Tuesday, January 10, 2017

James Fenimore Cooper - The Last of the Mohicans

Set against the French and Indian siege of Fort William Henry in 1757, The Last of the Mohicans recounts the story of two sisters, Cora and Alice Munro, daughters of the English commander, who are struggling to be reunited with their father. They are aided in their perilous journey by Hawk-eye, a frontier scout and his companions Chingachgook and Uncas, the only two survivors of the Mohican tribe. But their lives are endangered by the Mangua, the savage Indian traitor who captures the sisters, wanting Cora to be his squaw. In setting Indian against Indian and the brutal society of the white man against the civilization of the Mohican, Cooper, more than any author before or since, shaped the American sense of itself as a nation.

Comment: I bought this book when I was at the university and the last year I attended was 2009 but I bought this before so I'll round up the years and say this book has been in the pile for more or less ten years. I didn't get it because I needed to read it, simply because I was very interested in the plot, the movie had been amazing...anyway when I was writing down my lists for 2017 I decided this couldn't wait any longer and now it's finally read. 

There's something about reading a book after years waiting, isn't it? Not in emotional terms but the knowing it takes so long to finally grab it but reading is much faster and now it's read...

This book was written by James Fenimore Cooper and features a cast of characters that, basically, are on their way to a Fort so the sisters Alice and Cora Munro can be reunited with their father. But the region is dangerous because of the tribe fights and the differences between the white man and the Indians. The group is aided by a scout and his Mohicans' friends but there is a traitor as well and the adventures of the group probably won't end very well...

After watching the amazing movie based on this novel and forever getting a hero-worship image of Daniel Day Lewis in my head - years later removed by another movie DDL was in beforeūüėí - I became quite interested in reading the book, so I could compare. Years passed and other things occupied my mind but the book remained in the shelf, waiting. I mean, I was not dependent on it for my happiness but it did wait too long. At the same time, some classics are better enjoyed after we read other things and have different ways of looking at more distant words and styles.

If my aim was to compare the book and the movie then I say I was not surprised but still thought the difference wouldn't be as much as it was. Obviously experience tells any reader movies are always, always more romanticized because that is what attracts more people, she spectacle, the drama, the romances.... the book has nothing obvious nor as romantic as the movie implies. Even knowing this, it's still a bit of a let down when I realized the characters all acted much more according to the era they were living in, rather than acting as actors in a play, so to speak.

Of course, the book has an element that it's impossible to maintain in the movies, which is the prose the author used. And this aspect, despite its many evidences of what it was to live in such a time and how the writer had to write the way that was known to be the norm or the reflex of the century, is certainly not very addictive. English is not my mother tongue and I confess I had some trouble, not to understand, after a while it gets on the rhythm and we start getting used to it, but the way he wrote can be a bit boring and too wordy and descriptive. This meant that, for me, what was being quite engaging turned out to be repetitive and only helped me in losing focus.

To me, the story isn't bad, isn't boring, isn't what many readers claim as "over done", but the narrative was not pleasant, not easy and not fluid. I've read somewhere that not even characters were as easy to identify and I concur. Except the ladies, because they are the only ones, all other characters while talking, acting, fighting seemed just a blend and I do feel the personalization of each character as it happens in more modern stories.
This is, after all, what made the movie a success. All was easy to identify, to follow, to understand while the written narrative style leaves a lot to be desired.

What seems worse to me, though, is that there are so many interesting themes to read between the lines here (the role of females, the hierarchy between Indian tribes, the veracity of one's honor, etc, the value of Frontier's exploitations) that the poor writing just makes this all seem a big pile of fights and dramas that, as soon as the book ends, instead of making the reader feel they learned a great deal, it's only the relief of putting the book aside.

I still feel glad I've read it, I might one day in the distant future to try it in Portuguese but with so much to red that won't happen so soon. I like classics in general but this one is better left in my fond memories of Daniel Day Lewis when he was younger and so handsome and the spectacular soundtrack that I listen to even today.
Grade: 5/10

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