Every once in a while I get an email like this one from Larry:
In James F Coopers books, the original Hawkeye was Nathaniel
(Natty) Bumppo. Why did you rename him Daniel Bonner?
So here’s an explanation. Kinda.
James Fenimore Cooper wrote a series of books called the Leatherstocking Tales. His main character was Natty [Nathaniel] Bumppo (also called Hawkeye, and several other names), and seemed to be based on the legends that grew up around the real life character Daniel Boone. One of his novels was The Last of the Mohicans; another, set in Hawkeye’s later life, was The Pioneers. The Last of the Mohicans has been filmed a number of times, the last and most memorable by the director and producer Michael Mann. That is the movie staring Daniel Day-Lewis and Madeline Stowe. In Mann’s version of the story, Hawkeye’s real name was Nathaniel Po.
I wasn’t so much interested in retelling the story of The Last of the Mohicans — that has been done often enough — but I was interested in Hawkeye’s later life. So I set out to do a few things: first, write a very loose retelling of The Pioneers (keeping some of the plot, some of the characters, and some of the themes, especially the environmental ones); second, to tell the story from the female perspective (Cooper was a fine storyteller, but he didn’t write women very well — they come across as idealized and two-dimensional); third, to put my own spin on the legend of the frontiersmen who populated the New-York frontier; fourth, to try my best not to contribute to the stereotypes rampant in literature about the Mohawk. I hoped to portray them as a people who survived in spite of great hardship. Because I wanted to put my own version on paper, I changed Hawkeye’s name yet again. Not Bumppo or Po or Boone, but Bonner. So I have a Dan’l Bonner and his son, Nathaniel Bonner.
Something else I’d like to say, very clearly: when I wrote Into the Wilderness it was not conceived as any kind of sequel to Last of the Mohicans. I never, ever called it a sequel, and Bantam didn’t, either. However, some reviewers did call it a sequel, and that idea stuck in the minds of readers. Criticism of ITW as a sequel to Last of the Mohicans followed — and still follows.
You see how this would be frustrating.
So ITW is not a sequel. It’s my take on an older story, and as such, I changed things to suit my version. Think of West Side Story, where you get Maria and Tony instead of Juliet and Romeo. Think of A Thousand Acres, where you get Larry Cook instead of King Lear and his daughter Ginny instead of Cornelia. There are hundreds of examples of retold stories, and often the author shifts names and places and times, and then lets his or her own imagination go to work.