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CASA Celebration

Dr. Ethan Mannon



"Diminishing returns: epic motifs in John Ehle's mountain novels."
Article in Appalachian Journal: A Regional Studies Review, Spring/Summer 2019.

Dr. Mannon says: This article demonstrates that the earliest novel in Ehle’s sequence, The Land Breakers (1964), is quintessentially an epic. Mooney Wright, the protagonist, engages in a series of quests and battles in order to create a homestead in the mountains of Western North Carolina shortly after the American Revolution. The appearance of his surname in other novels belonging to the sequence indicates his success. However, the same characteristics that helped him subdue the wilderness and found a community become increasingly less useful to his biological and cultural descendants—a paradox explored in the second half of the article. Without forests to raze and wild animals to defeat, Mooney’s progeny turn to vagrancy in the novels set in the 1930s and to crime in the sequence finale. Thus, Ehle’s mountain novels illustrate the way that epic mythology can empower a destructive worldview and lead to tragedy.