Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Glorious Defense

Seige of the Roundhouse, from Kidnapped. N.C. Wyeth
Battle of Glen Falls, from The Last of the Mohicans. N.C. Wyeth

The latest book that I'm reading for my Great Books program in homeschool is The Last of the Mohicans, by James Fenimore CooperI'm very glad to be able to read a novel for school--and an adventure novel at that!--after working through Descartes and the Federalist Papers!

Today in Mohicans I read the chapters where Hawk-eye the frontier scout, his Indian friends, and Major Heyward are defending their island hideout at Glen Falls against Iroquois warriors. The scene, though written in prose that's over-fancy and romantic by novel standards today, is incredibly exciting. (By the way, I haven't finished it yet, so nobody tell me what happens, please...) And it reminded me instantly of another "siege scene" from that favorite book of mine, Kidnapped. Not just the situation, but even some of the dialogue rang familiar. Compare these two quotes, the first from Hawk-eye, the second from Alan:

"Freshen the priming of your pistols--the mist of the falls is apt to dampen the brimstone--and stand firm for a close struggle, while I fire on their rush." (The Last of the Mohicans, Chapter VII)

"And now," said Alan, "let your hand keep your head, for the grip is coming." (Kidnapped, Chapter X)

Or try these two:

"You believe, then, the attack will be renewed?" asked Heyward.
"Do I expect a hungry wolf will satisfy his craving with a mouthful! They have lost a man, and 'tis their fashion, when they meet a loss, and fail in the surprise, to fall back; but we shall have them on again...." (The Last of the Mohicans, Chapter VII)

"No, there's not enough blood let; they'll be back again. To your watch, David. This was but a dram before meat." (Kidnapped, Chapter X)

It almost makes one wonder if Stevenson read Cooper's scene! Stevenson was decidedly fond of "siege scenes"--there's also one in Treasure Island, one in The Black Arrow, and one in his short story "The Pavilion on the Links". But what is it that makes these scenes so appealing?

I think it must have something to do with the fact that in these situations, the characters are forced to take the ultimate plunge for what they believe is right. They put their very lives on the line. Their mettle is truly tested. There is something glorious about the little band of brothers, defending each other's lives, something heartwarming and blood-thrilling all at once. It is the glorious light of good made brighter by resisting the evil all around. We may not recognize this at once. But we do know that when the heroes finally come through, white-faced and powder-stained but bright-eyed with triumph--we simply have to cheer.