The Little Shepherd Wins the War, Loses Readers

The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come is an improbable tale of an orphan boy genetically predisposed to become a paragon of virtue.

As the novel opens, the family with whom Chad lived has died. Chad and his dog, Jack, take off across the mountains.

They land in Kingdom Come, Kentucky, where Jack wins a dog fight and Chad wins lifelong enemies.

He also wins Melissa, whose family takes Chad in.

By accident, Chad meets Major Calvin Buford who discovers that Chad is his grandson and gives him a home. Chad wants to be friends with the Major’s neighbors, the Deans, especially Margaret Dean, but they think he’s a bastard.

When Civil War looms, Chad chooses the blue uniform. The Major and his Bluegrass friends turn their backs on Chad.

In the war, Chad wins the respect of the Dean men and love of Margaret Dean, but loses all the other people he holds dear.

John Fox Jr. can write great description, but he flunks character development and plot creation. Most of the novel is a recital of Civil War battles.

The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come is as dumb as the summary sounds and even more boring.

The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come
By John Fox. Jr.
Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1903
404 pages
1903-bestseller #10
My Grade: C-

© 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Verbiage Clogs Arteries of Heart of the Hills

Kentucky FieldJohn Fox Jr.’s Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come was on the 1903 and 1904 bestseller list. His The Trail of the Lonesome Pine was on the lists in 1908 and 1909. By 1913, readers were ready for a new novel by the popular author.

Fox obliged with The Heart of the Hills.

The story concerns two pairs of cousins, one pair bred from the the feuding Hawns and Honeycutts of the Cumberland Mountains, the other carrying the more genteel bloodline of the Blue Grass. Fox repeatedly drags the cousins up the mountains and back down so they and readers can see the vast difference between the two cultures.

That’s about all readers see.

The characters are rudely drawn, the plot so disjointed it reads like Fox dropped the manuscript and failed to get the pages back in the right order before publication.

The story is padded out with long passages about Kentucky politics, the importance of education for the development of the frontier, and the disastrous impact tobacco had on the state’s environment and economy.

There’s little here to attract today’s reader.

The Heart of The Hills
by John Fox, Jr.
With Four Illustrations By F. C. Yohn
1913 bestseller #5
Project Gutenberg EBook #5145
My grade C-

© 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni


Trail of the Lonesome Pine‘s a Curiosity Lost in Melodrama

John Fox, Jr. churned out sentimental novels about the American frontier that were immensely popular in the early 1900s. The Trail of the Lonesome Pine was his first big success, making the bestseller list two years running.

Jack Hale sees the opportunity to make a fortune by buying land in the Cumberland Gap after the Civil War when the demand for steel soars.

While he’s looking for investment property up near the lonesome pine, Jack meets a young hillbilly girl, June Tolliver. Hale arranges for her to get schooling outside the mountains.

Meanwhile, Jack tries to civilize the hillbillies enough that investors won’t be afraid to come in. He makes enemies of both sides in the Tolliver-Falin feud.

His investments don’t fare well either. When June comes back, clean and cultured, she finds Jack gone to seed and the feud ready to blow her family apart.

If you can imagine John Wayne playing Professor Henry Higgins, you’ve got the flavor of the book. Trail has several intriguing  story lines, but none of them is fully developed.

Characters are underdeveloped, too. Hale initially considers June a child , but readers never learn her age, which is a pivotal fact.

This melodrama survives as a curiosity, but it’s too splintered to endure as a novel.

The Trail of the Lonesome Pine
By John Fox, Jr.
Grosset & Dunlap, 1908
421 pages
1908 bestseller #3; 1909 bestseller #5
Project Gutenberg ebook #5122
My Grade C
© 2009 Linda Gorton Aragoni