“The Deerslayer,” the first novel in the “Leatherstocking Tales” chronologically, yet it was the last one written by James Fenimore Cooper. “The Deerslayer”, also known as “The First War-Path”, is a masterpiece of suspense, adventure, and romance crafted by James Cooper in his later years. The tales of Natty Bumppo, more commonly known as Deerslayer or Leatherstocking, considered by many to be some of the earliest true American novels.
Occurring during the early 1740 is as the wars between the French and Indians kindled, the story of Natty Bumppo begins. Lake Otsego, known by the characters as Lake Glimmerglass, in upstate New York is the home of the events that transpire in our tale. Described by Deerslayer as “A broad sheet of water, so placid and lipid that it resembled a bed of pure mountain atmosphere, compressed into a setting of hills and woods,” (pg 28). Glimmerglass measured at a length of almost three leagues and an irregular breadth of a half or more. The lake containing indented bays and many low projecting points broke the margin surrounding it. From a quarter mile into the lake from the closest coast stands the home of Tom Hutter, also known as Floating Tom, the Musket Castle. The castle built on a long and narrow shoal, which extended in a north to south direction for a few hundred yards, is only reachable by cone. The forest that surrounds the lake is luscious, dark, rich, and mysterious.
Natty Bumppo a paleface, a white person, who from an early age was raised in the ways of the Delaware Indians. Deerslayer, Natty, has high morals which he tributes to his gifts and nature. The extents of his morals are displayed when he had a chance to kill a deer and he does not. When confronted by Hurry Harry on why he did not kill the deer, Deerslayer responds with “I may be a slayer, it’s true, but I’m no slaughterer” (pg 49), even though Natty received his name, Deerslayer, form his ability to hunt with a rifle. He will only hunt when food is needed and or animal hide, but never for the fun of killing. In some ways, Deerslayer resembles the European epic hero. Natty follows his code of keeping his word, telling the whole truth, and is honorable against his enemies during his warpath.
He demonstrates his code when the Huron Indians release him for a shot while from captivity viva the principle of furlough. For his furlough, Deerslayer had to relay a message to those in the castle and had to return with their replies. During this, the herons did not follow him nor did he need an escort since he gave his word that he would return. Unlike the European epic heroes, Deerslayer is not an educated character. The fact is reveled when Hetty, one of Floating Tom’s daughter’ asks him if he wants to read the bible and tells her that he cannot read. Despite this set back Deerslayer shows an erudite that even the old Indian chiefs recognize. Even recognized by first man he dealt with on his warpath recognized it, the dying Indian says to him “young head- old wisdom” (pg 111).
Cooper’s unique style of writing that achieves a unity of plot and setting has contributed to the lasting importance of Natty Bumppo’s tale. Cooper’s writes extensive passages of description that at times are almost poetic and hint of artistic beauty. However, these passages show a romantic love of nature they slow and halt the flow of story. Yet without them, The Deerslayer would only be a less satisfying tale of adventure. Cooper’s weakness in the dialogue deals a blow into the occurring, to the point where sometimes the plot is almost nonexistent. For example during the dragged out conversations between Natty and Judith, another daughter of Tom, cooper fills the dialogue unrealistic speech and a confrontation of his views on issues. Though these conversations where over extended, they help recognize Cooper as great thinker.
Readers may pass on reading this American classic based on its size. Though it may seem large at 522 pages, it barely does it justice since so much could be added on to it. Thought it may start slow in the beginning, it is there where most of the breath taking descriptions of Lake Glimmerglass are located. As one continues reading, the action does not start until the middle of the tale. Nevertheless, once one reaches it the wait is rewarded .Cooper’s writing style does take a time to get used to it so in the beginning one may find themselves reading chapters to see what may have been missed or to see if what was read was miss interpreted. As the reader reads, it becomes easier to understand Cooper’s use of words and style throughout the tale.
Though The Deerslayer was the last to be published in the series, it starts the American classic of hero Natty Bumppo. All in all the first taste of Copper’s series The Leatherstocking Tales leaves a reader receives through The Deerslayer is more than satisfying and makes the reader thirst for more.
Cooper, James Fenimore. The Deerslayer. New York: Barns & Noble Books, 2005. Print