“The law – ’tis bad to have it, but, I sometimes think, it is worse to be entirely without it.”– James Fenimore Cooper, The Prairie
J. F. Cooper’s The Prairie (1827) is the last book in the Leatherstocking series, of which his more famous The Last of the Mohicans is also part. The beauty of this quote is that it succinctly sums up a classic theme of the Western genre – that is, lawman vs. outlaw, and the injustices done by both sides, in a time and place where towns were small and law officers were few. This comes up pretty frequently in my favorite TV series, The Virginian, which portrays both noble and corrupt lawmen, and the moral dilemmas that result.
I am only about 1/3 into The Prairie (and taking a break to focus on other homework), but so far it’s been pretty good. Cooper has a delightful sense of humor – you gotta love Dr. Battius’s Facebook-style friending/unfriending: “I rejoice greatly at this meeting; we are lovers of the same pursuits, and should be friends.” On the negative side, there are some stereotypical portrayals of women and Native Americans, but apparently this is less the case in other Leatherstocking books. The plot of The Prairie has so far followed the surly character Ishmael Bush and his wagon train, and I really can’t predict what will happen next.
Have you read Cooper before? If so, what did you think of him?