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Useful Notes / Appalachia

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Appalachia is a cultural region in the United States that stretches from western New York down to central Alabama. It is named for the Appalachian Mountains, which technically includes most of New England and a tiny bit of eastern Canada as well, but "Appalachia" commonly refers to the central and southern portions of the mountain range. The region is stereotyped as the Deep South's hilly cousin,note  but it has a few peculiarities of its own, as explained below.

The basics:

  • Appalachia is stereotypically characterized by rural isolation, poverty, and coal mining. Inbreeding was a major problem historically; the "blue people" of Kentucky are a famous case of a recessive gene showing up due to this. Nowadays, inbreeding isn't much of a problem anymore, but various other health issues arise due to mining hazards, abysmal poverty, diabetes, and rampant drug abuse. The New Deal brought electricity to the region in the 1930s-1950s, and so TV and radio broke the region's isolation somewhat — although the hilly terrain makes transmission and reception difficult. The construction of Interstates 64, 77, and 79 (the former only completed in 1988) also opened up the barely-touched interior of West Virginia to the masses, and various rural-development efforts are ongoing throughout the region today.
    • The isolation created by the mountains sometimes has its upsides: thus the National Radio Quiet Zone and the Green Bank Telescope, in the heart of the Appalachian plateau in West Virginia.
  • Pittsburgh is the largest city in Appalachia proper, with a metro area of over 2 million, and is notorious for "all those goddamned hills," as described by most visitors. Next is "The Upstate" of South Carolina (Greenville–Spartanburg), with about 1.4 million populationnote ; last is Birmingham, Alabama with about 1.2 million. Important smaller cities in the region include Charleston, Huntington, Morgantown, Parkersburg, and Wheeling in West Virginia; Knoxville, Chattanooga, and the "Tri-Cities"note  in Tennessee; Asheville, North Carolina; Huntsville, Alabama; and the Roanoke-Blacksburg-Christiansburg area in Virginia.
  • The most important economic activity in Appalachia is coal mining. The coal town is a major part of the region's folklore; coal still provides a significant proportion of the region's income and jobs, and small ghost towns, left behind after coal seams and oil wells dried up, dot the regional landscape. Timber and iron production, as well as natural-gas and oil drilling, are also significant. There used to be a fair bit of industry there; nowadays, northern Appalachia is part of the Rust Belt, suffering the same problems as the Upper Midwest.
    • Environmental controversies are a constant in the region: Appalachia is full of beautiful wooded mountains and fossil fuels, but it's not exactly full of jobs. The great ecological issue of the early 2000s was mountaintop removal, which involved blowing off the tops of mountains to allow strip-mining of their coal (a much safer practice than following seams underground). The controversy of the 2010s is "fracking" or hydraulic fracturing: blasting high-pressure water into oil-bearing shale, allowing its oil and natural gas to be pumped out. Fracking brings valuable jobs to impoverished areas, at the potential cost of severe water pollution, unknown atmospheric health hazards, and man-made earthquakes.
  • Moonshine has been an Appalachian tradition ever since the ancestors of the Appalachian people picked it up from the Irish in Ulster. (Like Irish whiskey, and unlike its Scotch counterpart, Appalachian moonshine isn't aged.) Strictly speaking, moonshine is any alcohol produced illegally, without government inspection or payment of excise taxes. But in Appalachia, "moonshine" or "white lightning" has come to mean a particular type of clear corn liquor, normally above 50% alcohol by volume, which has a flavor both fiery and very mild. This has led to some Insistent Terminology among moonshine enthusiasts, as many liquor stores in the region sell "moonshine" that's simply commercial corn whiskey in a mason jar, with all the legal regulations as every other hard liquor on the shelves.
