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Illustration from 1896 edition, by J.T. Merrill
|Author||James Fenimore Cooper|
|Publisher||H.C. Carey & I. Lea|
|Preceded by||The Pioneers (1823)|
|Followed by||The Prairie (1827)|
Illustration from 1896 edition, by J.T. Merrill
|Author||James Fenimore Cooper|
|Publisher||H.C. Carey & I. Lea|
|Preceded by||The Pioneers (1823)|
|Followed by||The Prairie (1827)|
The Last of the Mohicans: A Narrative of 1757 (1826) is an historical novel by James Fenimore Cooper. It is the second book of the Leatherstocking Tales pentalogy and the best known to contemporary audiences. The Pathfinder, published 14 years later in 1840, is its sequel. The Last of the Mohicans is set in 1757, during the French and Indian War (the Seven Years' War), when France and Great Britain battled for control of North America. During this war, both the French and the British used Native American allies, but the French were particularly dependent, as they were outnumbered in the Northeast frontier areas by the more numerous British colonists.
According to the Encyclopedia of Media and Propaganda in Wartime America, the novel has been one of the "most popular novels in English" since its publication and it remains "widely read in American literature courses". It has been adapted numerous times and in different languages for films, TV movies and cartoons.
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At the time of Cooper's writing, many people believed that the Native Americans were disappearing, and would ultimately be assimilated or fail to survive. Especially in the East, their numbers continued to decline. At the same time, the author was interested in the period of the frontier of transition, when more colonists were increasing pressure on the Native Americans. He grew up in Cooperstown, New York, which his father had established on what was then a western frontier of settlement; it developed after the Revolutionary War.
Cooper set this novel during the Seven Years' War, an international conflict between Great Britain and France which had a front in North America. Also known on that continent as the French and Indian War, the conflict arrayed British colonial settlers and minimal regular forces against royal French forces, with both sides also relying on Native American allies. The war was fought primarily along the frontiers of the British colonies from Virginia to Nova Scotia.
In the Spring of 1757, Lieutenant Colonel George Monro became garrison commander of Fort William Henry, located on Lake George (New York) in the Province of New York. In early August, Major General Louis-Joseph de Montcalm and 7,000 troops besieged the fort. On 2 August General Webb, who commanded the area from his base at Fort Edward, sent 200 regulars and 800 Massachusetts militia to reinforce the garrison at William Henry. In the novel, this is the relief column with which Monro's daughters travel.
Monro sent messengers south to Fort Edward on 3 August requesting reinforcements, but Webb refused to send any of his estimated 1,600 men north because they were all that stood between the French and Albany. He wrote to Munro on 4 August that he should negotiate the best terms possible; this communication was intercepted and delivered to Montcalm. In Cooper's version, the missive was being carried by Hawkeye when he, and it, fell into French hands.
On 7 August Montcalm sent men to the fort under a truce flag to deliver Webb's dispatch. By then the fort's walls had been breached, many of its guns were useless, and the garrison had taken significant casualties. After another day of bombardment by the French, Monro raised the white flag and agreed to withdraw under parle.
When the withdrawal began, some of Montcalm's Indian allies, angered at the lost opportunity for loot, attacked the British column. Cooper's account of the attack and aftermath is lurid and somewhat inaccurate. A detailed reconstruction of the action and its aftermath indicates that the final tally of British missing and dead ranges from 69 to 184; more than 500 British were taken captive.
|This article's plot summary may be too long or excessively detailed. (March 2013)|
Cora and Alice Munro, daughters of Lieutenant Colonel Munro, are traveling with a column of reinforcements from Fort Edward to Fort William Henry, where Munro is commanding an army. In the party are David Gamut, the singing teacher, and Major Duncan Heyward, the group's military leader.
