Novel and Film Internet Resource Guide for


The Trail of the Lonesome Pine




By Judy A. Teaford      

Mountain State University




The study of novels and films is an excellent way to analyze society’s attitudes, beliefs, and knowledge of a particular topic at a given time in history.  The study of Appalachian novels and films is particularly important for understanding the “invented” history of the region and its people. 

With the continual growth of the Internet, the study of films and the novels that these films are based on allows teachers and students access to many different types of information that might otherwise have been unavailable, or at least very hard to come by:  reviews, history, biographies, student essays, etc.  And it is for this reason that an Internet Resource Guide based on the novel and film will be advantageous to teachers and students.

While some suggestions regarding the study of the novel and film are indicated, the goal is not to provide specific direction but a variety of Internet resources that can be used in the development of a personalized study.

The Novel

Fox, John, Jr.  The Trail of the Lonesome Pine.  KY:  Kentucky UP, 1984.

First published by Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1908


Project Gutenberg Edition of The Trail of the Lonesome Pine by John Fox, Jr. Full Text Online. 

Students should read and discuss the 1908 novel by John Fox, Jr. before viewing the 1936 film.  Discussion should be inclusive of as many elements of the novel as possible:  plot, point of view, setting, characters, themes, symbolism, ethical questions, etc.

“John Fox, Jr. published this great romantic novel of the Cumberland Mountains of Kentucky and Virginia in 1908, and the book quickly became one of America’s favorites.  It has all the elements of good romance—a superior but natural heroine, a hero who is an agent of progress and enlightenment, a mass of supposedly benighted mountaineers to be drawn from their rough habits of feuding into the flow of mainstream American culture, a generous dose of social and class struggle, and a setting among the misty coves and cliffs of the blue Cumberlands” (Back Cover). [1] 

“. . . [Fox’s] dialogue is often stilted and stiff in the eyes of today’s reader, and many of his characters seem almost caricatures.  His hero Jack Hale, the bluegrass engineer who comes to the mountains to make his fortune in coal but remains to fall in love with the region and with a simple mountain girl, is impossibly brave and pure.  June Tolliver, the beautiful mountain waif, is only slightly more believable.  But when Fox turns from romance and deals with the hard, narrow, and sometimes brutal and confused mountain dwellers who are struggling to cope with progress that was brushing aside them and their ways, then his characters take on flesh and blood” (Foreword viii).

An interesting aspect of the novel is the story of the boom (1890-1920) and subsequent collapse of the coal industry in Kentucky and Virginia.  The details of the happenings, mostly the result of Jack Hale’s efforts, tell of the influx of “furriners,” the cheap purchase of mineral rights from the mountain people, the building of an area of wealth with the coming of steel mills, roads, electricity, trains, etc., and the final collapse of the coal boom.  Most of the mountaineers are forced to leave their homes.  Those who cannot, because of age or other reasons, return to their previous occupations.  The devastation to the land, the scarring of the beautiful mountains and streams, is reversed by nature, which once again takes control.

Coal History:

Kentucky Coal History  “The majority of the funding for the Coal Education Web Site is provided by the Kentucky Coal Council & Kentucky Coal Association.”  This site contains the following topics:  Coal Towns; History Links; Mining Tourism; Timeline of Kentucky Coal; “Mechanization of the Coal Industry in Appalachia” by: David A. Zegeer, May, 1997; Mining TV, Link to Kentucky Coal Council's Coal Education Web Site (with teacher resources, including Lesson Plans)

Electronic Field Trip to a Coal Mine  “This field trip air[ed] on Wednesday, March 28, 2001 at 7:00/6:00 am CT on KET Star Channel 703 (60 minutes).”  Site contains information on purchasing video, study materials, coal-related web sites, Coal FAQs.

Coal Mining in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era Published by: Ohio State University History Department, USA.  The majority of this site’s articles, stories, etc., pertain to the anthracite coal region of Pennsylvania; however, the information provided is of interest and benefit to anyone studying coal mining history.  The site includes The Infrastructure of Coal Mining, Miners at work, and Coal mining society images.

Historical Basis:

“Devil John” Wright 

“Several books and numerous newspaper articles have been written about "Devil John" Wright. The   character Devil Judd Tolliver, in the novel "The Trail of the Lonesome Pine" by John Fox, Jr., was based on John Wright.  “Devil John Wright of the Cumberlands” is a complete history of his life written by his son, William T. “Chid” Wright.”   (Part of the Nancy Wright Bays Family Website

Turner-Howard feud of Harlan County, Kentucky

Devil Jim Turner Outlaw of Harlan County

Fee-Timm, Holly.  “Harlan County Had its Share of Colorful Characters” © originally published 4 March 1987 Harlan Daily Enterprise Penny Pincher

See also AppLit  "Links Page"


Brosi, George.  “John Fox, Jr.”  Part of KYLIT (a site devoted to Kentucky writers), this page provides a short biography of John Fox, Jr.

Virginia Tech, English 3624, Dr. Stephen Mooney, Students’ Essays:

Kurynny, Justin.  “John Fox, Jr.”  Short biography of John Fox, Jr.

Brown, David.  “The Coal Boom.”

Black, Crystal.  “The Role of Symbolism of the Fox in Selected Appalachian Literature.” 

A comparison of the two following student essays might be a good way to initiate character studies. 

Hodges, Jimmy.  “’Gentleman’ Dave Tolliver.” 