    • The geography of the region — the remoteness and isolation mentioned above, created by the hilly terrain — makes it a good part of the world to hide unlicensed stills. And "unlicensed" meant "unsupervised", which sometimes meant "deadly". Enough moonshiners used old car radiators as condensers — producing often-lethal lead poisoning — that the rule for prudent moonshine buyers was to set a teaspoon of the drink on fire and watch the color of the flame: pure moonshine burned yellow, but "lead burns red and makes you dead." Moonshine production requires an immense amount of clean water, which the region reliably has; it was said that if you followed any creek in Appalachia far enough upstream, you'd eventually find a still.
    • Methamphetamines have become a serious problem in Appalachia, and it's sometimes been said that the meth lab (illegal, unregulated, highly profitable, easily hidden from the authorities, and prone to exploding) is the moonshine still's Spiritual Successor. But meth is much more dangerous for both producer and consumer.
    • Even more recently, opioids (i.e., painkillers) have become a problem at least as great as meth, if not more so. While they've become an issue throughout the country, Appalachia has often been viewed, rightly or wrongly, as "ground zero" for the opioid epidemic. The problem began with doctors overprescribing painkillers, but got much worse once drug cartels, especially from Mexico, flooded the region with cheaper and easier-to-get heroin. And then came synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, which is currently an ongoing crisis due to its strong effects at low doses.
  • Between Appalachia's isolation and Scotch-Irish-descended culture, Appalachia was a folklorists' Mecca as late as the 1980s. Appalachian English isn't quite the same as the language of Shakespeare, as is sometimes said; but 16th-century English ballads and ancient European fairy tales long flourished there. One storyteller, Donald Davis, grew up with a version of Chaucer's "Reeve's Tale" and a number of little-known Grimm fairy tales. He also heard — as "The Time Jack Went Up in the Big Tree" — a version of The Death of Koschei the Deathless. One unusually isolated valley believed as late as the 1960s that the United States was ruled by a king. The Foxfire Books relate the highly (although not quite completely) self-reliant way of life that once prevailed in Appalachia; various linguistic studies and collections of folktales provide the linguistic side.
    • Appalachian folk music is particularly interesting and influential. Bluegrass is a category of Appalachian music and is one of the two chief ancestors of modern popular music; the other ancestor, blues, has many Appalachian characteristics.
  • Appalachia's natural beauty makes it a common tourist destination. Travelers come from as far as Japan to see the leaves turning color in the fall; both tourists and locals enjoy the tall mountains and deep ridges, allowing for hiking, biking, rafting and kayaking, fishing, and skiing and snowboarding in the winter.
    • Geologically speaking, the Appalachian mountains are very old, first being formed around 480 million years ago, and reaching what scientists think was a height similar to the Himalayas or the Rocky Mountains before being eroded entirely and covered up by a shallow inland sea by the Mesozoic era. The crust was then uplifted and the resulting erosion against the uplifted crust created the mountains people now live among today.
      • Despite the current form of the Appalachians being a relatively recent creation, geologically speaking, the former heart of the original mountains can still be seen in the Blue Ridge Mountains and other folds and formations throughout the uplifted peaks and valleys. Mount Mitchell in the far western end of North Carolina stands as the tallest peak in the mountain range, as well as the highest peak in the United States east of the Mississippi River, with an elevation of 6,684 ft.
  • One very popular reason for visiting is to hike the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, usually simply referred to as the Appalachian Trail. The Trail is a 2,200-mile hiking and camping route that stretches from Maine to Georgia. Most hikers simply enjoy parts of the trail, as hiking the entire thing is a months-long ordealnote .
  • And if you don't feel like walking, there's always the Blue Ridge Parkway, a 496-mile stretch of uninterrupted two-lane roadway that reaches from Rockfish Gap, Virginia to Cherokee, North Carolina. It goes near many of the major features, cities, and towns in the Great Smoky and Blue Ridge Mountains, and boasts spectacular views almost any time of year. It's also the most visited feature of the United States National Park System anywhere in the U.S.note ; however, since it is involved with the Park System, the speed limit is maxed out at 45 miles per hour. As the boys from Top Gear and many others have found out, drivers craving speed instead of scenery are best served elsewhere.

