James Fenimore Cooper: The Problem of the Good Bad Writer

Leslie A. Fiedler (SUNY Buffalo)

Presented at the 2ⁿᵈ Cooper Seminar, James Fenimore Cooper: His Country and His Art at the State University of New York College at Oneonta, July, 1979.

Originally published in James Fenimore Cooper: His Country and His Art, Papers from the 1979 Conference at State University College of New York, Oneonta and Cooperstown. George A. Test, editor. (pp. 1-10).

Copyright © 1979, State University of New York College at Oneonta.

[May be reproduced for instructional use by individuals or institutions; commercial use prohibited.]

We are gathered here to honor an American writer — the first American writer, we sometimes boast, to have achieved world-wide literary eminence in his own time and to have maintained it undiminished into ours. Yet we are all uncomfortably aware, as Cooper himself had become aware before his death, that it is only five of his books (one tenth of his literary production) which anybody but the most fanatic scholar-specialists can persuade himself are worth celebrating. Moreover, these five Leatherstocking Tales, though they stay in print and are read still by a substantial though diminishing audience, chiefly juvenile, are quite unlike what we ordinarily think of as Classics or “Great Books.” They are, in fact, on most counts — on all counts, if judged by rigorous critical standards — bad books: ineptly structured, shamelessly periphrastic, euphemistic and verbose; at last, unforgivably boring, particularly in their ponderous introductions and the all-too-frequent obiter dicta of their garrulous anti-hero.

Even when they are intermittently interesting, they interest us not for their technical virtuosity or executive skill, much less for their wisdom, morality or insight into the labyrinth of the human heart. No, they interest us — once the editorializing has ceased and the woodland pursuits and evasions begun; once tomahawks flash through the darkling air and rifles are discharged out of the shadowed underbrush, while canoes glide stealthily across lakes impossibly virgin and more beautiful than any nature has made — as much we call “escapist trash” interests us. Like all such trash, they are, not accidentally but essentially, violent, melodramatic, sentimental and, above all, trite, reassuringly platitudinous, familiar before the fact; so that they can move us to shudders and tears, yet leave us feeling not shaken but reassured.

Re-reading, for instance, just the other day that scene in The Last of the Mohicans in which Uncas is recognized by Tamenund and the doom of his race prophesied, I found myself weeping; as I have always wept since I first encountered it at the age of twelve, yet satisfied, gratified now as I was then. It is not merely that I have come to expect that scene after many re-readings, would feel cheated if it were not there, but that somehow I had expected it from the first; as if the very shape, the nature, the genre of the novel had promised such archetypal satisfactions. It is, indeed, this keeping of implicit promises which makes all popular genres finally reassuring, no matter how many calamities befall their characters along the way. Knowing, for instance, that The Last of the Mohicans is an historical Romance, as classically formulated and launched into eternal best-sellerdom by Sir Waiter Scott, we know also that in the end some almost faceless boy will get some almost anonymous girl (no matter what loneliness awaits Natty Bumppo), and that some satisfactorily egregious villain will go down to bloody defeat (no matter how many foredoomed sub-heroes he takes with him).

Yet precisely this formulaic quality, the predictability of its ritual conclusion is one of the reasons why in our time — when Henry James and Flaubert have taught us that in “serious” literature the anti-cliché must prevail: the boy lose the girl, the girl the boy, or even worse that they get each other and live to regret it — the historical Romance has been consigned to the realm of paraliterature, popular culture. That once honorable genre belongs now to the market place rather than the library and the English lit classroom, as the veriest tyro, the Freshman dreaming of becoming a literature major, its likely to know. And if he does not, he can learn it reading the head notes to almost any standard collection of American poetry and prose. The relevant passage, for instance, in an anthology for class use compiled by Cleanth Brooks, Robert Penn Warren and R.W.B. Lewis, informs us that: “Cooper’s defects as a writer are indeed real and great, and his worth is of an order peculiarly vulnerable to the change of taste following the work of Flaubert, Henry James and James Joyce.”

