Monday, August 19, 2013

Reader's Diary #1050- James Fenimore Cooper: The Eclipse

James Fenimore Cooper, is best known for his novel The Last of the Mohicans and for introducing the Parisian man-scarf to the U.S.. But mostly the Mohican book.

In his short story "The Eclipse" Cooper finds himself reminiscing about a total solar eclipse he'd witnessed on a visit back to his childhood town. It's a relatable story in the sense that we've all had moments of awe when witnessing stunning or extraordinary celestial events. I can recall half or dozen or so such moments just off the top of my head: coming out of the movie theatre last year just in time to see the entire building surrounded by northern lights, watching an IMAX film about the Hubble Telescope last year at NASA, or almost like Cooper himself, watching a lunar eclipse with my father on one of my more recent visits back to see my parents. Cooper does a fine job of capturing the feelings of insignificance and open-mindedness that these experiences present to us.

It takes a while to get there, however. At first it's a bit too wordy. I'll admit that some of the issue may be a matter of simply accustomizing to the dated and stilted language (it was published in 1869), but he even goes so far as to mention the degrees latitude where the story occurs. Such technical terms did not help the story any.

More confusingly is the sidetrack about a prisoner that he goes to see right in the middle of the eclipse. I get the role that the character plays— the prisoner and his horrifically tragic crime contrast against the image of the idyllic village that Cooper has until been highlighting, plus the prisoner's desperate superstitions about the eclipse clash against the calmer contemplation of the townspeople— but the situation is bizarre and unexplained. An "acquaintance" approaches Cooper, says "Come with me!" and leads him to the court house. Here Cooper observes a distraught prisoner watching the eclipse in anguish through a window, then Cooper leaves again. There's no interaction with the prisoner and no context as to why Cooper was asked to go there in the first place. It's very bizarre.

(Did you write a post for Short Story Monday? If so, please leave a link in the comments below.)

1 comment:

Barbara Bruederlin said...

One can only assume that the prisoner was put off by the sight of JFC's Parisian man-scarf.