Magua, a Huron scout secretly allied with the French, leads them into an ambush. Natty Bumppo (also known as Hawkeye) and his two Mohican friends, Chingachgook and his son Uncas, rescue the party just in time. Knowing that Magua (also known as Le Renard Subtil, the Cunning Fox) will soon return with reinforcements, Hawkeye and the Mohicans lead their new companions to a nearby cave. A group of Hurons sent by Magua chase them into the cave. After a fierce struggle within the cave, Hawkeye and his friends decide to split up the group for safety. Hawkeye and the Mohicans hide in a nearby stream, while Heyward, Gamut, and the Munro sisters retreat back into the cavern.
Magua returns with more Hurons and captures the four in the cave. The Hurons take their captives to a stream, where they rest briefly. The Hurons interrogate Heyward, who tells them that Hawkeye and the Mohicans have escaped. He learns from them that Uncas's nickname, Le Cerf Agile, is the Bounding Elk, and that Hawkeye is referred to as the Long Rifle or La Longue Carabine.
When Cora demands why the Hurons were so eager to capture them, Magua says that Colonel Munro and the "Canada fathers" introduced him to firewater, causing him to get drunk and be expelled from his tribe. He allied with the Mohawks, but continued to drink. After Munro had him whipped after some drunken disorder, Magua returned to the Hurons and is leading them in revenge against the British. He offers to spare the party if Cora will go with him as his wife to the Huron village, but she refuses.
Hawkeye, Uncas, and Chingachgook return and ambush the Hurons, killing most of them. Magua escapes. Heyward and Hawkeye lead the Munro women to Fort William Henry, now surrounded by the French.
Munro sends Hawkeye to Fort Edward for reinforcements. While bearing General Webb's reply, he is captured by the French, who deliver him to Fort William Henry without the letter. Heyward tries to parley with the French, but learns nothing. He returns to Colonel Munro and announces his love for Alice. Munro reveals that Cora's mother was of mixed race of African ancestry from the West Indies, and gives his permission for Heyward's courtship.
The French general, Montcalm, invites Munro to a parley. He shows him Webb's letter: the British general has refused to send reinforcements. Realizing that his cause is lost, Munro agrees to Montcalm's terms. The British soldiers, together with their wounded, and women and children, are allowed to leave the fort and withdraw. Outside the fort, the column is set upon by 2000 Indian warriors. In the chaos of the massacre, Magua finds Cora and Alice, and leads them away toward the Huron village. David Gamut follows them.
Three days later, Hawkeye and the Mohicans, Heyward, and Colonel Munro enter the ruins of Fort William Henry. The next morning they follow Magua's trail, evading a party of native warriors chasing them by canoe. Outside the Huron village, they come across Gamut. The Huron consider him mad for all his singing and won't kill him. Gamut says that Alice is being held in this village, Cora in one belonging to the Lenape (Delaware) tribe, and Magua is hunting. Disguised as a French medicine man, Heyward enters the Huron village with Gamut, intending to rescue Alice. Hawkeye and Uncas set out to rescue Cora. Chingachgook remains with Colonel Munro, who has become somewhat deranged as a result of events.
Before Heyward can find Alice, Uncas is led into the village, having been captured by the Hurons. Magua returns, and demands that Uncas be put to death, but does not recognise Heyward. Hawkeye steals a bearskin and disguises himself while following Heyward. They both enter a cave where Heyward has been asked to try to heal a sick woman; there Heyward finds Alice, but Magua stops them before they can escape. Suddenly Hawkeye, still disguised as a bear, pounces on Magua while Heyward ties him up. They then rescue Alice, wrapping her in cloth and convincing the Hurons that she is the sick woman the French "medicine man" has to heal. As Heyward carries Alice toward the Lenape village, Gamut and the disguised Hawkeye return to the village to rescue Uncas.
His guards recognize the bear suit and allow the two to pass. Uncas dons the bear skin while Hawkeye dresses as Gamut and begins to sing. Gamut stays behind to distract the Hurons, allowing Uncas and Hawkeye to flee to the Delaware village.