Brooks is, of course, one of the earliest American spokesmen for what came to be known as the New Criticism, an academicized and peculiarly genteel version of Modernism as adapted to WASP culture by T.S. Eliot. Relentlessly formalist on the level of aesthetics, anti-bourgeois and anti-populist (often, indeed, fascist) on the level of politics, such New Critics were by definition hostile to whatever pleased the many by touching depths of the psyche where form and execution, along with medium itself became irrelevant. To them, literature is the medium: words on the page, a shapely text, a well-wrought urn, which, in the poetic tag that became for them a rallying cry, “does not mean but be.” Never really at home in the realm of prose (even narrative poetry of any length baffled them, since they had no real understanding of “story”), they preferred novels with the dense texture of poetry: complicated, hermetic works available only to patient analysis, like the late novels of Henry James; though in a pinch, they would admit into their canon such “loose and baggy monsters” as Moby Dick, provided they were mystifying enough to allow for endless exegesis.

The New Critics — whose views Warren and Lewis, as well as Brooks still avow, though they have been replaced for most of us since the end of World War II by neo-neo-Formalism, French-style, and neo-Romanticism, American-style — were from the start sworn enemies of Romanticism in any form, especially in popular literature. The insidious temptations of sentimentality and the cliché they feared as their Puritan ancestors had feared the wiles of the devil — avoiding the first with defensive irony, and the second by a relentless pursuit of the New. They have tended, therefore, to scorn, or at best condescend to writers (invariably sentimental and cliché-ridden) beloved by the untutored mass audience; especially those who, like Fenimore Cooper, deliberately wooed that audience — refusing to take themselves seriously as “artists,” but preferring to regard themselves as amateur entertainers or commercial entrepreneurs.

How then did Cooper make it at all (as he in fact did, despite their apologies) into the pages of Brooks, Warren and Lewis? Can it have been their paradoxical desire to produce a best-selling classroom anthology celebrating a contempt for everything that makes a best-seller? Or was it merely that vestigial chauvinism present in even the most anti-democratic of us: an unwillingness to cast out utterly the single early nineteenth-century American novelist with even the shadow of a claim to being a “good writer.”

If, however, Cooper is in any sense “good” — valuable, memorable, moving, capable of outliving his own time — it is because, contrary to the teachings of the New Criticism, literature is not, finally, its medium; not words at all, but something beyond, behind, before, above or below words. Whatever the quality, the gift which has insured Cooper’s survival, it is one which associates him not with Flaubert and James and Joyce, not even with Hawthorne and Melville; but with Harriet Beecher Stowe, Margaret Mitchell and Taylor Caldwell, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Conan Doyle, H. Rider Haggard and L. Frank Baum. Only Mark Twain is comparable among American novelists regarded by an overwhelming critical consensus as of first rank; since Harriet Beecher Stowe is as problematical for critics as Cooper himself. Yet, paradoxically enough, Twain launched a devastating attack not .just on the Leatherstocking Tales, but on the Professors, the critical establishment of his time, who — dishonestly, incomprehensibly, it seemed to Twain, as it still seems to me — touted Cooper’s pop romances as “Great Literature.”

In a hilarious and disrespectful little essay called “Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses,” which, fittingly enough, has become the best-known piece of pop criticism in the world, Twain directed his venom chiefly against a certain “Prof. Lounsbury” of Columbia and “Prof. Brander Matthews” of Yale; signing himself, to make even clearer his hostility to universities in general and the Ivy League in particular, “Mark Twain M.A., Professor of Belles Lettres in the Veterinary College of Arizona.” That Prof. Lounsbury found The Pathfinder and The Deerslayer “pure works of art,” and Prof. Brander Matthews thought Natty Bumppo “one of the very greatest characters in fiction” Twain purported to find explicable only on the grounds that they had never read Cooper at all. And in a sense, which I hope I will be able to clarify before I am through, they had not read him — not certainly as they read Spenser or Milton or Keats. Indeed, they could not, any more than we can, read him that way; but they did not realize this, enchanted, as it were, by a magic imperceptible to conventional literary analysis.

Though Twain’s irreverent essay has been often reprinted, becoming in the years since 1895 a kind of anthologist’s chestnut, it has never, I am convinced, been taken seriously enough. But this is, of course (as is appropriate for a response of one popular writer to another), because it is written in a style available to both their readerships rather than to the academic critics it attacks. A series of outrageous jokes, it lacks the low seriousness, pedantry and grim rigor which we have come (alas!) to associate with proper literary criticism. We find it as easy, therefore, to laugh away Twain’s exaggerated calumny of Cooper’s style as we do to laugh away his hyperbolic diatribe against the German language. The writer has been as little affected by his scorn as the language, we assure ourselves. To what else, indeed, does this occasion testify?

