Thursday, January 11, 2007

Last Of The Mohicans

Ok, I know this is not about France. Ken and I watched the movie, "The Last Of The Mohicans," the other night, which was on tv. We had just been to upstate New York last October. I was alarmed to realize, being a native of upstate New York, that I might not have read James Fenimore Cooper's novel.

So, I downloaded it and am in the middle of reading it. What a great book ! In the back of my mind I thought I had read it as a kid, but now I know that I hadn't. But I should have done. The story takes place around where I grew up, and reading it now is a pleasure. It's very different from the movie version with Daniel Day Lewis - even though, in my opinion, the movie was pretty good.

One of several cruise boats on Lake George, the Mohican.

Ken and I went to Lake George in October. It was known by the French as le lac du Saint Sacrement, and was named by Cooper in his novel Horican. We toured Fort William Henry, where Munro was defeated by the French General Montcalm during the French and Indian War.

The southern end of Lake George, le lac du Saint Sacrement, Horican, seen from Fort William Henry.

The following is a quote from Cooper's introduction to his novel, where he explains the name he uses for Lake George.

"There is one point on which we would wish to say a word before closing this preface. Hawkeye calls the Lac du Saint Sacrement, the "Horican." As we believe this to be an appropriation of the name that has its origin with ourselves, the time has arrived, perhaps, when the fact should be frankly admitted. While writing this book, fully a quarter of a century since, it occurred to us that the French name of this lake was too complicated, the American too commonplace, and the Indian too unpronounceable, for either to be used familiarly in a work of fiction. Looking over an ancient map, it was ascertained that a tribe of Indians, called "Les Horicans" by the French, existed in the neighborhood of this beautiful sheet of water. As every word uttered by Natty Bumppo was not to be received as rigid truth, we took the liberty of putting the "Horican" into his mouth, as the substitute for "Lake George." The name has appeared to find favor, and all things considered, it may possibly be quite as well to let it stand, instead of going back to the House of Hanover for the appellation of our finest sheet of water. We relieve our conscience by the confession, at all events leaving it to exercise its authority as it may see fit."

Ken and I drove through Fort Edward (Edward and William Henry being the English princes for whom the forts were named). We had lunch in Glens Falls, the very place that is named for the cataract on the Hudson River where Hawkeye hid his companions from Magua and the Hurons.

Fort William Henry (restored) at the southernmost point of Lake George.

When in Europe, you realize that there is a vast history here. But you forget that there is a history at home, too, even if it is more recent.

What I also realize, and not for the first time, is that the land we call home has another history. It is a history that the colonists and the Americans after them all but erased. It is a long, long history of the movement of people across vast lands. Of the Hurons, the Delawares, the Oneidas and the Mohawks. Of all the people that inhabited the lands before the Europeans came.

The history of America stretches back much, much further than the 15th century. It's a history we would do well to think better of.


  1. One book I loved when I was, mmm, twelve! I was a tomboy then. I don't know how I would like it now. I didn't like the movie much, as I didn't find the story I had read as a girl.

  2. Interesting stuff, Walt. Are you reading the book online? I guess if you don't work on a computer all day, reading a book online might be all right.

    Ask Ken if he remembers that Merle had a giant picture of DDL in "Mohicans" in her office at Claris. I know Chris must remember, too. How funny! You brought back that memory.

    Happy reading...

  3. I will finish the book... thanks for the 'prod'... by the way, very nice blog.

  4. Claude, yes, the movie is different, but it was nicely photographed, I thought.

    Ginny, I'll ask him. And yes, I'm reading it online (only because I can enlarge the type).

    Carm, I'm trying to finish it myself ;) !

  5. Ginny, yes, I do remember Merle's poster.

    Our friend Janet here sold a house to some people from LA who recently rented their house in LA to DDL. How about that? Not too many degrees of separation...


Tell me what you think!