The Leatherstocking Tales

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The further comics of J.F. Cooper

The book series by James Fenimore Cooper.

One of the first Franchises of modern literature.

In chronological order, the books are:

  • The Deerslayer: The First Warpath -- 5th published
  • The Last of the Mohicans: A Narrative of 1757 -- 2nd published and most famous
  • The Pathfinder: The Inland Sea -- 4th published
  • The Pioneers: The Sources of the Susquehanna; A Descriptive Tale -- 1st published (hence the long subtitle)
  • The Prairie: A Tale -- 3rd published

They're probably most famous these days for codifying the romantic concept of the Native American Frontier, and for their heroic, chivalrous prose being relentlessly mocked by Mark Twain. (Incidentally, the Defenses are here) Nonetheless, they represent the first real American adventure stories, are the ancestors of the Western, and one of the first literary appearances of the Noble Savage. (Montaigne was the first to apply this trope to the North American Indians, and the trope itself is Older Than Feudalism -- Classical Greek writers spoke of the Gauls this way.) Anyway, back then it was a very progressive portrayal of Native Americans, and he was congratulated for presenting Chingachgook and his son Uncas as heroes (as opposed to thieving, cunning, drunken, heathen assholes). Of course, now we see it as just another stereotype -- but Cooper was the first to use this in a novel.

The main concern Natives have vis-a-vis Cooper is not so much the romantic portrayal of Stoic, slender and superior warriors, nor the prose; Native warriors were renowned as orators throughout the Indian wars and are still quoted today in Military History and Political Science classes.[1] But the enduring stereotype is that Indians, while noble, are doomed to be eclipsed by the technologically superior white man and fade away. Although it was a common belief in Cooper's day, even among Indian rights advocates, this has become a bit of an Undead Horse Trope (pun intended) and native tribesmen (including the Mohicans themselves) are quick to note that reports of their death are greatly exaggerated.

The thing which ties the five books into a series is the recurring archetypal character of Natty Bumppo, the Long Rifle, who also goes by the names of Deerslayer, Hawkeye, Pathfinder, Leatherstocking and The Trapper. In that order. (They're called The Leatherstocking Tales because he was known as Leatherstocking in The Pioneers, the first book.) In four of the five books, he is joined by Chingachgook ("Great Serpent"), and in Last of the Mohicans by Chingachgook's son Uncas, the eponymous Last of the Mohicans, who dies in battle at the end of the novel.

Tropes used in The Leatherstocking Tales include:

Cooper wore out barrels of moccasins in working that trick. Another stage-property that he pulled out of his box pretty frequently was his broken twig. He prized his broken twig above all the rest of his effects, and worked it the hardest. It is a restful chapter in any book of his when somebody doesn't step on a dry twig and alarm all the reds and whites for two hundred yards around. Every time a person is in peril, and absolute silence is worth four dollars a minute, he is sure to step on a dry twig. There may be a hundred other handier things to step on, but that wouldn't satisfy Cooper. Cooper requires him to turn out and find a dry twig; and if he can't do it, go and borrow one.

  • Spoony Bard: As a character type, not as a sub-optimized RPG class: David Gamut in Last of the Mohicans.
  • Tragic Mulatto: Cora, the daughter of a Scotch colonel and a Creole mother. One of the first interracial romance plots in American literature.
  • The Wise Prince: Uncas of the Mohican tribe.
  • You Are a Credit to Your Race: Sort of. Played horribly, horribly straight.
    • Or rather, "I Am A Credit To My Race" -- Hawkeye constantly talks about how he, "a man without a cross" of American Indian blood, can nonetheless fight effectively among them. The American Indians mostly ignore the subject...
  • Your Days Are Numbered: The Mohicans.
  1. due to the consensus nature of tribal government, they were required to be great public speakers to attain positions of influence.