The Last of the Mohicans

August 6, 2009 at 12:00 am 5 comments

I feel that a lot is said about how movies ruin books and how the film version never, ever lives up to how good the book is. But what about that ignored category of films and books that no one much likes to talk about: the movie that is better than the book? This seems to be considered in some way illicit and something that one should keep hushed up, for where would we be if Hollywood were not corrupting that high form, literature, and the books were not always better?

It think pomposity often makes it easier to say the film ruined the book. At the very least, you get to sound off about how impressive you are for having read the book in addition to seeing the film. But I’d like to take this opportunity to stick up for film. Some things are simply better on the screen. As KT has said in the past, there is simply more that can be done visually in a film and there is definitely something to be said for actually being able to see that which you could only read descriptions about before. Yes, Hollywood has a bad track record. But let’s give them credit where it is due: some films are better than the books upon which they are based. Case in point? The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper.

The Last of the Mohicans tells the story of “a scout” famously called Hawkeye (whose real name is rather humorously Natty Bumppo) who runs across some English folks during the French and Indian War and then proceeds to save them from various native American-related scrapes with the help of his adopted brother, Chingachgook (the titular last of the Mohicans), and said brother’s son, Uncas.

The main problem with the book is its length. It goes just a little too long with just a few too many scrapes that Hawkeye has to get the English out of. Add to that, the entire book plays out like one extended and rather pointless traipse through the dense forest of what is now upstate New York. Why does Hawkeye need to help these people? And once he’s saved them five times, why does he keep sticking around and reappearing to save them for the sixth, seventh, and eight times?

The movie deals with all these issues beautifully. Not only is the film shot in an an absolutely breathtaking way with a genius soundtrack by Randy Edelman and Trevor Jones, the script allows itself to rearrange some of the scenes and take some poetic license. By playing up the hinted-at romance in Cooper’s novel, the film succeeds in answering why Hawkeye and Uncas hang around to much and are so invested in helping out the young ladies. Additionally, the film is expert at taking the really exciting parts of Cooper’s novel (mostly occurring at the very beginning of the book) and placing them in more appropriate and climatic moments. (And thereby creating cinematic classic moments such as Hawkeye’s “I will find you!”) The film also interestingly adds more historic background (the whole colonists at the fort subplot) to make the whole story more complex and believable.

As with many books and their film versions, part of the fun can be comparing, even when the book is not nearly as good as the movie. That said, The Last of the Mohicans is not a page-turner and I had to physically force myself through the last thirty or so pages shouting “Only 18 more!” to my roommate, but it was excellent fun to compare to the film version and perhaps for that the wee read is worth it.


Entry filed under: Classics. Tags: , .

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. KT  |  August 6, 2009 at 1:34 pm

    This is the same thing that happened to me with Lolita! It’s like, the book was pretty good, but the movie was so much better — and I think that actually if they do it right, the new Brave New World movie ( will be much the same.

    • 2. Corey  |  August 6, 2009 at 8:29 pm

      Brave New World movie?! Oh Leo…

      Anyway, Last of the Mohicans (the movie) rocks. Daniel Day-Lewis is da man. He spent three months living as a 18th-century native American in preparation for this film!

      • 3. KT  |  August 6, 2009 at 9:14 pm

        Um, wow, that is DEDICATION!

      • 4. KT  |  August 6, 2009 at 9:15 pm

        Oh, and also, did you see Leo in Blood Diamond? Amazing :) I think he’d do okay…

  • […] film versions. I think this is such a broad and hot-button issue for me (and one that we’ve touched on here at LT in the past), that I’m going to save my more general gripes and praise in favor of […]


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