When The Last of the Mohicans was published in 1826 James Fenimore Cooper was riding a growing wave of fame and critical acceptance. Following on the success of his last two books, The Last of the Mohicans was praised at the time for its non-stop adventure, realism, and intricate plotting. Using historical sources ranging from actual characters, such as Colonel Munro and Major Heyward, to John Heckewelder's An Account of the History, Manners, and Customs, of the Indian Nations, Who Once Inhabited Pennsylvania and the Neighbouring States, and adding to them his own knowledge of the history of the area in which the novel was set, Cooper laid the foundation of his novel with fact and real events.
The Last of the Mohicans introduces Cooper's most well-known character, Natty Bumppo. It is an abduction narrative, and follows the adventures of Bumppo and his two Mohican Indian companions—father and son, Chingachgook and Uncas. They set out to free Munro's two daughters, Cora and Alice, from repeated kidnapping by a group of Huron Indians, led by their chief, Magua.
While well-received and praised in its day, The Last of the Mohicans has since gone through a cycle of neglect and insult, and back into critical favor. Later critics found it very unrealistic, and considered its characters stereotyped. Cooper was taken to task for his portrayal of the Indians in the book. Uncas and Chingachgook were thought to be too idealized, and Magua far too villainous. The women in The Last of the Mohicans and Cooper's other books were considered to be mere damsels in distress, and completely undeveloped as characters. By the 1950s, Cooper had regained supporters, and was placed once again in the position as the father of the American novel. His lapses in style, sometimes poorly developed characterizations, and other literary offenses have been largely forgiven due to his role as pioneer of the American novel.