Tropes relating to / in works about Appalachia:

  • Bad Ass Driver: A trait stereotypically associated with the Hillbilly Moonshiners and their Cool Cars. After all, you need to be able to handle that souped-up hot rod on bad roads to outrun the law.
  • Company Town: In many areas of Appalachia, coal mining is the only significant economic activity, and coal companies created a lot of these throughout the area.
  • Cool Car: Moonshiners souped-up their vehicles to better outrun and out-maneuver lawmen. This eventually gave rise to stock car racing, and ultimately NASCAR.
  • Ghost Story: Tales of the strange, uncanny, and supernatural are a cornerstone of Appalachian folklore. Many of them have been adapted into film and print, and area "ghost walks" are often popular tourist stops.
  • Hillbilly Horrors: Sort of an outgrowth of the ghost stories.
  • Hillbilly Moonshiner: Appalachia is the source of many of the associated stereotypes, and home to a lot of moonshiners.
  • The Mothman: A mysterious cryptid that was reportedly seen by dozens in people in the West Virginia town of Point Pleasant between 1966 and 1967.
  • Mountain Man: A trope derived, to a great extent, from the first white explorers and settlers in the region.

Works set in Appalachia (excluding Pittsburgh)


  • The Call of the Cumberlands centers on a violent feud between two Appalachian families that is obviously Inspired by… the Real Life Hatfield-McCoy feud.
  • The Forgotten Frontier is a 1931 documentary film about the Frontier Nursing Service and its role providing desperately needed medical care to the poor mountain people of Appalachian Kentucky.
  • October Sky is about some boys from a West Virginia coal town seeking to win a science scholarship for rocketry.
  • Stark Love (1927) is a rather grim portrait of life in the North Carolina mountains that indulges in a lot of negative stereotypes.
  • Tol'able David is a coming-of-age movie about a young man proving himself to his family of West Virginia mountaineers.
  • We Are Marshall deals with the aftermath of the (real-life) 1970 plane crash that killed virtually all of Marshall University's football team.
  • The Mothman Prophecies, as well as the book it was based off of, takes place in and around Point Pleasant, West Virginia and dramatizes reports and events that occurred in the area during the 1960's.
  • Harlan County U.S.A. is a famous 1976 documentary about a coal miners' strike in Harlan County, Kentucky, and the vicious repressive tactics employed by the mine owners in an effort to break the strike.
  • The first part of Coal Miner's Daughter, before Loretta Lynn moves away with her new husband, is set in a rural Kentucky town where there's not much to do besides dig for coal and drink moonshine.
  • Wild River is set in eastern Tennessee in the mid-1930s as the Tennesee Valley Authority brings great changes to the area.
  • Logan Lucky is largely set in southern West Virginia, though the heist that makes up the climax is set in Charlotte, North Carolina (which in recent decades has become a popular destination for West Virginia transplants).
  • Lawless is a movie about a family of Hillbilly Moonshiners in 1920s Virginia.


  • "The Crooked Man" story within the Hellboy series takes place in rural western Virginia in the late 1950's and deals with common ghost stories and folklore of the area.
  • The Guthrie family from X-Men are from eastern Kentucky. Best-known members are eldest son Cannonball and eldest daughter Husk, though most of the younger kids are mutants as well, and mother Lucinda is a staunch ally.
  • Eric Powell's Hillbilly is a Sword and Sorcery story set in a Constructed World heavily based on Appalachian culture and folklore. It follows a wandering Mountain Man as he gets into strange misadventures and battles fearsome monsters.


