In the great literary pieces of our time, content, depth of character development and uniqueness are the driving forces in creating a classic work; but in Hollywood, sex, famous Hollywood names, and big money making schemes dictate the development of a project. James Fenmore Cooper created the character of Magua as the important antagonist of his novel Last of the Mohicans, portraying him as a strong, violent, cunning, yet extremely seasoned and weathered villain. Director Michael Manns film version of Coopers novel was, in many ways, not synonymous with the books story line and presents Magua as a younger, stronger, and more treacherous character.
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J.F. Coopers depiction of Magua can best be summed up by the nickname given to the character in the novel Le Renard Subtil or The Sly Fox. Magua indeed is sly, observant, persuasive, and above all, cunning. Cooper writes with characteristic stoicismthere was a sullen fierceness mingled in the quiet savage(p. 17). Maguas ferocity and calculative nature could be observed in his own physical appearance simply through his quiet, sullen, and strong sense of presence in the eyes of those around him. With this inner strength comes also the presentation that Magua was no longer the warrior he once was.
Yet his appearance was not all together that of a warriorthere was an air of neglect about his personmight have proceeded from a recent and great exertion, which he had not yet found leisure to repairhis eye alone glistened like a fiery star amid lowering clouds (p. 18)
This description given by Cooper leads the reader to believe that Magua is much older, more seasoned, and more weathered of a human being. He projects as a tired warrior who goes against the grain and appears disheveled and exerted, yet still with a glint of the former strength, power and evil he is capable of.
Cooper details very little about Maguas past. He tells about Maguas great power as a former Indian Chief among his people but took to alcohol and was driven from his tribe. With this information, the reader may deduce that the once powerful Magua seeks to regain the same level of authority and control now that he has lost his position. The other piece of information given of his past is in reference to his hatred for Colonel Munro. At a point previous to where the novel begins, Magua had been under the command of Munro at the fort. After spending a night of drinking the fire water, Magua returns to the camp drunk. An angry Munro orders that Magua is whipped for returning in such a sad and sloppy state. For Magua, He believed that God had given him the fire water to drink as he saw fit, thus believing Munro had no right to beat him for drinking. The bitter resentment Magua harbored towards Munro after that incident is what fuels his actions to attempt to murder him and wipe out the grey haired seed forever. To Magua, the entire British people were now the enemy because of the maltreatment he suffered under the hands of a British Colonel.
Maguas romantic interest in Cora is an extremely important aspect in the plot of the novel. Much of his actions towards the end of the novel are in some way directly related to his feelings for Cora. He offers her marriage on several occasions, but she refused adamantly and eventually dies at the hand of Maguas henchmen for not responding soon enough. In the end, Magua, in all ways defeated, having not convinced Cora to be his love, jumps over a precipice attempting to save himself, but winds up slipping and hanging off the side of the cliff. Cooper describes this scene Turning a relentless look on his enemy, he shook his hand in grim defiance. But his hold loosened and his dark person was seen cutting the air with his head downward (p. 338). Maguas, seeing Hawkeye raise his gun to his shoulder about to shoot, is yet still defiant to admit defeat, grip is loosened and he fall to his death not allowing Hawkeye the satisfaction of the kill. To Magua, he died with his self honor and complete control over his own life still in tact.
Hollywood knew they could not profit from having audiences watch an aging Indian attempting to outsmart a group of British fools, so, though keeping somewhat with the original description of Magua that Cooper provides, they change much of the plot that surrounds him. In Michael Manns film presentation, Magua is a man still living in the prime of his life, smart, cunning, strong, and violent. By presenting him in this light, Mann appeases audience viewers who want to see their hero (Hawkeye) against a worthy opponent to make the story line interesting, and the best way of doing this was to make him seem all the more sly, stealth, and excessively more violent than Cooper had ever imagined him.
Magua is also given a more noble cause to fight the British for in the film. While in the novel, Magua wanted revenge against Munro directly for having whipped him after drinking the fire water, the film presents the viewer with a deeper storyline which is supposed to have occurred at a point before the movie begins. At a time when Magua was working for Munros troops, he went out on a task. By the time he returned, the British had killed his children, and Maguas wife, thinking her husband was dead, was forced into marriage with a British officer. Maguas reasons for revenge in this film are purely personal and not targeted at any one individual, just all British in general; he still desires to wipe out the grey haired seed forever. Although revenge is not directed specifically towards Munro as it is in the novel, Magua, in the film, is shown a completely savage even so far as to kill Munro by ripping his heart out and eating it which is completely different from the events in the novel where Munro wasnt the one to die, but one of his daughters (Cora) was.