Yet we laugh with Twain rather than at him because his humor (involving always, as Freud convincingly argued, a “release of the repressed”) serves to release both our otherwise unconfessed resentment of the longeurs and ineptitudes of the Leatherstocking Tales, and the shame we feel at responding so positively and passionately to what we know is schlock. But we do not easily acknowledge this, trying instead to explain Twain’s case away, as if he were the problem rather than Cooper and our uneasy relationship to him. After all, we tell ourselves, Twain was a self-educated, provincial author of best-sellers who longed to be accepted as a cultural equal by the Boston Brahmins; and was therefore desperate to prove that one could be simultaneously the darling of the popular audience and a skilled craftsman. Besides, as he never admits in this essay but betrays elsewhere in his work, there stands between him and the Leatherstocking Tales, in which a key role is played by almost intolerably noble Redmen, a Westerner’s pathological hatred of Indians, acquired when he was a tenderfoot in the mining camps: a conviction that the only good Indian is a dead Indian.

Most damagingly of all, Twain seems to have confused the conventions of mimetic and fantastic art; demanding of self-declared Romances (projections of nightmare and dream) a kind of verisimilitude, a faithfulness to fact and probability only appropriate to the Novel proper (renditions of waking life). Yet Twain, after all, is the author of that prototypical American fiction, Huckleberry Finn, from which, as Hemingway asserted, all our subsequent novels have descended; and his objections to a series of books for which a similar claim has been made must be taken very seriously indeed. Besides, a great deal of his most damaging negative criticism is irrefutable.

If there are really “rules” (as Twain argues) “governing literary art,” then surely they include: “using the right word, not its second cousin; eschewing surplusage; not omitting necessary details; avoiding slovenliness of form; employing a simple and straight forward style.” And Cooper, as Twain demonstrates in considerable detail, fails on all these counts, so that it is hard to dissent from his summary indictment of The Deerslayer:

A work of art? It has no invention ... no order, system, sequence, or result ... , no lifelikeness ... no seeming of reality ... its characters are confusedly drawn ... its humor is pathetic; its pathos is funny; its conversations are — oh! indescribable; its love-scenes odious; its English a crime against the language.

But the decision has gone against Twain in the twentieth century, even among modernist novelists and critics, to whom the Victorian taste of Professors Lounsbury and Matthews seems an ultimate abomination in all other respects. D.H. Lawrence, for instance, in his Studies in Classic American Literature, calls The Deerslayer “one of the most beautiful and perfect books in the world: flawless as a jewel and of gemlike concentration.” To be sure; Lawrence is more interested in the mystic import of Cooper’s novel than in its form. But T.S. Eliot, that self-styled “Classicist,” to whom structural and linguistic excellence are all- important, concurs (as he does with no other opinion of Lawrence, on sex, politics, art or the destiny of the human race); calling the essay from which this quotation comes “probably [Eliot always hedges his bets a little] the most brilliant of critical essays on Cooper ... ” Even Marius Bewley, official spokesman on American literature, for the school of F. R. Leavis, admits Cooper into a “Great Tradition” of the novel, so narrowly defined that it excludes not only Scott, Cooper’s avowed model, but Smollett and Sterne and (until Leavis’s deathbed repentance) all the most characteristic fiction of Charles Dickens.

Why then has modernist criticism, which has almost totally revised the Victorian canon of American literature, preserved Fenimore Cooper from the fate, say, of Stevenson and Scott. On esthetic grounds, he is indefensible; and the majority of such critics are on record as refusing to defend any writing on “extrinsic” moral grounds. It is, in any case, hard to argue either that Cooper’s formal ineptness is made up f the nobility of his vision of life, or that it is redeemed by his insight into the American destiny. To understand — as the historian or the enlightened statesman strives to understand — that conflict of alien cultures in the New World with which our nation began, Cooper is of no value whatsoever. But to understand the mythological grid through which, the original European conquerors and settlers perceived that conflict, and through which, willy-nilly, we all still perceive both it and any further imperialist ventures (the recent war in Vietnam, for instance) which can be assimilated to it in our deep imaginations, he is very valuable indeed.