Discovering Gamut, the Hurons realize that Uncas has escaped. They find Magua, bound and gagged in the cave. Magua tells the Hurons about how Heyward and Hawkeye tricked them to rescue Alice and then Uncas. Learning of how they were deceived the warriors become enraged. The Hurons vow revenge and reaffirm Magua as their chief.
Magua goes to the Lenape village, where he demands the return of his prisoners, and warns the Lenape of La Longue Carabine's reputation. A chief asks the prisoners who is the "long rifle". Heyward, mistaking Hawkeye's wishes, claims he is the man. Hawkeye also claims the title, and Tamemund, the old sage of the Delawares, makes them do a shooting match, which Hawkeye wins.
Tamenund at first grants Magua's wish to keep his prisoners, but Cora begs him to reconsider. She eventually begs him to hear from a Delaware warrior, referring to Uncas.
When first made to appear before Tamenund, Uncas had offended the Delaware. They tear off his clothing and see a turtle tattoo on his chest, the symbol of his clan. Tamenund accedes to all Uncas asks and frees the prisoners, except for Cora, as she belongs to Magua. Magua reluctantly agrees to Uncas's demands but says he will keep Cora. Hawkeye at one point offers himself as a prisoner in place of Cora, but Magua refuses. Uncas and Heyward both vow to hunt down and kill Magua and rescue Cora as the Huron chief leaves with his captive.
According to custom, Tamenund has agreed to give Magua a three-hour head start before permitting the Delaware to pursue to try to rescue Cora. As the Delaware use the extra time to prepare for battle, Gamut arrives. He said he saw Magua and Cora at the Huron village, and she was hidden in the cave where they earlier found Alice. The Delaware go off to confront the Huron.
The Delaware are in three parties: one led by Hawkeye and Heyward, one by Uncas, and one by Chingachgook and Munro. They force the Huron back to their village with heavy losses and finally take the village. Magua escapes with Cora and two of his warriors; Uncas, Hawkeye, and Heyward pursue them through the mountains. Cora stops on a rocky ledge, refusing to continue. When Uncas attacks the Huron, both he and Cora are killed. Hawkeye arrives and shoots Magua, who falls to his death from a cliff.
The novel concludes with a lengthy account of the funerals of Uncas and Cora. The Lenni Lenape sing that Uncas and Cora will marry in the afterlife. Hawkeye renews his friendship with Chingachgook. Tamenund prophesies, "The pale-faces are masters of the earth, and the time of the red-men has not yet come again...."
According to Susan Fenimore Cooper, the author's eldest daughter, Cooper first conceived the idea for the book while visiting the Adirondack Mountains in 1825 with a party of English gentlemen. The party passed through the Catskills, an area with which Cooper was already familiar, and about which he had written in his first novel featuring Natty: The Pioneers. They passed on to Lake George and Glens Falls.
Impressed with the caves behind the falls, one member of the party suggested that "here was the very scene for a romance." Susan Cooper says that Edward Smith-Stanley, 14th Earl of Derby, made this remark. Cooper promised Stanley "that a book should actually be written, in which these caves should have a place; the, idea of a romance essentially Indian in character then first suggesting itself to his mind."
Cooper began work on the novel immediately. He and his family stayed for the summer in a cottage belonging to a friend, situated on the Long Island shore of the Sound, opposite Blackwell's Island, not far from Hallett's Cove (the area is now part of Astoria). He wrote quickly and completed the novel in the space of three or four months. He suffered a serious illness thought to have been brought on by sunstroke and, at one point, he dictated the outline of the fight between Magua and Chingachgook (12th chapter), to his wife, who thought that he was delirious.
In the novel, Hawkeye refers to Lake George as the Horican. Cooper felt that Lake George was too plain, while the French name, Le Lac du St. Sacrament, was "too complicated". Horican he found on an old map of the area; it was a French transliteration of a native group who had once lived in the area.