La Ruffa, Whitney.  “Jack Hale’s Transformation in The Trail of the Lonesome Pine”

The Film

The Trail of the Lonesome Pine

Paramount, 1936 – Renewed 1963 by EMKA – Reissued 1997 Universal

Directed by Henry Hathaway

Writing credits John William Fox (novel 1908) Grover Jones (screenwriter) Starring Fred MacMurray as Jack, Sylvia Sidney as June, Henry Fonda as Dave

Genre: Drama / Romance

Runtime: USA: 102

Country: USA

Language: English

Color: Color (Technicolor)

Sound Mix: Mono

The written introduction that begins the 1936 film aptly sums up society’s attitude about Appalachians during the late 1930s and, for some, even today. 

Among the American mountains there are forgotten valleys where peoples dwell shut in.  Old world, old ways, old codes have lived on unchanged.  Each family is at war with the other over deadly feuds whose beginnings they cannot remember.  But their hatred is their patriotism, [sic] their quaint customs are their religion.  Such a feud has been carried on by the Tollivers and Falins. [2]

Certainly it is true that the novel and the film are two entirely different genres.  And frequently those who first read the novel and then see a film based on the novel are disappointed, often justifiably.  It is important, however, to remember that the film presents the vision of the director.  Additionally, the screenwriter, because of time constraints, must often combine characters, leave out plot elements, etc.  In as much as possible, the viewer should endeavor to keep these things in mind.  However, since many of those using this guide will be studying the representation of Appalachia—its people, history, and culture—it would be, in my opinion, fair to compare the novel and the film more directly, as one means of understanding the “invented” history of Appalachia. 

In light of the above, I offer my opinion of the film in this and the following paragraphs.  Only the most basic plot elements and the main characters are taken from the book.  These are summarily perverted into a stereotypical story with little similarity to the book.  Stock characters are common:  the hillbilly fool, the mama’s boy, the “natural man,” uneducated and ignorant mountain people.  Character’s voices are far from their own as they often provide social and moral comment on the lives of Appalachians—giving the audience what it has come to expect of the region and its people.  Themes include and focus on the mountain feud and marrying cousins.  The Pygmalion theme is also prevalent.

One redeeming quality of this film is that it reveals, to a small but significant degree, the extent to which the local people are taken advantage of by outside interests.  Unable to read and write, the locals are dependent on the outsider’s (Jack’s) word.  Uneducated to the real value of their land and the resulting environmental damage to come, they essentially give their land away.  Yet the film never lets the audience forget the ignorance and squalor Appalachians live(d) in.  And possibly, the audience did/does not want to forget, or rather “unlearn” what helps to define them by opposition.  In other words, the director may instinctively know that the audience needs to judge others negatively in order to feel themselves superior.  This is, after all, a commercial product, made to sell to the general public.

The Internet Movie Datebase: 



Why do some of the earlier versions change the characters to revenuers and moonshiners? 

Trail of the Lonesome Pine, The (1914) Trail of the Lonesome Pine, The (1916) Trail of the Lonesome Pine, The (1923) Trail of the Lonesome Pine, The (1936)  

Filming Locations for Trail of the Lonesome Pine, The (1936)

Cedar Lake, San Bernardino Mountains, California, USA

Leonard Maltin Summary for Trail of the Lonesome Pine, The (1936)

Why are the reviews by people outside of Appalachia often positive while those by people inside of Appalachia are often negative? 

Comments for Trail of the Lonesome Pine, The (1936)

Comments for Trail of the Lonesome Pine, The (1936)

The Study of Film:

Teaching "Film as Text" is a simple guide for helping students appreciate the knowledge they have already accumulated from viewing films and providing them a base knowledge for an "understanding of the particular way in which a story is told in film."  Story Elements + Production Elements = Narrative.

Additional Resources:

The Trail of the Lonesome Pine Outdoor Drama

The Official State Outdoor Drama of Virginia.

Laurel, Stan and, Hardy, Oliver.  “On the Trail of the Lonesome Pine” (poem)  The words to the poem on this site are very close to those of the song by Ballard MacDonald.  (Online Link 7/20/2001 Now Broken)

Words by Ballard MacDonald and Music by Harry Carroll (1912).   “The Trail of the Lonesome Pine” (Song)   Sing Along MIDI Song (1912).  “This song is so adorable! It was based on the first novel to sell a million copies, The Trail of the Lonesome Pine, in 1908, written by John Fox Jr.”  This site contains the music and words to the song, a picture of the sheet music, a picture of the cover of the first edition of the novel, and several pictures from that edition of the novel.

Kentucky Life 318  (KET’s Emmy Award-winning weekly series celebrating the fascinating people and places of the Commonwealth Saturdays at 8:30-7:30 pm CT on KET.) 

"Al Capp, creator of the popular "Li'l Abner" comic strip, has said that he based the Abner character on Dave Tolliver, as played by Henry Fonda in The Trail of the Lonesome Pine (1936)",,3514-1-GMT,00.html 

For more information: John Fox Jr. Memorial Library, Duncan Tavern, Paris, KY 40361, (859) 987-1788. 

The John Fox Jr. Museum, Shawnee Avenue East, Big Stone Gap, VA 24219, (540) 523-2747, is open Tuesday through Sunday from the last week of June through Labor Day. Admission is charged.

[1] All quotes taken from the 1984 Kentucky UP edition

[2] All quotes taken from the 1997 Universal reissue


This Page Created:  7/20/2001
Last Update:  04/02/2005 09:53:19 PM
Links Checked:  02/06/2004