Yet that mythological grid, brought to the level of full consciousness, tells us things about his undermind and our own of which it is not easy to be proud; revealing to us not what we consciously believe or would like to believe are our values and motives, but what really continues to move us below the level of daylight awareness: the dark side of our ambivalence to the nonwhite alien others with whom we continue to live in America. The attitudes and assumptions embodied in the Leatherstocking Tales — judging not by what is asserted in editorial asides, but suggested in encrypted form through plot and character — are regressive, reactionary, downright wicked in terms of the enlightened moral consensus of the late twentieth century. They are, that is to say, racist, sexist and anti-democratic; based on an ethnocentric, culturally imperialist and hierarchal view of society which serves to perpetuate, indeed celebrates the subservience of Red and Black men to white ones, of females to males, and of the uncultivated poor to the lettered rich. Cooper believes that such a rank order of races, sexes and classes is not only actual but desirable. To upset it, he tells us through his mouthpiece, Natty, would be as unnatural as snowfall in summer; and even in Heaven it will persist unchanged.

Most of Cooper’s ardent admirers have been the literate sons of fathers who, if not successful, have been at least white and, preferably, Anglo-Saxon: a race, according to Cooper, just a little whiter than any other. Not all of them by any means have confessed even to themselves that they shared the doctrine implicit in his fiction: that Western Culture, i.e., White European Christian Civilization, was destined to conquer not only darkskinned America, but all the non-White World; and that those born to other cultures have the choice of accommodating to it, or disavowing it, to die in a genocidal war which they have no chance of winning. In their secret hearts, however, such readers respond to that message; thrilling to a vision of the vanishing dark Other embodied in the image of the noble Mohicans, whose ultimate nobility is proved by a willingness to immolate themselves, like Chingachgook, in order to make way for the higher civilization which the Christian God, in his inscrutable wisdom, has destined to replace theirs. It did nor bother Cooper that his God operated through the agency of dedicated, chivalric (and, of course, white) warriors, who made the New World safe for the Christian virtues of charity and forgiveness, not by practising them — but by shooting straighter, fighting harder, killing more efficiently than their pagan enemies.

In real history, the inter-ethnic war of extinction which Cooper dreams did not prevent certain White men for taking to themselves Indian brides, or, less frequently, perhaps, certain White women from settling happily into the wigwams of Indian braves. But in Cooper, the miscegenation taboo is seldom challenged, and never with impunity. In his novels, it is absolutely forbidden to mingle white and non-white in lust or holy matrimony, thus creating a race neither white nor Red. Even the best of Good Indians for him is not quite good enough to mate with a white maiden. Whatever the Indians themselves may believe in their unredeemed folly. If not downright satanic like Magua, that ultimate rapist and phallic killer, they are, like Uncas, disturbingly Dionysiac — passional, sexual, bloody and cruel.

The only love capable of mitigating, for a little while, the essential hostility of Red man and White is inter-ethnic male bonding in the forest, a union achievable only outside the settlements, where pearl-pale virgins, devout wives and austerely virtuous mothers rule. Fruitless, blossomless, temporary and evanescent as a dream, this union never, of course, confesses in action its sublimated homosexuality, stopping short of the carnal. But it less successfully conceals its essential misogyny, its condescension to and veiled contempt for the women who accept a passive, passionless role and its fear of the sexually experienced, threatening hussies who reject it.

If Cooper had expressed such ideas openly, many of his more liberal secret sharers would, in our time certainly, feel compelled to condemn him. in his five dream books, however, what is most at odds with our conscious pieties is encrypted in a form which passes easily as “mere entertainment” or “a good old- fashioned yarn.” Cooper is not, I think, deliberately devious; he simply, as Twain charged, did not know what he was doing. And this turns out to be more blessing than curse, enabling him to release in his meta-verbal texts primordial images, prelinguistic archetypes whose political implications lie buried too deep for rational analysis. The question of belief or non-belief is not posed at this mythic level, so that we can respond sympathetically to Cooper’s obsessive images, even when they imply values and social attitudes utterly different from our own.