Cooper grew up in Cooperstown, New York, the frontier town founded by his father. His daughter said that as a young man he had few opportunities to meet and talk with Native Americans: "occasionally some small party of the Oneidas, or other representatives of the Five Nations, had crossed his path in the valley of the Susquehanna River, or on the shores of Lake Ontario, where he served when a midshipman in the navy." He read what sources were available at the time—Heckewelder, Charlevoix, William Penn, Smith, Elliot, Colden, Lang, Lewis and Clark, and Mackenzie.
By using the name Uncas for one of his characters, he seemed to confuse the two regional tribes: the Mohegan of Connecticut, of which Uncas had been a well-known sachem, and the Mahican of upstate New York. The popularity of Cooper's book helped spread the confusion.
In the period when Cooper was writing, deputations from the Western tribes frequently traveled through the region along the Mohawk River, on their way to New York or Washington, DC. He made a point of visiting these parties as they passed through Albany and New York. On several occasions, he followed them all the way to Washington to observe them for longer. He also talked to the military officers and interpreters who accompanied them.
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The novel was first published in 1826 by Carey & Lea, of Philadelphia. According to Susan Cooper, its success was "greater than that of any previous book from the same pen" and "in Europe the book produced quite a startling effect."
Cooper's novels were popular, but reviewers were often critical, or dismissive. For example, the reviewer of the London Magazine (May 1826) described the novel as "clearly by much the worst of Mr Cooper's performances." Mark Twain notably derided the author in his essay, "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses," published in North American Review (July 1895). Twain complained that Cooper lacked a variety of style and was overly wordy. In the essay, Twain re-writes a small section of The Last of the Mohicans, claiming that Cooper, "the generous spendthrift", used 100 "extra and unnecessary words" in the original version.
Re-reading the book in his later years, Cooper noted some inconsistencies of plot and characterization, particularly the character of Munro. But, he wrote that in general, "the book must needs have some interest for the reader, since it could amuse even the writer, who had in a great measure forgotten the details of his own work."
The Last of the Mohicans has been James Fenimore Cooper's most popular work. It has continued as one of the most widely read novels throughout the world, and it has influenced popular opinion about American Indians and the frontier period of eastern American history. The romanticized images of the strong, fearless, and ever resourceful frontiersman (i.e., Natty Bumppo), as well as the stoic, wise, and noble "red man" (i.e., Chingachgook) were notions derived from Cooper's characterizations more than from anywhere else. The phrase, "the last of the Mohicans," has come to represent the sole survivor of a noble race or type.
A number of films have been based on the lengthy book, making various cuts, compressions, and changes. The American adaptations include:
The 1920 film has been deemed "culturally significant" by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry. According to the director Michael Mann, his 1992 version was based more on the 1936 film version. Mann believes Cooper's novel is "not a very good book," taking issue with Cooper's sympathy for the Euro-Americans and their seizure of the American Indians' domain.
In Germany, Der Letzte der Mohikaner, with Béla Lugosi as Chingachgook, was the second part of the two-part Lederstrumpf film released in 1920. Based on the same series of the novels, Chingachgook die Grosse Schlange (Chingachgook the Great Serpent), starring Gojko Mitic as Chingachgook, appeared in East Germany in 1967, and became popular throughout the Eastern Bloc.
Classic Comics #4, The Last of the Mohicans, first published 1942.
Marvel Comics has published two versions of the story: in 1976 a one-issue version as part of their Marvel Classics Comics series (issue #13). In 2007, they published a six-issue mini-series to start off the new Marvel Illustrated series.
Famed manga artist Shigeru Sugiura wrote and illustrated a very loose manga adaptation of the story in 1952-3 (remade in 1973-4). This adaptation is heavily influenced by American movies and western comics and is filled with absurd humor and anachronistic jokes. An English translation of Sugiura's 1973-4 version including a lengthy essay on Sugiura's artistic influences was published in the United States in 2013.
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