Monday, August 15, 2016

Book Review: The Deerslayer, by James Fenimore Cooper

The Deerslayer
By James Fenimore Cooper

Rating:  7 out of 10

    Set in the wilderness of upstate New York just at the beginning of the French and Indian War, this story is the first of James F. Cooper’s famous “Leatherstocking Tales”.  Natty Bumpo, or the Deerslayer is the main character.  His simple honesty and unusual skill with the long rifle, added to his quickness in wilderness warfare, bring him safely through a sudden Indian attack, and a short captivity.

    Although the story only spans a period of about four days, it takes almost that long to read it because Cooper includes so much detail.  Deerslayer arrives on the lake known as the Glimmerglass with a trapper, Hurry Harry.  He intends to meet his Indian friend, Chingachgook, at the lower end of the lake, but has a day to spare, so stops for a visit with Hurry’s friend, the settler known as Tom Hutter, or as the Indians call him, the Muskrat.  Hutter and his two daughters make the young men welcome, but the whole party are attacked by a band of Iroquois Indians as the French and Indian war breaks out.  After gaining a position of comparative security, Hutter and Harry decide to enter the Indian camp in search of scalps, for which a bounty is offered by the government in Albany.
    Natty refuses to join them in their wicked scheme, but agrees to wait for them in the canoe.  Matters suddenly take an unexpected turn when the two men are captured, leaving him as the sole protector of the two girls.  Later he meets Chingachgook and succeeds in releasing Hurry and Hutter.  He and his friend then proceed to rescue the young Indian maiden who is betrothed to Chingachgook, but now Deerslayer himself falls into the hands of the Indians.  His unflinching truthfulness and courage even when the odds seem desperately against him excites the admiration of the Indians, and bring Judith Hutter to respect him more than any man she knows.
    The unexpected twists and turns of the story, the rich character development, and the clear portrayal of life in the wilderness and Indian warfare, added to Natty’s own character, combine to make this “classic” an interesting and excellent story.  It is emotional, noble, and simple, all at the same time.

My thoughts:

    The Deerslayer is my personal favorite of Cooper’s books, and I think it is well worth reading.  In fact, I generally listen to it every year or two.  I think my favorite thing about it is Natty’s determined truthfulness and steadfast, courageous honesty; even when he is required to keep his “parole” with the Indians- i.e. voluntarily return to captivity by a certain time.  The idea of keeping one’s word even when it hurts is so lost in our day, and it is good to have examples of it, even in literature (even if the example is a bit stretched).
    However, like all of Cooper’s books, The Deerslayer has one major problem.  While Cooper often includes sound theology in his books, Deerslayer’s opinion is freely given regarding religion, and it is heavily tainted with heretical “all roads lead to heaven” doctrine.  In other words, Deerslayer believes that as long as one is sincere, and deals uprightly and justly, then that person will be rewarded, regardless of their beliefs.  The Bible clearly teaches that only faith in Jesus Christ can save a person, and there is no other way to God and Heaven except through Jesus.  Jesus said:  “I am the door:  by Me if any man enter in, he shall be saved.”  (John 10:9)

    No secular literature is going to be free from error.  (In fact, no literature of any kind is 100% free from error, except the Bible!)  While this does not mean that we swallow everything that comes down the pipe, or allow our children to read all the “classics”, we do need to keep it in mind.  In my opinion, the quality of literature and information in this book, as well as the sound story, make it well worthwhile for people to read, as long as they are grounded in the truth.  If you give this book to your children though, I strongly recommend that you discuss it with them, and be sure they thoroughly understand sound doctrine, and can separate the true from the false.
     Also be warned that Cooper’s books generally have a rather sad ending; in our family, we say we know we’re getting close to the end when he starts killing off all his characters!  While this is not strictly true, and I would not say these books are depressing, some children may not do well with the sober ending note.  Also, the American Indians were often brutal in their treatment of enemies, and some of the white pioneers were no better.  Cooper’s graphic descriptions may be a little much for some readers; though they generally do not clearly picture atrocities.  Some (one sided) romance, and allusions to immorality is also included.  (The allusions to fornication are veiled in a form that most children will not understand, but which will be apparent to older readers.)  For these reasons, I would recommend this book for fairly mature children from 14 and up.

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