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American Science Fiction: Four Classic Novels 1953-56 (Library of America #227)
Gary K. Wolfe, Frederik Pohl, C.M. Kornbluth, Theodore Sturgeon, Leigh Brackett, Richard Matheson

The Deerslayer (Leatherstocking Tales)

The Deerslayer - James Fenimore Cooper, Robert Tilton What can I say that Mark Twain didn't?

"Cooper's art has some defects. In one place in "Deerslayer," and in the restricted place of two-thirds of a page, Cooper has scored 114 offenses against literary art out of a possible 115. It breaks the record."


"I may be mistaken, but it does seem to me that "Deerslayer" is not a work of art in any sense; it does seem to me that it is destitute of every detail that goes to the making of a work of art; in truth, it seems to me that "Deerslayer" is just simply a literary delirium tremens."

Twain's essay is so good that its almost worth reading the Deerslayer just to get all the jokes.

The Deerslayer was the last of Cooper's Leatherstocking tales, but the first chronologically. It's an origin tale, just like that last X-Men movie. We get to see Deerslayer/Pathfinder/Hawkeye on his first warpath. We see his first kill. (He literally talks the man to death), how he comes across his famous rifle Killdear (He loots it from a dead man), and his first refusal of a woman's declaration of undying love.

And just like in The Pathfinder, we get another shooting contest, and a whole bunch of really dumb, evil indians. (More Twain: "The difference between a Cooper Indian and the Indian that stands in front of the cigar-shop is not spacious.") The story goes nowhere--people get caught by Indians, people escape from Indians, then get caught again, then fight. (There are a couple of good fight scenes. When one main character is scalped alive, it's actually pretty exciting and surprising.)

There's chunky dialog like this:
"You are Hetty Hutter... Hurry Harry has told me of you, and I know you must be the child?"

"Yes, I'm Hetty Hutter...I'm Hetty; Judith Hutter's sister; and Thomas Hutter;s youngest daughter."

(And people don't "say" things, they more often than not "ejaculate.")

And this character, Hetty Hutter, is "feeble-minded." Cooper also describes her as "simple," "foolish," owning an "unsophistacted mind," or with a "mental darkness which, in a measure, obscured her intellect." Every moment this poor thing is on the page, Cooper reminds us how dumb she is.

Cooper as a writer is not nearly as bad as Twain says, but in at least this particular case, trotting out his best-selling Natty Bumpo character for a fourth sequel (the second after Bumpo's death in "The Prairie") he's at his most long-winded and least-focused. The Deerslayer is the 19th century literary equivalent of Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, or Police Academy 3: Back in Training.