The ability to evoke such images and to impose them on others depends on a certain mythopeic power: a mysterious “gift” which has nothing to do with intellectual endowment, moral insight, purity of the heart, or even verbal skills beyond the most elementary. The “goodness” of the kind of popular writer who is “good” only or chiefly in this sense can therefore co-exist with aesthetic “badness,” and even ethical “wickedness.” Such literature is not Art, not Belles Lettres, much less secular wisdom, but a sort of disreputable Secret Scriptures accepted on faith — and if need be, in the teeth of authority. And as such, the good-bad Leatherstocking Tales represent our homegrown, wicked-holy Old Testament, from which all other mythic novels in our Classic tradition (dominated by WASP male fantasy) derive. Notable among these is, of course, Huckleberry Finn, in which, despite Twain’s theoretical contempt for Cooper, Huck and Jim on the raft re-enact the archetypal comradeship of Natty and Chingachgook. Similarly, in Moby Dick, Melville re-dreamed that relationship in the salvational love of Ishmael and Queequeg; the Noble Indian becoming a brown-skinned Polynesian, once we had penetrated the South Pacific, as easily as he had turned Black after our rape of Africa.

Wherever we Americans have confronted cultures alien to our Christian Humanist version of “civilization,” the good dream of inter-ethnic male-bonding - - inextricably tangled with the nightmare of racism and misogyny — has been reborn. And in the age of the imminent conquest of space, we have invented in anticipation, as it were, an analogous bonding with extra-extra-terrestrials: Captain Kirk (in the T.V. series and the film now breaking attendance records in all the theatres of America) joined in “a love which passeth the love of men for women” with the green Vulcan, Mr. Spock. In short, then, if in one sense (the formal, verbal) all American fiction comes out of Huckleberry Finn; in another (the archetypal, mythical), it derives The Leatherstocking Tales, or more precisely, perhaps, The Deerslayer.

In this, the last of the series, Cooper, nearly twenty years after he had, almost inadvertently, stumbled on his proper subject, dared finally to write a true anti-Historical Romance disguised as another example of the genre it subverted. Here finally, I am suggesting, he permitted the archetype of White/Red male bonding (which came to him from God knows where: out of trappers’ autobiographies, tales of Indian captivity, the American ambiance itself — certainly not anything thought of, then or now, as “literature” worth emulating) to triumph over the monochrome boy-gets-girl stereotype of the Historical Romance. And here, therefore, there occurs for the first time in a full-length American novel (it had been anticipated only in Washington Irving’s short story, “Rip Van Winkle”) the truly American anti-Happy Ending, anti-marital, anti- domestic, anti-female.

The Deerslayer is, to be sure, as most critics have observed, an initiation story in which the protagonist becomes a man not by being inducted into sex, European-style, but into murder, American-style. More than this, however, it is a book in which scarcely any boy gets a girl or vice versa, though desire — vain and foolish where not tainted and vile — moves almost all of the characters. Hurry Harry does not get Judith, nor does Hetty get Harry, nor the Indian Widow of Natty’s first Indian victim Natty. No one gets Natty, not even Judith, who though white is fallen, soiled, and, therefore, ends in the arms of a corrupt officer, a professional seducer who offers her not Christian marriage but a life of comfortable degradation. In this bleakest (though somehow also most lovely) of Cooper’s forest romances, only the Indians Chingachgook and Hist achieve a real marriage; but they sustain it just long enough for her to bear the mythological Last of the Mohicans. Then she duly dies, summarily executed by an author eager to prepare the one truly idyllic union he can imagine: the anti-marriage in which Natty and Chingachgook, forsaking all others, cleave unto each other, to have and to hold till death do them part. ... This is the Paradise Regained of our mythic tradition — an anti-Eden from which Eve has been banished so that the new American Adam can live in peace with the Big Serpent (which is, in fact, what the Indian word “Chingachgook” means.)

To be worthy of his woodland mate, however, Natty must first lose his innocence — not erotically, since he is by definition forever virgin, unfathered and unfathering, without mother or wife — but thanatically. What phallic power is in him resides not in his genitals but in his rifle. A product of high technology, magically named like an amulet or a sword, it nonetheless remains a toy, even as he remains a boy, until it is used to kill another man rather than a deer or other lesser beast. To become an American, the male offspring of a nameless, forgotten European father must learn to kill rather than beget, as well as to remain forever true to his male comrades while rejecting all women. Yet he must also serve with humility and chivalric deference, both those women, or at least the ladies among them, and the Christian culture they represent; firing at the snap of a twig with uncanny precision until no skulking savage is left to threaten their honor or their lives.

