Places: The Deerslayer

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1841

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Historical

Time of work: 1740

Places DiscussedGlimmerglass Lake

Glimmerglass Deerslayer, TheLake. Imaginary lake closely modeled on the real Lake Otsego, near Cooperstown in upstate New York. Glimmerglass plays a complex role in The Deerslayer. On a basic level, it displays rare and unspoiled beauty. Its shimmering waters, dazzling sunlit and starry skies, and lush overhanging trees provide solace, solitude, and beauty for humans weary of the world or hoping to escape detection. The lake offers a wilderness unspoiled by humans, an environmental paradise.

As the name “Glimmerglass” suggests, the lake is a mirror of the universe. It reflects not only the Milky Way, but also the spiritual and moral aspects of God. For Deerslayer, the frontiersman who is a man of “white blood and white gifts,” the air is God’s “breath, and the light of the sun is little more than a glance of His eye.” God is not only the creator, but is an immanent presence. Similarly for his Native American friend Chingachgook, with his red gifts, the Great Spirit is everywhere: in the lake, in the forest, in the clouds. The lake is a temple of God’s creation but also an embodiment of God himself.

As an embodiment of God, the lake provides instruction, especially in a moral sense. If this book of nature is read correctly, it nurtures religion, morality, love, and education. Deerslayer and Chingachgook both believe this, as does Chingachgook’s love, the Indian maiden Wah-ta-Wah. In an eloquent passage she refuses to leave Chingachgook and her own people, comparing a woman to the honeysuckle, the robin, and the willow, all of which thrive only in their natural environments. Nature is thus emblematic of the way people ought to live their lives. For Deerslayer, nature is his most loving and faithful companion. When Judith coyly asks him where his sweetheart is, he replies that she is “in the forest,” in the trees, in the rain, in “the dew on the open grass.” Thus nature is God, mentor, moral touchstone, and even lover.

In a measure of how complex Glimmerglass really is, however, Cooper does not limit the setting’s connotations to those that are solely positive and morally uplifting. After all, Mingo Indians populate the forest as well. Both good and evil inhabit Cooper’s Glimmerglass, and the forest is the site of a surprise attack, scalping, kidnapping, bondage, and murder. The overhanging boughs on the bank are equally capable of hiding friend or foe. As such, Glimmerglass is the site of intense drama, and Cooper treats it as a stage.

Muskrat Castle

Muskrat Castle. Log cabin home of the Hutters on an island in the middle of Glimmerglass Lake, which Thomas Hutter claims to own. Throughout the novel the castle is described as being under scrutiny–all the hidden figures on the dark shores are able to observe the movements to and from the castle, as if it were center stage in the theater of the lake. At night the moon sends a pathway of light down the center of the lake, like lights in a stage setting. Early in the novel Chingachgook dramatically makes his appearance at the rock on the lake, again almost as if he is making an entrance on a stage.

The castle stages the family drama. Buried in the lake at the end of the shoal lies Judith and Hetty’s mother; at the end of the novel the lake becomes a cemetery for Tom Hutter as well. In fact, almost as if it is an identifiable character, the lake acts as the priest at Hutter’s burial. The castle is the primary home his daughters have known, and family ties them to this consecrated place. The center of the lake is the focal point of the novel. It showcases the strategic battles between the Mingos and the whites, it is the locale in which Judith learns truths about her family, it serves as the site for her romantic encounters with Deerslayer, and it is the burial ground for her family.

Tom Hutter attempts to claim ownership of the lake, but ultimately the lake overshadows all of the humans who serve as transitory specks on its surface. At the conclusion of the novel, Deerslayer and Chingachgook return many years later to Glimmerglass. The lake is very little changed, but the castle and other remnants of human presence have gone to ruin. In Cooper’s complex portrait of the wilderness, nature has endured and remains a majestic presence that reflects but also transcends the small concerns of humankind.

BibliographyBarnett, Louise K. “Speech in the Wilderness: The Ideal Discourse of The Deerslayer.” In Desert, Garden, Margin, Range: Literature of the American Frontier, edited by Eric Heyne. New York: Twayne, 1992. A well-balanced essay that deals with the differing levels of diction in the characters’ voices in The Deerslayer and how such speech patterns work in the evolution of the frontier mythos.Person, Leland S., Jr. “Cooper’s Queen of the Woods: Judith Hutter in The Deerslayer.” Studies in the Novel 21, no. 3 (Fall, 1989): 253-267. An intriguing study of Judith Hutter and her place in the wilderness frontier as a woman in a man’s world.Ringe, Donald A. James Fenimore Cooper. New York: Twayne, 1962. Excellent general overview of the works of Cooper, including The Deerslayer. Places the works in the construction of the myth of the American frontier.Schachterle, Lance. “Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Defenses: Twain and the Text of The Deer-slayer.” Studies in the American Renaissance (1988): 401-417. Schachterle takes to task Mark Twain, who criticized Cooper’s prose style and The Deerslayer in his essay “Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses.”Selley, April. “‘I Have Been, and Ever Shall Be, Your Friend’: Star Trek, The Deerslayer, and the American Romance.” Journal of Popular Culture 20, no. 1 (Summer, 1986): 89-104. Asserts that The Deerslayer is a romantic novel that constructs the mythos of the American frontier, and that this mythos is carried on in late twentieth century popular culture through television’s Star Trek series.
Categories: Places