The Last of the Mohicans | Study Guide

James Fenimore Cooper

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The Last of the Mohicans | 10 Things You Didn't Know

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"Then why don't you, dear?" This was Susan Cooper's response when her husband, James Fenimore Cooper, threw aside the book he was reading and proclaimed he could write a better one himself. So he did.

Published in 1826, James Fenimore Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans was one of the first popular American novels. The novel is set in the New York wilderness during the French and Indian War of 1757. Two young women, Cora and Alice Munro, are being transported to Fort William Henry where their father, Lieutenant Colonel Munro, is in command. Although the novel received mixed critical reception, the reading public, both at home in the United States and in Europe, received it enthusiastically.

The Last of the Mohicans has remained Cooper's most popular and memorable work, and it continues to be assigned in American literature classes. It has also been adapted numerous times for film, TV, an opera—and even comic books.

1. James Fenimore Cooper was inspired while visiting the Adirondacks in the state of New York.

Cooper and his fellow travelers came upon Lake George and Glens Falls and were greatly moved by the beauty of the scene. One gentleman remarked to Cooper this was "the very scene for a romance." Cooper promised his companion he would write a book, "essentially Indian in character," set in that very scene.

2. Cooper wrote the novel in just a few months.

Upon returning home from the Adirondacks, Cooper immediately began writing, and "some three or four months from the time its first pages were composed, the last chapter was finished."

3. Cooper was suffering from a serious illness while writing.

This illness was presumed to be sunstroke. One day, at the height of his illness, he dictated to his wife a page of notes describing the struggle between Magua and Chingachgook. These rough notes became the twelfth chapter of The Last of the Mohicans a few weeks later.

4. Cooper visited and observed Native American groups while he drafted.

In his everyday life, Cooper had few opportunities to interact with Native Americans. But while writing The Last of the Mohicans, he sought opportunities to gain firsthand knowledge. His daughter, Susan Fenimore Cooper, wrote: "he visited these different parties [Western tribes], as they passed through Albany and New York, following them in several instances to Washington for the purpose of closer observation."

5. The Last of the Mohicans was immediately popular.

Susan Fenimore Cooper wrote the book was more successful than any of his previous books, and he was surprised by its popularity in Europe. She said its popularity stemmed from the fact that few American novels highlighted Native Americans, writing "... the freshness of the subject, in the sense of fiction ... [added] greatly to the vivid interest of the narrative."

6. The book received mixed reviews.

One reviewer called it "clearly by much the worst of Mr. Cooper's performances,"while another concluded "our author stands alone among his countrymen; in solitary and enviable distinction."

7. The lake referred to as the Horican is actually Lake George.

Lake George is a real lake located at the base of the Adirondacks. In the novel, it's referred to as the Horican. Cooper renamed the lake because he believed its English name was "too commonplace," its French name "too complicated," and its Indian name "too unpronounceable."

8. Modern Mohican Indians have criticized the work's accuracy.

Native American historian Molly Miller said:

When we talk about it, we laugh at it because it's so wrong ... We're infamous because of the book, but we're constantly having to tell our story to people. We're still here. The book was inaccurate, it was wrong, it was poorly written and it doesn't have much to do with us as people, as a tribe.

9. The novel has been turned into an illustrated series by Marvel Comics.

The 2007 series consisted of six issues, which were then collected in a special hardcover issue in 2008. The Last of the Mohicans was Marvel's first title in its illustrated story collection. The adaptation was written by Roy Thomas, who has worked on popular titles such as X-Men.

10. Actor Daniel Day-Lewis prepared for his role before filming by living off the land.

As a method actor, Lewis is famous for immersing himself into the characters he plays by living as they lived. To play the part of Hawkeye in the 1992 film adaptation, Lewis spent months learning how to survive in the wilderness as an authentic woodsman.

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