December 23, 2010

A Bit O' The Classics - Cooper

I admit to being more familiar with, and more fond of, British classics than American ones. America is young enough that many of its famous works are heavily flavored with post-modernism and can be quite dark and hopeless, like Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter. However, a little while ago I was forced to read James Fenimore Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans. I waded through the first couple of chapters with an effort, struggling onward through Cooper's often laborious descriptions because I had to and because my father had enjoyed the novel. It looked like it was shaping up to be just one more example of how American classics are inferior to British - but then the action started. And I was absolutely caught up in it.

I love a great many books, but there are few that have actually made me tremble by the end, and Last of the Mohicans was one of those. I laughed at some parts and cried at others, and I didn't get over the ending for a couple days; I still get a tight feeling in my chest when I think about it. I refuse to see the movie, knowing that I will either rant about all the things they altered or sob uncontrollably for a week over the drama, or perhaps both. Looked at simply from the perspective of a reader, the novel was beautiful and poignant.

However, it also offers a wealth of interesting points for the writer that leaped out at me while I read it and afterward. Cooper packed an unusual amount of power into his novel, whether he realized it or not, and the effect, especially as seen in the character Uncas, is startling. The events are seen through the eyes of the officer Heyward, who is appointed by Colonel Munro to watch over his daughters, Cora and Alice; but the main character is of course Natty Bumppo, known for the entirety of the story simply as Hawkeye. The young Mohican Uncas has very few lines in the story, less even than his father, Chingachgook. Yet for all that Hawkeye and Heyward are so much in the spotlight, Uncas is perhaps the most powerful, sympathetic, and fascinating character of the entire cast. It was what happened to him that mattered most to me while I read the novel, and even Hawkeye, though a wonderful character himself, seemed to fade into the background.

The ways Cooper managed to bring this about were surprisingly simple. First of all, he wisely showed the story from the viewpoint of Heyward rather than Hawkeye or Uncas himself. Seeing it from Uncas' perspective would have absolutely ruined the magnificence and mystery of his character, while seeing it from Hawkeye's would have made himself less impressive. In essence, Heyward was expendable and not meant to hold the same interest for readers as Hawkeye and Uncas; and, too, the savageness of the American frontier and of the villain Magua were made more horrible as witnessed by a young, inexperienced officer.

Secondly, Uncas' very silence went far to emphasize his character. A person who talks a great deal simply cannot be as impressive as one who speaks little - think Mr. Darcy versus Mr. Bingley. Cooper showed who Uncas was through his actions and the few short sentences he spoke, and it was these things that made him the hero of The Last of the Mohicans.

"My child!" said Munro, speaking quickly and wildly; "give me my child!"

"Uncas will try," was the short and touching answer.

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meet the authoress
I am a writer of historical fiction and fantasy, scribbling from my home in the United States. More importantly, I am a Christian, which flavors everything I write. My debut novel, "The Soldier's Cross," was published by Ambassador Intl. in 2010.
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published writings

The Soldier's Cross: Set in the early 15th Century, this is the story of an English girl's journey to find her brother's cross pendant, lost at the Battle of Agincourt, and of her search for peace in the chaotic world of the Middle Ages.
finished writings

Tempus Regina:Hurled back in time and caught in the worlds of ages past, a Victorian woman finds herself called out with the title of the time queen. The death of one legend and the birth of another rest on her shoulders - but far weightier than both is her duty to the brother she left alone in her own era. Querying.
currently writing

Wordcrafter: "One man in a thousand, Solomon says / will stick more close than a brother. / And it's worthwhile seeking him half your days / if you find him before the other." Justin King unwittingly plunges into one such friendship the day he lets a stranger come in from the cold. Wordcount: 124,000 words

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