The Last of the Mohicans: Film vs. Book

No spoilers for either the film or book.

I love Michael Mann’s film The Last of the Mohicans. I don’t remember how old I was when I first saw it, but I fell in love with it. The history. The scenery. The music. A young Daniel Day Lewis. I am drawn to historic epics. I love learning how the truth and fiction intertwine. Native American religions and the French and Indian war are fascinating to me, so much so that I have used clips in both religion and American History classes. It was also filmed in the mountains of NC not far from where I grew up. Our family vacationed at Lake Lure and Chimney Rock when I was in high school. They filmed portions of the final chase scene. (In one scene, you see Lewis running through rocky pathways. If you look closely, you can see stone-colored fabric rustle in the wind as he runs by. The cloth is covering a set of stair that leads to an overlook atop a rock. I have climbed those stairs.)  Stone Mountain, NC, another filming location, is also very familiar to me. I hiked it numerous times with our church group and Coach proposed to me there. And, the fact that they filmed it in NC lead to one of my favorite goofs in the movie. Heyward asks Hawkeye, “There is a war on. How is it that you are headed west?” Hawkeye responds, “Well, we kind of face to the north and real subtle-like turn left.” What a great line! But, if you are in NY, those aren’t the directions to Kentucky.

Lewis and Stowe

Lewis and Stowe

The music is also phenomenal. Coach owned the soundtrack when we began dating, a good sign for sure. Composed by Randy Edelman and Trevor Jones, the score captures the power, excitement, and uncertainly of life on the frontier. If you have never seen the film, one quick listen to the opening scene will convince you of the composer’s brilliance and certainly draw you in. If you have seen it,  I challenge you not to spend two hours watching it again! Daniel Day Lewis and Madeleine Stowe ignite the screen as their love emerges and struggles through the horrors of war. It is a moving love story, beautifully cast, beautifully filmed, and beautifully simple.

Four Stars, a must-see, and we of course own it!!!

With this love of the film, it is only right that I should read the book. When in high school, my family procured a local library cast-off of Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans. I gave it to my father to read because he too loves the film. I seem to remember he read a few pages and returned it to the shelf as “not his style.”  I didn’t pick it up until this past summer and I just finished it over Christmas Break. It too is “not my style,” but I was determined to persevere.

The Last of the Mohicans is second of five books in the Leatherstocking Tales by James Fenimore Cooper. Published in 1826, it is a prime example of the Romantic Period of American literature.

I quickly learned that the book and the film are very different. The characters and their basic relationships are the same. Munro has two daughters, Cora and Alice. Chicgachgook has two sons, Uncas and, his adopted son, Hawkeye. Heyward is present. And that’s where it ends. There is another character in the book, David, who entirely left out of the film. The love interests differ. And the characters that die are different as well. The long and the short of it is that if you are asked to write a report on the book and just watch the film, you will fail.

What did I think of the book? It takes 300 pages to get interesting. I am a dialogue person. Page after page of descriptions do not interest me.  Once it got interesting, I liked it. The major adjustment for me was my impressions of Uncas and Hawkeye. In the film, Uncas is the strong, silent type. Hawkeye is witty and powerful. In the book, I found Hawkeye to be an annoying, know-it-all, who talked to hear himself talk. It was Uncas that drew my attention. His authority in the book far exceeds that in the film and he uses his position in thoughtful, valiant ways.

I am reminded of something that my high school English teacher, Mr. Hoyle, taught me about the Romantic period. One of the traits of Romantic literature is the notion of the ‘noble savage’. This is clearly depicted in the book. Uncas is noble in his actions, from his choice to assert power to his choice to remain silent. He is a character, based on a real Mohegan chief, to be admired and respected. Disappointingly, the film reappropriates those traits to Hawkeye, thereby abandoning the Romantic concept of the ‘noble savage’ which was so pivotal in the book (and one that the readers of 1826 and today need to be reminded of). So in presenting a ‘noble savage’ in all his mystery and power, the book the The Last of the Mohicans is fantastic. In being an interesting story, like I said, it takes a while.

Two stars, read it if you like Romantic period literature or are looking for a ‘noble savage’


One thought on “The Last of the Mohicans: Film vs. Book

  1. Pingback: Do. | Encourage One Another Daily

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