Sunday, August 21, 2005

The Pathfinder:Adventure, Romance and Action

James Fenimore Cooper (of The Last of the Mohicans fame is great fun. Yes, fun and romance and adventure and excitement. He is a bit out of fashion like black and white movies from the thirties but that doesn't mean that you wouldn't be missing a great experience by reading him.

Granted there are dated turns of phrase and he is a master of the forever long sentence like Henry James and Gertrude Stein, but these are small prices to pay for adventures in the wilderness. That wilderness is anything west of the Hudson River and north of Albany. The country was still small and its corners were not rounded into suburbs and federal highways.

These days Cooper is relegated often to being seen as the writer behind Daniel Day-Lewis in The Last of the Mohicans, a fine movie. Reading his stories of la longue carabine as the Indians of the French called him and "pathfinder" to the colonists is a struggle through some muddiness at first and then the adventures take over, the sentences make sense even though they often run on and the scenes of battle and the wilderness are trips on their own. These were planned as adventures and adventures they are.

I am not competent to review Cooper. He is an American classic and the stuff of academic discussions and classes, criticism and scholarship. I call this a "commentary" or perhaps just a reminder that all classics are not "school books". Read him for fun and for a sense of the history of our nation when it was young and the world was simpler.

Perhaps I love the Leatherstocking Tales with Natty Bumppo (Pathfinder) because the rules of the game were, like the first Superman, a simple goodness of spirit of which we are today losing so rapidly in the world. Natty Bumppo had wasn't just a prince of the virgin continent; his code of conduct was definite -- faithful, moral, fearless and he was an example of a "just minded and pure man might be."

Cooper describes him about a third of the way into the book as:

"... the most striking feature about the moral organization of Pathfinder was beautiful and unerring sense of justice. This noble trait -- and without it no man can be truly great...As might have been expected... his fidelity was like the immovable rock; treachery in him was classed among the things which are impossible; and as he seldom retired before his enemies, so was he never known... to abandon a friend..."

OK. This is not a short excerpt and the paragraph goes on and on. Still, this is the man we need now and men like him to rid the world of the bad guys and remind us who the good guys really are.

If the classics of American literature have turned you away; give Cooper a chance. Visit the adventure of a previous time. There is fun to be had and suspense without a serial killer in sight.