  • Sharyn McCrumb's Ballad Novels are a series of mysteries that take place in and around a small Appalachian community.
  • Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark owes a number of its stories to Appalachian folklore and ghost stories.
    • As you might have guessed from The Mothman Prophecies and Hellboy borrowing from this tradition as mentioned on this page, this area of the country has a long tradition of scary campfire stories, hauntings and witch tales, another by-product of its long isolation from outside modernization and communication.
  • Pondovadia is an ongoing story that takes place mostly in West Virginia (specifically an alternate universe version of Morgantown).
  • A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson deals with an attempt to hike the trail.
  • District 12 in The Hunger Games is explicitly stated to be in "what was known as Appalachia." It is poor and its main industry is coal mining.
  • The Education Of Little Tree (written, oddly enough, by a former Klansman with no Cherokee ancestors) is set in Appalachia, and while it's not a reliable source for Cherokee culture, the values in the book are very Appalachian-like.
  • The Trail Of The Lonesome Pine. (One interesting thing about the book: its Northeastern focal character casually scorns Appalachian flintlock muskets. Admittedly, they were very obsolete weapons by 1900 or so, when the book is set; but they're beautiful weapons, often crafted to world-class levels of quality. One of the Foxfire Books relates an incident where a German expert looked at a pistol crafted by an Appalachian master gunsmith, and confidently dated the weapon to Bavaria in the 1770s; he had to be shown the fresh wood under the firing assembly before he would accept that it was contemporary!
  • Manly Wade Wellman's Silver John dark-fantasy stories are set in this region. Wellman was an expert when it came to the folktales and music of the area, and it shows in his work.
  • The Maze Runner: In The Kill Order, the protagonists set up a small village in the Appalachians after a tsunami devastated New York City. It doesn't last long.
  • Rocket Boys: The original title of the memoir of NASA engineer Homer Hickam, upon which the film October Sky was based. (Note that all editions published since the film came out have been titled October Sky.)
  • Dooling County, the main setting for Sleeping Beauties, is described as being Appalachian, although unusually for Stephen King the state isn't specified. Dialogue suggests it borders Arkansas on the north, so it could be in Missouri - actually in the Ozarks but sometimes they get lumped together - Kentucky or Tennessee.
  • Hillbilly Elegy: A 2016 memoir by J.D. Vance, a venture capitalist (and later US Senator) from southwestern Ohio's Appalachian diaspora who examined the relation between Appalachian values and the social problems he saw during his formative years. It was also adapted as a movie for Netflix.
  • The premise of the 1632 series involves a Appalachian mining town from 2000 being taken back in time into central Germany in the middle of the Thirty Years' War.

Live-Action TV

  • Orange Is the New Black features a young woman by the name of Tiffany Doggett, who goes by the nickname "Pennsatucky," because she is from a community like this, complete with poverty, trailer homes, and a serious methamphetamine problem.
  • Justified: Follows Raylan Givens, a US Marshal who grew up in a small coal mining town in eastern Kentucky and then, as an adult, is transferred back to the area.


  • Aaron Copland's ballet Appalachian Spring, about the folk celebrating after building a barn, takes a more idealized view of the region.
  • A romanticized view is found in John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads", which in 2014 was made one of West Virginia's official state songs.


Tabletop RPG


  • Hell-Bent Fer Heaven is a melodrama about a family in the Blue Ridge of North Carolina that is loosely inspired by Othello, with a hero soldier coming home from war, and his supposed friend who is actually plotting his destruction.

Video Games

  • Kentucky Route Zero, an Adventure Game taking place in Kentucky that draws inspiration from local folklore (especially, again, the aforementioned ghost stories), music, and contemporary issues.
  • Night in the Woods is an adventure platformer that takes place in Possum Springs, a town populated entirely by Funny Animals based on the mining communities of Northern Pennsylvania. The narrative explores many contemporary issues, such as poverty and depression in Appalachia.
  • Fallout 76, an online multiplayer survival Spin-Off of the Fallout series that takes place in West Virginia and the surrounding region. Among recognizable landmarks and areas are the New River Gorge Bridge, the Charleston Capitol Building, and Camden Park.

Western Animation