The Leatherstocking Saga

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by James Fenimore Cooper, edited by Allan Nevins, illustrated by Reginald Marsh. Pantheon Books. 833 pp. $8.50.

This book should help restore to his proper status as an artist in fiction a writer whose position in American literature has been considerably underestimated in recent years. At the very least, it will bring to the attention of the present generation one of the greatest of American authors.

With this in mind, Dr. Nevins has made one readable volume out of the five Cooper novels which portray the life of Leatherstocking from youth, through manhood, to death. Where material has been deleted—it is principally the passages dealing with romantic love and with “supposed humor,” which have always been considered the weakest parts of Cooper’s work—well-written connecting links have been supplied. No internal cuts have been made in the sections selected for printing.

Quite properly, Dr. Nevins considers The Leatherstocking Saga Cooper’s masterpiece, and Leatherstocking himself, in the editor’s opinion, emerges as “the most striking and memorable single creation in all our letters.” And as to the narrative itself: “It was Cooper’s felicity to unroll a canvas whose panoramic width matched the shaggy continent; to paint on it the pageant of the primeval American forests, the Great Lakes, the smaller canoe-threaded waterways, and the rolling prairies … We can go to him in youth for entertainment, and come back to him in maturity for our fullest presentation of the color and magnitude of the American scene in its primitive epoch.”