Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Deerslayer - James Fenimore Cooper

Having read and enjoyed “The Last of the Mohicans” a pair of times, I decided to read this pre-quel by the same author.  There are actually several books about Nathanael Bumppo, aka Scout, Deerslayer, Hawkeye – they are referred to as “The Leatherstocking Tales.”  I enjoyed this book well enough that I will likely read more of the collection later.

This book is about the introduction of Deerslayer as a youthful hunter, as he goes upon his first warpath with his trusted friend Chingachkook.  It tells of their struggles with an opposing band of Hurons.  In that respect it is true to the form of the more popular novel mentioned above.

The theme of the book is forgiveness, reconciliation, and redemption.  A lesser theme that runs throughout Cooper's books is how we need to act well in the context of our station and gifts in life (i.e. red man’s gifts, white man’s gifts).  The main characters involved the major theme of redemption are members of a family named Hutter who live on a remote lake in New York territory called the Glimmerglass – Thomas, the father, was a brigand or pirate in an earlier career and has settled in this remote place to avoid detection and live out his days in peace.  The mother is long since dead, but she apparently compromised her principles when young to attach herself to this man, and so she dedicated the rest of her life to teaching her two daughters the essence of Christian doctrine in the Bible, in the hopes of redeeming them.  The eldest daughter, Judith, is a rare beauty that in the recent past has let her vanity carry her to some undisclosed impropriety or sin with an officer from the nearby regiment, but feels great remorse for the misdeed and seems to have reformed.  The younger daughter, Hetty, is mentally deficient but morally perfect.

Judith recognizes the goodness of Deerslayer’s character and falls in love with him.  The climax of the book is the captivity, torture, and rescue of Deerslayer from aforementioned band of Hurons.  During the rescue Hetty is mortally wounded.

In the closing chapters it feels like Judith’s redemption might be made complete if Deerslayer accepts her love, but he does not feel the same way as she does.  There is some allusion to her never quite overcoming the transgression from her past and living an ignominious life.  Having read some other works from the same era, such as Nathanael Hawthorne, I recognize the religious and cultural perspective of the time that these types of moral sins can never really be overcome in this life.  I cannot say that I fully agree; I struggled with this conclusion in the book.  But now that the pendulum has swung so far in the opposite direction, I long for a return to this moral perspective – it is superior to the levity with which we as a culture treat these matters today.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Power of Four - Joseph M. Marshall III

This is the third book I've read by Marshall.  This one is the basis for a leadership seminar that he has taught all over the place.  I enjoyed his simplicity.

Basically, he uses Crazy Horse and other significant Lakota leaders as a basis and summarizes true leadership in four principles:

--Know Yourself
--Know Your Friends
--Know the Enemy
--Lead the Way

    Every effective leadership approach has the same basic principles, although they are characterized in different ways.  Self awareness is the key - know yourself.  Networking and communication are essential - know your friends.  Dealing with opposition and remaining true in the face of adversity make an integral leader - know your enemies.  And of course, you have to move forward when you know it is right - lead the way.

    I especially liked the chapter on knowing your enemies - he does not limit this to people, but points out that sometimes our enemies can be less tangible, like racism or apathy.  A leader has to dig in and understand their enemy if they are going to effectively engage it.

    This is a short and simple book, and just as good as his other books.  My only negative comment is that he goes off on political tangents a couple of times which are relatively irrelevant, but I certainly don't desire to deprive a man of his opinion, and I see his perspective and comprehend him a little better through hearing what he has to say.