The Leatherstocking Tales, by James Fenimore Cooper (American classics)
The Last of the Mohicans
After reading two excellent Christian historical novels set in seventeenth and eighteenth century America, I realized that I wasn’t ready to leave that world yet and decided to try James Fenimore Cooper’s The Leatherstocking Tales. The Deerslayer sucked me into the series and held me captive until the final pages of The Prairie, and that astonished me; I really didn’t expect to love these books as much as I did.
In April 2015 my book group read The Virginian: A Horseman of the Plains, by Owen Wister. One of the fun things about this novel is that the school teacher in the story, Molly Wood, gives books to the Virginian to read. When he returns a book to her, he gives his spirited observations about it. His remarks about Fathers and Sons and Kenilworth are so intriguing that my group added those books to our list for 2016. Some of his comments—such as those about Emma, by Jane Austen—are about books we have already read. One of his observations is about The Mill on the Floss, a George Eliot novel the group hasn’t read yet. I wanted so much to add the Virginian’s comment about The Mill on the Floss to this post that I read it on my own.
I’ll warn you right now; the Virginian’s observation about The Mill on the Floss contains a significant spoiler, so you may want to skip down a few lines to Fathers and Sons. If you’re like me, however, you may prefer to avoid tragic surprises in a book and are more likely to read it if you get a warning, so here it is:
Young Pioneers, a.k.a. Let the Hurricane Roar, by Rose Wilder Lane (YA historical)
“Newlyweds Molly and David are only sixteen and eighteen years old when they pack up their wagon and head west across the plains in search of a new homestead. At first their new life is full of promise: The wheat is high, the dugout is warm and cozy, and a new baby is born to share in their happiness. Then disaster strikes, and David must go east for the winter to find work. Molly is left alone with the baby—with nothing but her own courage to face the dangers of the harsh prairie winter.”
After a recent read of O Pioneers! by Willa Cather, I decided to try another book about pioneers in the Midwest—Dakota Territory—entitled Young Pioneers, by Rose Wilder Lane. Both books celebrate the pioneering spirit and are frank about the fact that circumstances were often so difficult that many pioneers gave up their dreams and returned to their families and previous occupations in the east. What struck me in particular about Young Pioneers was the passion and hope this very young couple feel about their life together in this rough and beautiful farmland despite the fact that they live in a dugout, in very primitive conditions. I’ve often wondered what drove so many to leave their comfortable or at least tolerable lives for circumstances so savage.
“O Pioneers! tells the story of Alexandra Bergson, the daughter of Swedish immigrants, who is given her family’s farm after the death of her father. She sets out to make the land pay—even when everyone else is moving on—and succeeds brilliantly, while coming to realize her love for a close family friend.”
My parents joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Topeka, Kansas when I was two. As a child I participated in Pioneer Day in summer Primary every year to commemorate the arrival of the Mormon pioneers into the Salt Lake Valley in 1847 and even dressed up like a pioneer in a gingham dress, pinafore, and bonnet my mother had made for me. While I appreciate those particular pioneers and the heritage they’ve given to me by adoption, I don’t have one ancestor who actually made that trek. My pioneers are the settlers of Kansas, not Utah. One of the neighboring states of Kansas is Nebraska, the setting of Willa Cather’s O Pioneers! The way Cather describes the landscape in O Pioneers! gives me such a vision of the place where I grew up that reading it always evokes a feeling of nostalgia in me.
“Still as exciting and meaningful as when it was written in 1902, Owen Wister’s epic tale of one man’s journey into the untamed territory of Wyoming, where he is caught between his love for a woman and his quest for justice, has exemplified one of the most significant and enduring themes in all of American culture. With remarkable character depth and vivid descriptive passages, The Virginian stands not only as the first great novel of American Western literature, but as a testament to the eternal struggle between good and evil in humanity, and a revealing study of the forces that guide the combatants on both sides.”
This is one of those novels that has everything—cowboy card games, coarseness, and pranks without much in the way of foul language; action, adventure, and a climactic shoot-out without any gore; and romance, passion, and an incredibly intimate honeymoon scene without any mention of sex. One of the most important events in the book, in fact, is a hanging that happens off-stage. By modern literary standards, this story ought to fall apart. As a proponent of wholesome fiction, I am delighted to tell you that it works! And, by the way, don’t scroll to the end of the novel to read that incredibly intimate honeymoon scene to see what I mean, because that won’t work. (Okay, so I know you’re going to do it anyway, but seriously, you’re going to be disappointed!) The way Owen Wister accomplishes the seemingly impossible is by building a complex vision of the protagonist phrase by phrase, scene by scene. A reader needs the context of the entire book to appreciate that final honeymoon scene.
“The Men of the Mark do not lie, and therefore they are not easily deceived” (J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers).
“God has just such gladness every time he sees from heaven that a sinner is praying to Him with all his heart, as a mother has when she sees the first smile on her baby’s face” (Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Idiot).
“God’s love and mercy can overcome all things—our ignorance, and weakness, and all the burden of our past wickedness—all things but our wilful sin, sin that we cling to, and will not give up” (George Eliot, Adam Bede).
“Unlimited power is in itself a bad and dangerous thing; human beings are not competent to exercise it with discretion, and God alone can be omnipotent, because His wisdom and His justice are always equal to His power” (Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America).
“I decided that God, a kind and loving God, could never be proved. In fact there are . . . a lot of arguments against him. But there isn’t any point to life without him. Without him we’re just a skin disease on the face of the earth, and I feel too strongly about the human spirit to be able to settle for that. So what I did for a long time was to live life as though I believed in God. And eventually I found out that the as though had turned into a reality” (Madeleine L’Engle, The Moon by Night).
About the Author
Creator of spaced-out Christian fiction and clean-reading resources. See my BIO.