Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Natty Bumppo, a young woodsman known as Deerslayer, and Hurry Harry travel to the shores of Lake Glimmerglass together. It is a dangerous journey, for the French and their Iroquois allies are on the warpath. Deerslayer is planning to meet his friend Chingachgook, the young Delaware chief, so that they might go against the Iroquois. Hurry Harry is on his way to the lake to warn Thomas Hutter and his daughters that hostile Indians are raiding along the frontier. Harry is accustomed to hunt and trap with Hutter during the summer, and he is an admirer of Hutter’s elder daughter, the spirited Judith.
Hutter and his daughters live in a cabin built on piles in the middle of the lake. Hutter also builds a great, scowlike vessel, known among frontiersmen as the ark, on which he travels from one shore of the lake to the other on his hunting and trapping expeditions. On their arrival at the lake, the two find a hidden canoe. Having paddled out to the cabin and found it deserted, they proceed down the lake and come upon the ark anchored in a secluded outlet. Hutter already learned of the Indian raiders. The party decides to take refuge in the cabin, where they can be attacked only over the water. The men manage to maneuver the ark out of the narrow outlet and sail it to the cabin. They have one narrow escape, for as the ark clears the outlet, six Indians try to board the boat by dropping from the overhanging limbs of a tree. Each misses and falls into the water....
(The entire section is 1381 words.)
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Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
The Deerslayer, a prequel (the last published but the first in the hero’s chronology of the Leatherstocking Tales), introduces Cooper’s youthful protagonist. Natty Bumppo, a young man in his twenties, has come to Glimmerglass (Otsego Lake) in upper New York State to help his blood brother, Chingachgook, rescue the Delaware chieftain’s betrothed, Hist. In this idealized natural world of the 1740’s, these two noble savages must formulate a practical morality somewhere between abstract Christianity, Indian savagery, and corrupt civilization’s values.
The Deerslayer is a good example of a romance, that nineteenth century version of the novel. In order to ensure its didactic intent, the romance presents a simpler view of reality. Characters are clearly good or bad. Natty, Chingachgook, and Hist are basically heroic representatives of civilization and the Indian world, while Hurry Harry, Tom Hutter, and Rivenoak are their evil counterparts. Similarly, the Delaware Indians are good; the Hurons, bad. Natty is the moral paragon, refusing, for example, to take scalps as Hurry Harry and Tom Hutter do. Appropriate for a man caught between ethical codes, Natty is part white and part Indian as well as part Christian and part savage.
The highly episodic plot follows the popular novel pattern of pursuit, capture, and escape. There are no surprising reversals, and the ending is pure deus ex machina, complete with the king’s troops...
(The entire section is 604 words.)
The Deerslayer begins around noon on a sunny day in June, sometime between 1740 and 1745. It takes place around Lake Otsego, New York, then known as Glimmerglass. Two woodsmen, twenty-six- or twenty-eight-year-old Henry March, often known as Hurry Harry, and his slightly younger companion, Nathaniel (Natty) Bumppo, known as Deerslayer, emerge from a small swamp and behold the lake. As they pause to eat their lunch and talk, they reveal differences in their characters. It soon emerges that Deerslayer has not yet killed a man in war or for any other reason; Hurry, who appears to be the more aggressive and ruthless of the two, says it is about time Deerslayer killed an Indian, since they are at war with them. Deerslayer has more respect for the Indians since he has lived among the Delawares and understands their culture. The two men then discuss three people they will soon be meeting, Tom Hutter, and his two daughters, Judith and Hetty. Tom, a widower, is a former pirate who for fifteen years has been living on the lake. Judith is beautiful but headstrong, and Hurry visits her often; Hetty is more humble, sweet-hearted, and dutiful, but does not possess great intelligence.
Hurry and Deerslayer recover a canoe hidden in a hollow log. They paddle towards the first of Hutter’s two homes, which is facetiously known as Muskrat Castle. It stands a quarter mile offshore, a kind of fortress built...
(The entire section is 4276 words.)