Additionally, Magua, for the purpose of creating a more hated villain, is shown by Mann as ferocious, savage, maniacal, evil and brutal, especially in the massacre when the British troops were attacked by the Hurons after retreating from Fort William Henry. His attempt, earlier in the movie, to kill Cora and especially when he kills Munroe by eating his hear only goes to show how much more brutal Director Michael Mann thought necessary to depict this archvillian. In the novel, Magua seems powerfully larger than life. His formidable presence among his tribe never wavers, despite his wrongdoings: “However much his influence among his people had been impaired by his occasional and besetting weakness, as well as by his desertion of the tribe, his courage, and his fame as an orator, were undeniable (p. 249). Magua, though not as overtly vicious is still extremely savage, but smart about how he uses his savagery in the novel. He plays mind games with our heroes in the novel rather than eat their heart as the blood thirsty savage does in the movie.
Another difference between book and film involves Maguas romantic feelings towards the Munro sisters. In the novel, Magua falls in love with Cora, she being the daughter of Munro plus the one born of miscegenation was all the more appealing to Magua. Right before Cora is killed, she refuses to travel no further with the Indians. All the other Indians are ready to kill her as Cooper describes the supporters of the maiden raised their ready tomahawks but Magua suddenly stayed the uplifted armsand turned to his captive with a look in which conflicting passions fiercely contended (p. 337). Here is where we see Magua struggle between being a fierce warrior and the strength of his love for Cora. He will not let the Indians kill her, then turns to look at her with what could be considered a lust in his eyes. In the film, there is no love declaration to Cora from Magua; in fact, Magua takes no interest in Cora. This occurs because Mann knew that he couldnt give Daniel Day-Lewis any kind of competition for Madeline Stowes love. Since Stowes characters size increased so drastically, it was in the best and most profitable interest to keep the love story for Cora solely between her and Hawkeye. For this very reason is most likely why Mann chose Cora to fall in love with Hawkeye and not Heyward, even though Heyward would be able to provide a life for Cora that Hawkeye could not. Instead, Magua seems towards the end of the novel, falling in love with Alice. He reaches out his hand to her in an almost subliminal message for her to accept to be with him, but rather than accept him, she prefers to jump off a cliff to her death. By doing this, the film gives audiences a moment where the get to feel as though the villain has been defeated in one form or another, by not getting the girl he wants.
At the end of the novel, Magua brings forth his own death by dropping himself off the edge of the precipice; in the film however, his death is not so noble. He instead is killed by Chingagook who does if for revenge after his only son, Uncas, is killed by Magua himself. This moment of victory over the wicked was a clever Hollywood trick to appease the audience. Rather than have Magua have the last say, we see Chingagook, a grieving father, get the satisfaction of killing the man who killed his son. Audiences respond more to this ending because they always want to see the good guy overcome the bad guy; especially in this case, Chingagook gets the revenge most people would think they would want against someone who commits a crime of that nature against someone in their family.
For whatever reasons, be it the difference in era or the difference in audience, both the original novels portrayal of Magua and that which is presented in Michael Manns Hollywood blockbuster, are similar in terms of strength and intelligence, yet different in physical and emotional aspects. While Cooper gives Magua selfish reasons for revenge against the British (specifically Munro), Hollywood make Magua seem like the victim of a heinous crime which drives him to seek revenge against the British. Even Maguas love interests change from Cora, a woman with a cross, to Alice, the fair and beautiful one, solely for moneymaking purposes in the film industry, not really for any cinematic value. In the end, the book leaves the reader satisfied that Magua had been defeated, but not to the same extent as the audience is satisfied when Hollywood allows Chingagook to get the final kill over Magua as revenge for the death of his only son. No matter what the changes made, from Cooper to Hollywood, the reasons were clear, big, elaborate action/love story equals big revenue. Scenic frontier adventure with more than one action hero calls for a big budget flop.
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