But the genocidal anti-Happy Ending has proved as delusory as the marital Happy Ending it sought to replace. The Vanishing American refuses to vanish. The dark-skinned savage shot down in daylight, hopefully once and for all, rises again to ravage and pillage, not only in the guilt-ridden fantasies of the night, but also in the nightmare which is history, the nightmare from which we strive vainly to awake. In America itself, Native Americans occupy Alcatraz and resume hostilities at Wounded Knee; while their mythological equivalents rise up against us wherever our missionary zeal, our commercial greed or our Cooperian lust to spread our brand of civilization takes us. In Japan, the Philippines, Korea, Cuba, Nicaragua, Vietnam, the West Bank of the Jordan and Iran, it turns out — no matter how hard we pretend that among the swarthy enemy there still are, must be dark-skinned comrades as true to us, despite their alien skin color, as Chingachgook himself — that they are all Bad Indians. There is not a Vanishing Noble Mohican in the lot: only endlessly reduplicated Maguas, treacherous, given to torture; pledged to unremitting revenge against all of our color for the wrongs we cannot deny we have done them — but which we vainly hoped they would understand were regrettable incidents along the path to their redemption.

And in the course of the brutal battles they have ensued: the endless war fought, typically, in a wilderness territory, where they are at home and we are not, we have been forced to fight as they have always admitted fighting (and we pretend we do not); shrinking from no atrocity, however vile; sparing, in their style, neither women nor children. And in the course of such warfare, which we begin now to suspect we can never win, we have become Bad Indians ourselves: shameless defilers of the dead, takers of scalps, bounty hunters, ever less and less like Natty, more and more like Old Hutter and Hurry Harry. Only the dream of redemptive male-bonding has survived, plus a desperate faith in the ideal of manliness bred by such comradeship and the skills appropriate to it: the ability to take down with a single shot to the heart first the elusive deer, then the mortal enemy, grown so shadowy in the thickening woods that we can scarcely tell him from our own “shadows cast upon the trees.”

A decade or so ago, I predicted (in a talk on the changing mythology of American Wars, delivered to a group of political scientists) that when a myth was made of the war then still happening in Vietnam, it would represent one more, perhaps a final recension of the myth first formulated in the Leatherstocking Tales. And this has proved to be true; though this time the archetypal story has not been retold in print, a bound book destined for required reading in the classroom; but a popular film seen and loved by millions of ordinary Americans, even while it was being condemned by self-righteous intellectuals as a distortion of history (which it is), an arrantly racist slander of the Vietnamese people (which it both is and is not) and a glorification of murder and mayhem (which it is not).

Called in open acknowledgement of its debt to Cooper, The Deer Hunter it is a film — according to its director, Michael Cimino — not primarily about war, much less the War of the moment, but about “male-bonding.” To be sure, a good deal of its action occurs in a mythologized Vietnam, but quite as much is set in a steel- town in Pennsylvania and in the wooded hills beyond it, where we see the newest avatar of Natty Bumppo instructing his presumed successor in the art of killing beautifully, bringing down a deer with a single shot. That Natty has been reborn - - for the last time, it becomes clearer and clearer as the movie progresses — as a second-generation Russian-American factory worker seems apt enough; since in the dying twentieth century the only unashamed Americans are such unreconstructed proletarian ethnics. But the forest in which the New Natty has learned to bring down in love and reverence the totem animal of his prototype is protected parkland, an artificial preserve; and the wilderness in which he first learns to turn his skill against a human is a Southeast Asian jungle, in whose clearings not wigwams rise but cities long since corrupted by civilizations more decadent than our own. Neither at home nor abroad, in any case, does he find Noble Savages with skins darker than his to whom he can bond himself in macho love.

It is only with some white comrade in arms, younger, more frightened, less skilled in the wilderness arts than he that he can join to create an anti-family: sole bastion in a world without women, against the faceless savages, who, acting by a code he cannot ever understand, perpetrate what seem to him barbarous atrocities. But the bastion does not hold; that love cannot prevail — not even when the latest Natty Bumppo, driven to a candor none of the early avatars ever attained, confesses to his friend the love hitherto without a name. “I love you,” he says, reaching out in vain to stay the hand of his doomed beloved, who has been saving his last best bullet for what both of them know now is the true enemy, the real Bad Indian, i.e., himself: the White American gone mad in a war against darkness and savagery, which we can no longer believe is somewhere Out There. After such knowledge, what is left for the survivor except to put down forever his deer-rifle, and join with the other survivors (or are they ghosts?) in singing “God Bless America.” And for me leaving the theatre in tears, what remains to do except remember James Fenimore Cooper, our worst, best, wickedest and truest laureate.