Kath Rothwell was running a review contest, and she had a link to Bad Press: The Worst Critical Reviews Ever! on her blog. Which started me thinking about one of my favorite non-fiction pieces of all time, Mark Twain’s “Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offences.” It’s exactly what the title sounds like: Twain uses his considerable wit and talent to rip James Fenimore Cooper a new one. Actually, several new ones. Even if you enjoy Cooper’s novels (like I do), chances are you’ll laugh until you wheeze. A few years ago I read it aloud to The Very Tall Husband (back then just The Very Tall Boyfriend) while we were on a long roadtrip, and he laughed so hard he almost ran the car off the road. A quick Google revealed that the essay is available in full on-line, so for those of you have haven’t read it yet through Kate’s blog entry, here it is again. If you’re reading this at work, try not to have a seizure while giggling, especially when you come to the part about the Cooper Indians.
Here is a preview bit of snarkage, which isn’t quite as funny as the bit with the Indians, but comes pretty close:
Cooper’s gift in the way of invention was not a rich endowment; but such as it was he liked to work it, he was pleased with the effects, and indeed he did some quite sweet things with it. In his little box of stage properties he kept six or eight cunning devices, tricks, artifices for his savages and woodsmen to deceive and circumvent each other with, and he was never so happy as when he was working these innocent things and seeing them go. A favorite one was to make a moccasined person tread in the tracks of the moccasined enemy, and thus hide his own trail. Cooper wore out barrels and barrels of moccasins in working that trick. Another stage-property that he pulled out of his box pretty frequently was his broken twig. He prized his broken twig above all the rest of his effects, and worked it the hardest. It is a restful chapter in any book of his when somebody doesn’t step on a dry twig and alarm all the reds and whites for two hundred yards around. Every time a Cooper person is in peril, and absolute silence is worth four dollars a minute, he is sure to step on a dry twig. There may be a hundred handier things to step on, but that wouldn’t satisfy Cooper. Cooper requires him to turn out and find a dry twig; and if he can’t do it, go and borrow one. In fact, the Leather Stocking Series ought to have been called the Broken Twig Series.
Mark Twain: One smart asshole. We bow down to thy altar, O Great Clemens.