The second and most popular chronicle in his Leather-stocking Tales, James Fenimore Coopers The Last of the Mohicans is one of the great historical romances to come out of America. Set in 1757 amidst the French and Indian War, the novel tells the story of frontier scout Hawkeye and his efforts to conduct two daughters of a fort commander to safety.
Sure, James Fennimore Cooper has no idea how many people can really fit in a birchbark canoe (he apparently thinks it's upwards of 8), and scenes seem to unfold in areas that are simultaneously claustrophobic and expansive, dark as a cave but light enough to read in, shrouded in waterfall mist but dry. People can emerge from ponds and have their pan and flash pistols work, and as Mark Twain famously notes, Cooper wears out barrels of moccasins using the 'step in the already trod prints so you don't leave a trail' trick.
It's also true Cooper couldn't write 'the dog died' in less than eighty words.
But you know what else? This book rocks. It's intense as the apocalypse, and sometimes his blunt imagery is breathtaking. Here's one of my favorite sentences, as our party has to camp where a massacre has occurred just a few days before, and where Cooper has explicitly told us animals have been feeding on the remains: "...long before the night had turned, they who lay in the bosom of the ruined work, seemed to slumber as heavily as the unconscious multitude whose bones were already beginning to bleach on the surrounding plain."
I mean-BAM! That's a home run.
And we owe this guy a debt of gratitude we can never repay for the rich prejudicial archetypes he blessed our western pulp fiction with...the 'good' noble savage, the 'sneaky' savage, the pure blonde maiden, the wise but doomed darker-haired (and in this book, mixed race - hey Cooper - the 21st century called - props!) sister, and of course Natty Bumpo/Leatherstocking/Hawkeye/le Longue Carabine, the long-haired American Robin Hood who lives outside society and can out-Indian the Indians. Would Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman have had Sully if Cooper hadn't given us Hawkeye?