James Fenimore Cooper

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The Prairie

Cooper, James Fenimore

Last Updated: May-02-2006
Annotated by:
Willms, Janice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel


This is the last of Cooper’s Leatherstocking tales, in which his hero, Natty Bumpo, is on the frontier as an old man living and reliving his experiences in the developing West. As the reader follows Leatherstocking in his final venture, he/she repeatedly encounters an interesting character, Obed Bat (or Battius, as he is sometimes called because of his propensity for imposing Latinate terms on everything he sees).

Dr. Bat claims to be a medical practitioner who has chosen to study the natural world, the flora and fauna of the prairie. In a novel that is replete with unintentional comedy, Dr. Bat invites apparent, intentional and pointed ridicule. He chronically mistakes his own donkey for new species of wild animal; his vapid attempts at providing any kind of serious medical advice to the various travelers he encounters remind the reader of the tenuous position of the medical practitioner in the early to mid nineteenth century.

Although this adventure is the last trip for Natty, Dr. Bat’s presence is a major portion of the old-fashioned charm of Cooper’s novels. The unlikely collection of characters in this novel keep meeting, even though they are independently trekking across the vast land between the Mississippi and the Platte. There are, of course, buffalo and Sioux--friendly and otherwise--who must be tamed or overcome.

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