targets for bands of the Indian allies of the French The main events of the story (except for a sort of epilogue which Cooper handles here much better than he does in The Spy) take place in less than the span of a week; but an enormous amount of adventure and moral trial and growth happens in that span.All of the author's works I'd read previously were early ones; this is a muchmature work, and it shows Cooper's diction here isn't anyelaborate and orotund than that of most Romanticera fiction (and that's also the case with The Spy; I'm beginning to think the fulsomeness of The Last of the Mohicans isunique to that work than a general defect of Cooper's style) His approach to story telling, to be sure, is slow and deliberate; he uses big words if they serve his purpose, constructs complex sentences, and isn't afraid of occasional direct address to the reader But those features don't bother me; and the story he tells is absorbing (even suspenseful and tense), wellconstructed, and emotionally powerful; this is Romantic historical fiction at its finest Moreover, it's the vehicle for profound moral and spiritual reflection, which is built into the fabric of the story and animates it as naturally as blood and breath animate the human body That aspect ispronounced here than in any other Cooper novel I've read, and that's what elevates it into fivestar territory.Both Balzac and James Russell Lowell (in the latter's satirical poem Cooper, one of several literary criticisms he wrote in poetic form of other authors of his day) fault Cooper as not being particularly sharp in his characterizations (Although despite that, Balzac rated him highly overall.) Lowell was particularly caustic about Cooper's female characters, deeming them all sappy and flat, and essentially indistiguishable But by now, I've read enough of Cooper to judge this for myself, and to a degree rebut it and no Cooper novel furnishes as much grist for a rebuttal as this one, because ALL of the important characters here are sharplydrawn and distinguished, and come alive with considerable reality We getof a sense of Natty's inner character here than we do in either of the first two books of the series to be written, and I'd say that's true of Chingachgook as well Judith Hutter is anything but sappy or flat, and Hetty is sui generis (Some of Cooper's women deserve Lowell's stricture Alice in The Last of the Mohicans comes to mind; but that's mainly because she's overshadowed by Cora, who's another exception to the charge; and Frances Wharton in The Spy is yet another And there's no Cooper novel I've read that's without some distinctively drawn and memorable male characters, as well )In my review of the Last of the Mohicans, I mentioned (and refuted) Mark Twain's snide criticism of that work in Feni Cooper's Literary Offenses, but noted that he reserved most of his artillery for The Deerslayer His principal criticism is for the scene where Hutter's Ark, or oarandsail propelled barge, passes a point where Indians are waiting in a tree to ambush it, and successfully gets by before any of them can effect a permanent landing on the boat, most of them falling into the water With a great show of supposed plausibility, he purports to show mathematically that it's impossible for a craft to go that rapidly, and ridiculous to suppose that it could (When I read Twain's collected essays as a teen, I noted that in controversies, intellectually dishonest ridicule is a tactic he generally preferred over reasoned argumentation, which is why his essays have never commanded the same respect as those of some other writers of his era; and this case is no exception.) Suffice it to say that his argument depends on his guess about the dimensions of the vessel and its possible speed, and that when the actual passage is read and compared to Twain's description of it, it's Twain who looks ridiculous His (hyperbolic) claim that Cooper overuses the device, in this series, of persons disclosing their whereabouts in the forest by stepping on a twig also falls flat here; some characters avoid doing so, and a deer does it (I've actually personally heard a deer doing that in the Appalachian forest, which I doubt Twain ever did the woods around Hannibal, MO in the 1830s were a lot less wild than the real wilderness), but no human ever does it.My one criticism of Cooper's performance here is on a major point of historical accuracy (or, in his case, inaccuracy); he confuses the Iroquois and the Hurons as the same tribe, allied with the French, whereas in fact they were two different tribal groups, mortal enemies of each other, and the former were actually allied with the British For a New York native who wrote a great deal about Indians (and the Iroquois were and are THE major Indian group in the state!) and purported to know something about them, that's a pretty glaring error However, his portrayal of the Indians here is otherwise accurate, and not an