Friday, February 28, 2014

The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper—Retold by Coleen Degnang-Veness

            Like most people, I’m familiar with this story through its movie adaptations.  As a kid in the 1980s, I saw the old movie version being re-run on cable, and I loved it.  The whole story just seemed so epic!  (I’m not sure which version I saw.  It was an old movie, but it was in color, so it couldn’t have been the famous 1936 version.  It must have been the 1963 version?)
            Later, when Michael Mann’s 1992 version came out, I enjoyed that as well.

            I probably would have read the books a long time ago if Mark Twain’s famous critique of James Fenimore Cooper hadn’t scared me off.  Whenever I get tempted to read The Last of the Mohicans, I just read Mark Twain’s essay again.  [SEE HERE  for online version of Mark Twain’s review of Last of the Mohicans.]

            But since this is the abridged version, I figured this version would probably be safe from any excesses the original indulged in.  But it still had some weirder moments.

            Last of the Mohicans occupies a strange place in American culture—it’s been made into well-respected and serious Hollywood films several times over now, despite the fact that the book has some very ridiculous moments.  (In his review of the movie Last of the Mohicans, Roger Ebert calls the original book “all but unreadable.” LINK HERE). 
            Although I was reading the abridged version, I could still find a lot of ridiculousness going on.  One of the main characters, Gamut—a music teacher and singer in the church, just walks around the forest and the battle fields singing the whole time, and this is his protection against the Indians.  (Not surprisingly, Gamut doesn’t make the film versions of this story.)  Another scene involves Hawkeye disguising himself as a bear to surprise the Indians.
In the Classroom
            I ended up doing this book with my young learner classes as a last minute replacement.  Originally I had planned on doing Tom Sawyer with them, but they were already familiar with the Tom Sawyer story and objected to it strenuously.  So I grabbed Last of the Mohicans instead.  “Classic American adventure story,” I thought.  “Can’t go wrong with this…”

            Well, as it turns out, you can go very wrong with this.  In addition to some of the bizarre plot points mentioned above, the whole historical aspect of the story confused my students.  For Asian students, unfamiliar with Western history, the book gives very little explanation of the French-Indian War, and my students were constantly confused about who was who.
            Eventually I started showing them clips from the movie to give them visual aids in keeping the characters and alliances straight.  (Although I have colleagues who often bring in movies to supplement extensive reading, I usually try and avoid this because I don’t want to send the message that the experience of a story is incomplete until you’ve seen the movie.  But in this case, the movie, or at least parts of it, did actually work as a helpful supplement to the book.)

Classroom Materials
[The back of the book contains some vocabulary exercises for the students, but these activities are accompanied by instructions for the students to look up the vocabulary on their own in their dictionaries.  Since most of my students don’t bring dictionaries to class with them, I just provided vocabulary sheets to supplement the book’s activities.
Also, when watching the movie, I had the students try and match the names of the characters to the pictures.  And I also made another sheet focusing their attention on the differences between the book and the movie.]

blood: the red liquid that is sent around the body by the heart, and carries oxygen and important substances to organs and tissue, and removes waste products
He lost a lot of blood in the accident.

canoe: a small light narrow boat, pointed at both ends and moved using a paddle (= a short pole with a flat blade)
cave: a large hole in the side of a hill, cliff or mountain, or one that is underground
chief: the leader of a tribe
colonel: an officer of high rank in the army or air force
Colonel Marcus Furlong
Colonel is the military rank between lieutenant-colonel and brigadier.

Fort: a military building consisting of an area surrounded by a strong wall, in which soldiers live and which is designed to be defended from attack
General: a very high-ranking officer, especially in the army
Major; an officer of middle rank in the British, US and many other armed forces such as the US Air Force
safe: not in danger or likely to be harmed
skin: the natural outer layer which covers a person, animal, fruit, etc.
tribe: a group of people, often of related families, who live together, sharing the same language, culture and history, especially those who do not live in towns or cities

What do these words mean?  Talk about them with your partner:
fire (a gun)
war cry

cliff: a high area of rock with a very steep side, often on a coast
Keep away from the edge of the cliff - you might fall.
the cliff edge
fire: to cause a weapon to shoot bullets, arrows or missiles
He fired his gun into the air.
Someone started firing at us.
Without warning he started firing into the crowd.
I just prayed that he would stop firing.
The ambassador denied that any missiles had been fired across the border.

