The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Deerslayer, The
DEERSLAYER, The. ‘The Deerslayer,’ last of the Leather-stocking tales, which Fenimore Cooper published in 1841, is first in the order of events narrated in that famous series. The actions take place on and about Otsego Lake between 1740 and 1745. According to Cooper's own words, the “legend is purely fiction, no authority existing for any of its facts, characters, or other peculiarities,” but “the descriptions of scenery in the tale are reasonably accurate,” Essentially a romance, full of a dewy freshness, with large, bland, eloquent landscapes and full of the forest philosophy which underlies the whole of Cooper's conception of Leather-Stocking, the book is at the same time, like all his later novels, considerably realistic. The dialect is careful, the woodcraft generally sound. The reality of the piece, however, comes chiefly from the reasoned presentation of the central issue: the conflict in Leather-Stocking between the forces which draw him to the woods and those which seek to attach him to his human kind. The same conflict had figured in earlier volumes of the series, but here it is more appealing than ever before because the hero is in the warm morning of his youth and must choose his career even against the enticements of love. It is hard to tell whether it is at the prescription of romance or at the demand of realism that he chooses his native forests; he is enough a romantic personage to prefer the wilderness, and yet his victory is not a romantic victory but a victory realistically in keeping with his total character. What helps him to his choice is that Judith Hutter, who loves him, one of the few convincing young women in Cooper's works, has been corrupted by the settlements, and to turn from her is an act forced by his simple principles of virtue as well as suggested by his preferences for a life in nature. ‘The Deerslayer’ is thus the tale of his coming age. Already a hunter, as his name implies, he kills his first man. His distress at the realization seems immeasurably eloquent to readers who, knowing his future from the other Leather-Stocking stories, remember the many deaths Natty has yet to deal. In other matters he is near his later self, for he starts life with a steady philosophy which, through all the many expenences of the volume, keeps him to the end as simple and honorable as at the outset. Of the minor characters only the ardent young Chingachgook and the silly Hetty Hutter call for mention. The movement is rapid, the incidents varied, and the piece as a whole absorbing.