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The Last of the Mohicans (Barnes & Noble Classics Series) Mass Market Paperback – November 1, 2003


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Product Details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Barnes & Noble Classics (November 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1593080654
  • ISBN-13: 978-1593080655
  • Product Dimensions: 6.8 x 4.2 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.9 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,454,094 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

From Stephen Railton's Introduction to The Last of the Mohicans

We must not fall for the fiction Cooper uses to organize the story he tells in The Last of the Mohicans. There has never been a “last” Mohican. The tribe Cooper refers to by that name survives to this day, on a small reservation in Wisconsin. According to Cooper’s version of the Mohicans’ story, the death of Uncas in the middle of the eighteenth century is the last act in the tragedy of a once-mighty nation. There are a number of tragic elements in the real history of the people who, when they learned to write English, referred to themselves as the Muhheakunnuk or Moheakunnuk, but the story they have written with their actions is that of a people who, while remaining true to key elements of their heritage, made great efforts to adapt to and earn a place in the new world that descended on them with the arrival of the traders and settlers from Europe.

As Patrick Frazier recounts that story in The Mohicans of Stockbridge, the tribe accepted Christianity about two decades before the events Cooper dramatizes in the novel; two decades after the supposed death of the last Mohican, they fought on the American side during the Revolutionary War. When the tribe relocated from Massachusetts to the vicinity of New York’s Oneida Lake in the mid-1780s, just a few years before the infant James Cooper was carried to Cooperstown on the banks of nearby Lake Otsego, they took with them a letter from George Washington attesting that the Muhheakunnuks “have fought and bled by our side . . . as our friends and brothers . . . [and] as friends and subjects to the United States of America.” No efforts could stop the tide of white pioneers from diminishing their population and driving them farther west, but like nearly all the original Native American tribes, they survived despite the centuries of cultural loss, economic dispossession, white aggression, discrimination, and neglect.

That true story, however, is one the United States is still reluctant to tell, and repressed almost completely throughout the nineteenth century as the pioneers moved westward across the continent. On the other hand, Americans loved the story Cooper tells in Mohicans. Published in 1826, it was Cooper’s sixth novel; he was already America’s most successful novelist, a position he held through most of his career, and among the thirty-two novels he wound up writing before his death in 1851 were a number of best-sellers. The Last of the Mohicans was first among them all: his most popular book, and one of the most widely read American novels ever. Like most of Cooper’s novels, especially those he wrote in the first half of his career, it derives from the model of the historical romance that Walter Scott established in Waverley (1814). The subtitle of Cooper’s novel—A Narrative of 1757—echoes Waverley’s subtitle, ’Tis Sixty Years Since, and in his preface to the book’s first edition Cooper warns mere novel readers that by “narrative” he means historical fact, not imaginative fancy. But the project of The Last of the Mohicans is myth making, not history writing, and the myth it makes served contemporary readers precisely by replacing history as the nation was enacting it with a story about the fate of the Indians that both moved and reassured the whites who were in fact (but not in Cooper’s fiction) the agents of that fate.

As Cooper tells the story, the first person to label Uncas “the last of the Mohicans” is actually his own father. Chingachgook himself is still a vigorous warrior, and the narrative repeatedly refers to Uncas as “young” and “youthful”—that such a father would be anticipating the death of such a son rather then looking forward to his eventual marriage and children seems to violate the truths of the human heart, but as Cooper tells the story, even Uncas accepts his ominous title. In fact, he enters the narrative exactly at the moment in chapter III when Chingachgook tells Hawkeye that when Uncas dies the whole tribe will be extinct, “for my boy is the last of the Mohicans.” “Uncas is here!” is the next line, as “a youthful warrior” steps out of the woods to join the conversation. “Here,” this introduction to him implies, “but not for long”—Uncas will figure throughout the novel as a character with an expiration date. As a rescuer of the story’s two white heroines and as the lost prince of the Delaware nation, Uncas is regarded by both the narrator and the white characters with considerable admiration. His head may be naked except for its “scalping tuft,” but the narrative calls it “noble.” Alice looks upon him as a heathen, “a being partially benighted in the vale of ignorance,” but she also associates his “graceful,” “dignified,” “pure,” and “proud” form with classical ideals, “some precious relic of the Grecian chisel.” Cora goes further: “Who that looks at this creature of nature, remembers the shade of his skin!” To her, that’s a rhetorical question, but her companions’ “short and embarrassed silence” in reply keeps the line between races firmly in place. Combined with the epithet “the last,” that racial boundary lets readers know that all the sympathetic admiration they bestow on Uncas is extended provisionally. Within those limits, the narrative allows Uncas to grow increasingly heroic. After the first rescue scene, for example, while his father scalps the Mingoes they’ve slain, Uncas hurries with Duncan, the white officer and gentleman, to the side of the two white maidens. Duncan is not ashamed to cry at the sight of their deliverance. Uncas doesn’t go that far, but his eyes nonetheless “beam with a sympathy that elevated him far above the intelligence and advanced him probably centuries before the practices of his nation.”

