Status Report: The Leatherstocking Tales by James Fenimore Cooper

So I’m reading the complete Leatherstocking Tales by James Fenimore Cooper as research. In case you don’t know, The Last of the Mohicans and The Deerslayer are two of these novels encapsulated in Cooper’s works. I read The Last of the Mohicans many years ago, in response to the stirring epic movie starring Daniel Day-Lewis, and was pleasantly surprised that I liked it as much, and in some cases better, than the movie. But this reading is an entirely different animal.

To start, when I read TLOTM as a teenager, I was able to skip over some of the long, boring details that Cooper likes to revel in, rather skimming for important information and moving on. And when I say skimming, my skimming is just reading faster and a little less carefully. I am usually a very meticulous, though quick, reader. On my first reading, I concentrated on the feel of the story and allowed it to entertain me.

But now I’m reading to comprehend as much of the text as I can. I want to know what Cooper was trying to accomplish not only in plot, but also in underlying thoughts and motivations. His writing is littered with moralization and lessons to the Americans of the mid-1800’s, much of which I can’t (or won’t use), but they are classic works of fiction that deserve acknowledging, before I attempt to turn them into inspiration for YA novels.

This is a long hard read. Not only because I’m reading five novels, but because Cooper’s writing would have scared away the heartiest of modern agents. Take this paragraph from the opening of Chapter 8 in TLOTM:

The warning call of the scout was not uttered without occasion. During the occurrence of the deadly encounter just related, the roar of the falls was unbroken by any human sound whatever. It would seem that interest in the result had kept the natives on the opposite shores in breathless suspense, while the quick evolutions and swift changes in the positions of the combatants effectually prevented a fire that might prove dangerous alike to friend and enemy. But the moment the struggle was decided, a yell arose as fierce and savage as wild and revengeful passions could throw into the air. It was followed by the swift flashes of the rifles, which sent their leaden messengers across the rock in volleys, as though the assailants would pour out their impotent fury on the insensible scene of the fatal contest.

Phew! That was a mouthful. And I literally turned on my Kindle and took the first paragraph I found. I didn’t even have to search for something to demonstrate what I’m talking about. Every single paragraph is like this. Don’t get me wrong, I love classic literature, and there’s a part of me that greatly enjoys reading this, but there’s also a part of me that wants to get to the writing of my novel and the research is dragging! I mean, he could have just said the Hurons didn’t fire while the combatants struggled with each other because they were afraid they would hit their own man, but when their man was killed they fired on Hawkeye and Uncas. Okay, so his was far more beautiful, but he is very long winded.

Just read the Cliff Notes, you say? But, ahh my friend, I can not. Not only would it sorely test my moral compass, but I can’t actually find any Cliff Notes on the completed works. Not that I was looking to actually read them, mind you. It was just out of curiosity. Really.

So I am stuck (not entirely unhappily either) reading all five novels. That’s 37,789 Kindle pages. I’m not sure what that translates to in real pages, but let’s just look at that number again: 37,789 times I must click the Forward button. 37,789! And that’s not the only research I want to do. Damn me and my incessant need to be prepared, educated and thorough!

So my status update: I am 30% through. That’s 11,706 Kindle pages. I’ve read The Deerslayer and am working my way through The Last of the Mohicans right now. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the foresight to take notes on The Deerslayer as I was reading it, so I had to skim through again and take copious notes. At least with TLOTM I started the notes right away. But still, taking notes takes more time, so you know, more time reading. *sigh*

But it must be done. I am determined that I will not only be inspired by Cooper’s novels to write a Sci-Fi sweeping epic series, but that I will try to encapsulate his love of scenery and noble sentiments in the telling of this tale, almost as if they were characters themselves. But I plan on creating a future world different yet similar to our own that mirrors in some ways the world of England and America in the late 1700’s, with characters to populate that are flawed, but interesting and have real stories to tell. I’m not expecting much out of myself, am I?

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7 thoughts on “Status Report: The Leatherstocking Tales by James Fenimore Cooper

  1. It sounds like the result of this research is going to be awesome! I don’t think I would have the strength to read all of Cooper’s work like you though. After grad school and reading nothing but history books, the genre is a bit ruined for me. I think I’ve only read 3 historical fictions books since I started my degrees!

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  2. Pingback: Research Inspiration | Caroline G. Sibley

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