Christian Themes

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Hannah Hurnard’s beloved tale Hinds’ Feet on High Places draws heavily upon three sources: the Bible, her personal life, and John Bunyan’s classic The Pilgrim’s Progress from This World to That Which Is to Come (part 1, 1678; part 2, 1694). The title, from the Bible, Habakkuk 3:19, reflects Hurnard’s belief that God will lift up even the most damaged soul:The Lord God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places.

Hurnard personally understood what it meant to be a damaged soul. From an early age she suffered from seizures and stuttering. As a result, she was afraid of many things, including public places and embarrassing herself in front of people other than her family. Furthermore, she suffered a crisis in faith until her dramatic conversion experience at age nineteen. In Hinds’ Feet on High Places, Hurnard’s protagonist, Much-Afraid, takes her name from the character in Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress and, like Hurnard, is a doubting soul, physically deformed. An orphaned shepherdess, Much-Afraid’s deformed mouth mars her speech and facial expression, while her crooked feet render walking difficult. These deformities are allegorical; the damaged mouth clearly represents Hurnard’s stuttering, while the feet symbolize her inability to live a holy life.

Much-Afraid’s greatest joy is in serving the Chief Shepherd, and she longs for healing because she wants to serve him better. She frequently visits the Shepherd, in whom she finds comfort and the promise of love surpassing that of family. Threatened with an arranged marriage, Much-Afraid turns to the Shepherd for advice. Despondent, she wishes to leave her home in the Valley of Humiliation and travel to the High Places, where relatives will be unable to inflict torment. The Shepherd offers to grant her wish, but Much-Afraid doubts she is physically capable of the journey. The Shepherd pledges to assist her by providing two traveling companions, Sorrow and Suffering, if she will completely trust him for guidance and...

(The entire section is 863 words.)

Christian Themes

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Detractors of Hinds’ Feet on High Places claim the book is too simple, preachy, and redundantly plotted. Ron Kangas, for example, has interpreted portions of the story as heretical, claiming that Hurnard’s emphasis on nature borders on pantheism and the emphasis on “union” with God is based on the doctrine of reincarnation. Despite these criticisms, however, the book has remained immensely popular, included on the “Premier 100” list of best-selling backlist books, and has been reprinted every decade since its original publication; recorded on long-playing records (1983), cassettes (1993), and CDs (2004); translated into Chinese, Finnish, Spanish, French, Portuguese, and other languages; and released as an inspirational calendar. The simplistic writing style and story are attractive to young people, reluctant readers, and new adult readers, as well.

Interpreting Hurnard’s allegory requires familiarity with basic Christian beliefs. Numerous Christian doctrines are demonstrated throughout the tale; however, the overarching theme is that of being born again and obtaining salvation, or deliverance. According to this principle, human beings are born sinful, a condition that will result in eternal damnation and separation from God unless one can be “born again” by admitting the sinful condition, willingly accepting God’s gift of salvation, and believing in the death and resurrection of God’s son, Jesus Christ. The Christian concept...

(The entire section is 427 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Anders, Isabel. Standing on High Places. Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House, 1994. A simple, nonscholarly biography drawing heavily on Hurnard’s autobiography. Focuses on her spiritual life and missionary work.

Hurnard, Hannah. Hearing Heart. Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House, 1975. An autobiographical account of Hurnard’s life from her childhood through age seventy.

Kangas, Ron. “Hannah’s Heresies.” Affirmation and Critique (July 1, 1996): 58-59. Kangas asserts that Hurnard’s emphasis on union with God is evidence of her belief in reincarnation.

Westenberg, Aletha. Review of Hinds’ Feet on High Places. Banner 112 (April 8, 1977): 24. A descriptive book review.