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Carl Van Doren (1885–1950).  The American Novel.  1921.


Page 35

  The Prairie has less swiftness than The Last of the Mohicans but more poetry. In it Natty appears again, twenty years older than in The Pioneers, far away in the plains beyond the Mississippi, where the popular mind knew that Daniel Boone had recently died. Natty owns his defeat and he still grieves over the murdered forest, but he has given up anger for the peace of old age. To him it seems that all his virtues are gone. Once valiant he must now be crafty; his arms are feeble; his eyes have so far failed him that, no longer the perfect marksman, he has sunk to the calling of a trapper. There is a pathos in his resignation which would be too painful were it not merely a phase of his grave and noble wisdom. He is more than ever what Cooper called him, “a philosopher of the wilderness.” The only change is that he has left the perils and delights of the forest and has been subdued to the eloquent monotony of the plains. Nowhere else has Cooper shown such sheer imaginative power as in the handling of this mighty landscape. He had never seen a prairie; indeed, it is clear that, like many travelers before him, he thought of the prairie as an ocean of land and described it partly by analogy. But he managed to endow the huge empty distances he had not seen with a presence as haunting as that of the populous forest he had intimately known in his impressionable youth. And the old trapper, though he thinks of himself as an exile, has learned the secret of the new scene and seems naturally to belong to it. It is his knowledge that makes him essential to the action, which is again made up of flight and pursuit. Once more there are girls to be rescued, from fiercer white men as well as from fierce Indians. There is



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