unsympathetic depiction of their attitudes and culture (warts and all) Criticisms of Cooper's portrayal as racist, IMO, are unfounded Natty has, to be sure, some excessive consciousness of his white identity (partly a psychological reaction to growing up as a minority of one in another culture and as Cooper makes clear in the Preface, Natty's prejudices aren't necessarily his own prejudices); but he respects Indian culture and beliefs and recognizes Indians as fellow humans of no less worth than his own, in sharp contradistinction to the racist attitudes of March and Hutter Personally, I found that one of the best features of the book.I definitely intend to readby this writer; and he's earned a place in my Favorite Writers list! I chose to read this book because I had accepted to read the second in the series (The Last of the Mohicans) as part of a challenge, but I didn't want to jump in at the second book This book also conveniently met the requirements for yet another challenge I'm completing; so, a win both ways! I really wanted to like this story, but it was so excruciatingly slow I could seriously have let the audiobook play for thirty minutes without listening and then pick right back up with the story without really missing anything I'm not sure if it was the time period during which this book was published (1840s) or if it is simply the writing style of the author Three things I learned in this story:1 Hetty Hutter lacked intelligence Every time the poor girl's name was mentioned, which was a lot, readers were reminded of how feeble minded she was.2 Judith Hutter was beautiful For how many times we were reminded that Hetty was dimwitted, we were reminded an equal number of times that Judith had the looks and the brains out of the two.3 Racism has existed in many forms for a long time I'm not really sure the author intended for all of Deerslayer's remarks about white gifts and red gifts to be viewed as racism, but when you insinuate that someone simply cannot help the way they act because of the color of their skin, that's racism A major plot point in this book was to lay out all the differences between white gifts and red gifts Toward the end of the book James Feni Cooper did elaborate a bit and say that all human nature is the same but we are different based on how we are raised I'm not sure if that was the main theme he was trying to drive home, but I think he fell a little flat.I was really looking forward to reading The Last of the Mohicans, but I'm not so sure I want to put the time into it now We shall see. Cooper is not the easiest author to read He constantly uses the words FORMER and LATTER in his writing Still, even wading through some of the tediousness of his style gives the reader a big payoff along the way THE DEERSLAYER is a book of high adventure between precolonial whites and Native Americans It is the first tale of our main character Natty Bumpo (named Hawkeye by the Natives, thank goodness!) He's a fronteirsman in the vein of Daniel Boone This is a great outdoor adventure story to begin the Leatherstocking Tales. I hate you for all those hours of my life I'll never get back, James Feni Cooper. This novel is primarily a romance or what might be called an action romance I suppose It has come in for some notable criticism (from names as well known as Mark Twain no less) BUT as it's been around since 1841 there is obviously something here.I think the only things to really be aware of heregoing into it as a novel have mostly to do with the time in which it was written The language is (of course) very dated Often it islike reading poetry than prose Then there are the racial attitudes Yes to a modern ear they will even be found somewhat offensive When Harry and Deerslayer start discussing the differences in race you'll need to get that grain of salt everyone is always talking about to take with said discussion.As a matter of fact one of the main plot points of the book revolves around what is natural for whites.If you can deal with the fact that we are seeing what were actually rather liberal ideas for the 1840s expressed by Deerslayer (Natty) then you'll get a romantic adventure Some of the characters are well doneothers not so much, but again I sort of think me criticizing a book that's been in print for over 170 years might be a bit presumptuous, LOL.I did skim the book somethe old language got to me to But this is a good book forremember when it was written. Mark Twain: Cooper’s art has some defects In one place in ‘Deerslayer,’ and in the restricted space of twothirds of a page, Cooper has scored 114 offences against literary art out of a possible 115 It breaks the record.I'll refer you to Mark Twain's essay Feni Cooper's Literary Offenses:Now I feel sure, deep down in my heart, that Cooper wrote about the poorest English that exists in our language, and that the English of Deerslayer is the very worst that even Cooper ever wrote.I may be mistaken, but