Heart:  used to refer to a person's character, or the place within a person where their feelings or emotions are considered to come from
She has a good heart (= She is a kind person) .
I love you, and I mean it from the bottom of my heart (= very sincerely) .
I love you with all my heart (= very much) .
He said he'd never marry but he had a change of heart (= his feelings changed) when he met her.
Homelessness is a subject very close/dear to her heart (= is very important to her and she has strong feelings about it) .
He broke her heart (= made her very sad) when he left her for another woman.
It breaks my heart (= makes me feel very sad) to see him so unhappy.
They say he died of a broken heart (= because he was so sad) .
old-fashioned It does my heart good (= makes me very happy) to see those children so happy.
His heart leapt (= He suddenly felt very excited and happy) when the phone rang.

save sb's life
a. to stop someone from being killed
Hold: to take and keep something in your hand or arms
Can you hold the bag while I open the door?
He was holding a gun.
The little girl held her mother's hand .
He held her in his arms.
[ + object + adjective ] Could you hold the door open , please?
Rosie held out an apple for the horse.
All those who agree please hold up their hand (= raise their arm) .

scalp (noun): the skin on the top of a person's head where hair usually grows
a dry/oily/itchy scalp
Some tribes used to collect scalps to prove how many of the enemy they had killed in battle.

Scalp (verb): to cut off the scalp of a dead enemy as a sign of victory
attack: a violent act intended to hurt or damage someone or something
a racist attack
Enemy forces have made an attack on the city.
These bomb blasts suggest that the terrorists are (going) on the attack (= trying to defeat or hurt other people) again.
The town was once again under attack (= being attacked) .

Tomahawk: a small fighting axe used by Native Americans
War Cry: a phrase or word shouted by people as they start to fight, which is intended to give them the strength and wish to fight harder

Match the character to picture:
Alice, Chingachgook, Cora, General Webb, Hawkeye, Heyward, Magua, Uncas,


What are the differences between the book and the movie?

In the book:
                General Webb told Major Duncan Heyward, "Take the girls to their father. Don't follow the men--it's too dangerous.  This Indian will show you the way."
                They left Fort Edward. The 1,500 men went by road, but Heyward and the two young women followed Magua through the woods.

In the book, Major Duncan Heyward, Cora, Alice, and the Indian Magua travel alone without the rest of the soldiers.
What happens in the movie?


In the book:

                The Indian's name was Magua.
                Alice Munro looked at the Indian and his knife.
                "I don't like him," she said.
                "Don't be afraid.  He's a friend," Major Duncan Heyward told her.
                "Speak to him," said Alice. "I want to hear his English."
                "He doesn't speak English, or he doesn't try," said Major Heyward.
                Magua said nothing.  He turned and walked away.

In the book, Magua doesn't talk English in front of the Major Duncan Heyward, Cora and Alice.  What happens in the movie?


In the book:

                Then Hawkeye could hear them too.
                "Who's there?" he called. He put his gun across his left arm.
                "We are friends. We're British," a man answered in English.
                "Where are you going?" asked Hawkeye.
                "To Fort William Henry. Do you know the way?" asked Major Duncan Heyward
                Hawkeye looked at Magua and laughed. "Did your Huron show you the wrong way?  You want a Mohican in these woods. I can show you the right way, but it's an hour's walk from here.  It will be night before that.  We'll go in the morning."
                Heyward looked at Magua and thought, "He's a Huron! He wants Montcalm's men and the other Hurons to find us. They'll kill us."
                Magua saw Heyward's face and understood.  He shouted loudly and ran into the woods.

In the book, Heyward realizes that Magua is an enemy before Magua has time to attack him.  What happens in the movie?

In the book.

                Magua say Heyward's face and understood. He shouted loudly and ran into the woods. Uncas shouted too and started to run after him. Suddenly there was a loud noise.  Hawkeye shot the Huron, but he didn't kill him.

In the book, Hawkeye shoots Magua.  What happens in the movie?


Link of the Day
Noam Chomsky - The Contours of World Order: Fifty Years of the United Nations

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