While that sentence doubtless sounds patronizing, if not racist, to most twenty-first century readers, Cooper’s books display more respect and admiration for Indian characters like Uncas than was the norm in his culture. Indeed, his depiction of Uncas as so noble a savage came under attack from a number of critics. A novel like Robert Montgomery Bird’s Nick of the Woods (1837), also a best-seller, was written expressly to contest Cooper’s “poetical illusions” and “beautiful unrealities” by describing instead what Bird in his preface calls “real Indians,” who are unrelievedly “ignorant, violent, debased, brutal.” Mark Twain made the same argument in Roughing It (1872), and began a sequel to Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885) that takes Huck and Tom into the Indian Territory so he can debunk Cooper’s romances by exposing the boys to a series of atrocities committed by treacherous Indians. In 1851, shortly before Cooper’s death, the Chippewa chief and activist George Copway publicly thanked the novelist for having created Uncas as a “hero” who “possesses all the noble traits of an exalted character,” an Indian whom Native Americans could read about with pride. Yet although Cooper advances Uncas centuries ahead of his tribesmen, he is careful never to suggest that the last Mohican could progress to the point where he belongs inside American civilization. He lifts Uncas high enough to make his passing tragic—but readers mourn for him at the end, as they admire him throughout, from within the safety of a world out of which he has already disappeared.


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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Mike Chartowich on January 11, 2005
Format: Mass Market Paperback
The Last of the Mohicans was the first successful American novel and Cooper the first major american novelist. His desriptions of the New York wilderness and the Indian tribes that inhabit them are beautiful. They also are for the most part accurate. There are romantic themes running thorough the story. The reader feels the loss of a dying people and a dying way of life. The settlement of indian territories by colonists and native American tribal warfare are also rendered in deft prose.

This certainly is not an easy read, but one that is well worth the effort.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By N. Shapiro on May 19, 2006
Format: Mass Market Paperback
This book is a very well-written and amazing book. To be honest, it was hard to start out (because I didn't get used to Cooper's method of writing), but once I was a chapter or two into it, it was quite excellent. The portrayal and story and characters were all admirably well designed and I am glad I bought it.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Lisa Shea HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 26, 2007
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Back in the early 1800s, there was a writer who lived in New York State and loved its natural beauty. He began writing a series of novels describing the life of a wilderness man - Hawkeye - and his two Mohican indian companions. The indians were father and son, Chingachgook and Uncas. The books, known as the Leatherstocking Tales, became a world-wide sensation. Set in the wilds of the 1757 French-Indian War, the stories were near enough in time that they seemed familiar, but wild enough in characters, locations and situations that people all around the world ate them up.

Because the book was one of the first created by an American about a uniquely American topic, it's often taught in literature classes - and because it's about wild "cowboys and indians" without sex or explicit violence, it's often red by young kids. How does this story hold up in modern times?

First, if you've seen any movie version, you are only seeing one eighth of the story. The book was long and dense. To cut that down to two or less hours is to cut out a TON of plot line. Much of the intricacies of the various indian tribes and their relationships to each other is lost, and usually they cut out several key characters as well.

In many ways the book is interesting and progressive for something written in the 1800s. Remember, even in the 1900s, Irish were being ostracized and native Americans were treated far worse. So back in 1826, James set his story around a Scotsman - Munro - and his two daughters, Cora and Alice. Not only that, but Cora was a quarter black - Munro had married a mixed-blood woman during his youth, then remarried a Scotswoman later to have Alice.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By G. Henson VINE VOICE on September 8, 2007
Format: Mass Market Paperback
This book has lost none of its flavor. The writing is wonderfully lyrical, and the plot is set at a breathless pace. It may be old, but it still reads as well as ever. It deserves the place history has given it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By J. Blackhorse on February 8, 2009
Format: Mass Market Paperback
The story has all the elements of a good adventure: well rounded characters, a solid plot, action, suspense, and a woman in need of help. Of course, it reflects some of the beliefs and stereotypes that prevailed in that time period, but I think that(to some extent) that is to be expected. It is true, as some other people pointed out, that Cooper can be a little bit long winded some times, but I think that is very typical of literature written before the 20th century. Overall, I think it is a very good story, and if you like adventures and early American literature then you will love this story.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By George E. Miller on September 30, 2008
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Having read this classic many years ago, I had the opportunity to read it to my children again. It still raised my imagination, leaving the feeling of the deep woods and crafty, dangerous indians lurking about. It is a great adventure, with immortal characters, burdened with their own faults and fates. Cooper was a masterful storyteller if somewhat historically inaccurate, for his readers enjoyment. The noble savage as portrayed here swept the country's imagination for many decades.
George E. Miller, author of The Lone War Cry
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Ravenskya VINE VOICE on November 6, 2008
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Well, I'm glad I finished it, though I can't really say I enjoyed reading this book. I had such high hopes, and perhaps that was the problem. I remember when the movie came out and we watched it with my Grandpa (who is now 94!) he said that he had read the books when he was around 12 and that they were his favorite stories of all time. He was of course very angry that the movie didn't follow the book.

I am now 30 and finally getting around to reading it and for the life of me I cannot imagine a 12 year old both reading and enjoying this book. The story itself is fine, highly romanticized and inaccurate historical accounts of the Delaware and Hurons. And evil Huron kidnaps one of the English General's two daughters while the General, the fiancé of one of the daughters, and three men they come across - Uncas (the last of the Mohicans), his Father Chingachook and the white Scout who is called "Long Rifle" or "Hawkeye." The story consists mainly of this group saving the girls, then the girls getting captured again, then they save them again, and they are re-captured... all the while we are lectured on the surroundings and the trees and the moss, and the leaves... it is very verbose and tedious, and interrupts what should have been the more interesting parts of the book.

The characters are very weak, with almost no definition and the dialogue is atrocious. In all what should have been a very exciting romp through the North American wilderness is hindered by the execution of the story. There is perhaps a lot of background that I missed by not reading the rest of the "Leather Stalking Tales," but after reading this, I am not sure that I would be able to sit through much more of Cooper's style. It was frustrating because I wanted so badly to love this book.
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