it does seem to me that Deerslayer is not a work of art in any sense; it does seem to me that it is destitute of every detail that goes to the making of a work of art; in truth, it seems to me that Deerslayer is just simply a literary delirium tremens.A work of art? It has no invention; it has no order, system, sequence, or result; it has no lifelikeness, no thrill, no stir, no seeming of reality; its characters are confusedly drawn, and by their acts and words they prove that they are not the sort of people the author claims that they are; its humor is pathetic; its pathos is funny; its conversations are oh! indescribable; its lovescenes odious; its English a crime against the language.Counting these out, what is left is Art I think we must all admit that.i think that's a bit harsh but this book was pretty bad. |READ BOOK ⚖ The Deerslayer or The First War Path ⚔ A restless white youth raised by Indians, Natty Bumppo is called Deerslayer for the daring that sets him apart from his peers But he has yet to meet the test of human conflict In a tale of violent action and superbly sustained suspense, the harsh realities of tribal warfare force him to kill his first foe, then face torture at the stake Still yet another kind of initiation awaits him when he discovers not only the ruthlessness of civilized men, but also the special danger of a woman's will His reckless spirit transformed into mature courage and moral certainty, the Deerslayer emerges to face life with nobility as pure and proud as the wilderness whose fierce beauty and freedom have claimed his heart This book receives quite a bit of vitriolic language about how it's the worst book ever written and other predictably trite rantings of those who have different expectations than the book satisfies I began this book with an open mind and with an interest in the writing style of an author I hadn't read before Although I freely admit the prose is a bit longwinded, it contains some eloquent passages among the numerous pithy and dry paragraphs (think Romantic Period of literature and nature writing) Descriptions run a bit long in some cases and the characters set off on lengthy soliloquies at the oddest of times, but the book simply isn't without merit It's a fairly unique voice offered in the age of Manifest Destiny and bigoted attitudes towards Native Americans, the author commits quite a few of these himself, it must be admitted, but offers a generous view for its era.Twain probably doesdamage to Cooper's legacy than any other American author with his quickwitted and poignant critique of Cooper's style His typically viperous tongue slashes to the bone while at the same time coaxing a smile from the reader I am a huge Twain fan but to compare these two authors is folly I would imagine Cooper never expected to be a gritty American author like Twain but most likely envied those like Emerson or Thoreau It can be debated whether he successfully accomplished this aim, but to cast this book unfairly into the bonfire as so much kindling is unfair It is clearly not the best example of American writing of the era, but clearly it isn't the worst either It's a modestly enjoyable book with moral lessons for the era, which I believe makes it a limited success. If one can read books promiscuously, as I was reassured in graduate school that one could, I read all five of the books in this series like a complete whore, giving myself entirely over to the story loved all five A word of caution, however: They were written in a different order than the chronology of the narrative Imagine my disappointment at the Deerslayer's death at the end of the third book out of five The order that the author produced them:The PioneersLast of the MohicansThe PrairieThe PathfinderThe DeerslayerThe order of the narrative (Thanks for the assist with this, Dave):The DeerslayerLast of the MohicansThe PathfinderThe PioneersThe Prairie If you've seen my booklists and read my reviews, you'll know I'm usually a great lover of classic novels When I was about 11 or 12, my Dad got me a big stack of paperback classics and I spent an entire summer with Ivanhoe and Sidney Carton and Jane Eyre I mean, I munched them up! Then I got to James Feni Cooper Oh bad Oh really, really bad The stories themselves were pretty good, as witness the fact that they have been made into many successful movies However, to read the stories, you have to read the sentences Some of these sentences are pages long By the time you get to the predicate, you've forgotten the subject! American authors in the early 1800's seemed determined to prove to a European audience that they had great vocabularies and could craft an elaborate style Cooper obviously was of this school of thought All those intervening clauses and subclauses, hanging on his sentences like poor relations! If you want to read the classics, and you should, try Ivanhoe! Or if you have your heart set on this one, get the Cliff notes!