(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Harold Bell Wright’s The Shepherd of the Hills is a straightforward story of the wilderness and the difficulties ordinary people faced on the frontier. Wright set his work in the Ozark Mountains of south-central Missouri, basing his characters on people he had met during several visits to the region. The atmosphere and story line are also drawn from his experiences. This includes the Christian fellowship exhibited when a stranger arrives in the fictional town of Mutton Hollow.

Mutton Hollow is the type of backwoods society that was part of the American frontier. The fight for survival draws families together as they battle against nature, poverty, and ruffians. Yet when a well-spoken stranger by the name of Daniel Howitt appears one day, he is welcomed and allowed to stay at the home of the prosperous Grant Matthews. Grant, or Old Matt as he is known, is mourning the death of his daughter fifteen years earlier. She fell in love with a young artist who then left her. Depressed, she died after giving birth to their son, Pete. Unknown to Old Matt, Howitt is the young artist’s father, mourning the disappearance of his son and searching for the family he had abandoned in the hills. However, even with these secrets swirling around him, within a short time Howitt becomes a member of the community, taking a job as the shepherd at Old Matt’s farm and becoming known as the Shepherd of the Hills.

As the Shepherd becomes part of Mutton Hollow, he begins to change the people who live there. He becomes the wise elder who provides a voice for those who suffer silently. He provides Sammy Lane with an education in both reading and speaking properly as she prepares for her life outside the hollow with her fiancé, Ollie Stewart. However, the Shepherd’s efforts have an unexpected effect on Sammy: The girl is no longer dazzled by the excitement of city life. Her education has opened her eyes to the world, and she realizes that she is less interested in leaving the hollow than before. Sammy’s physical distance from Ollie creates an emotional distance between them, and they find that they are incompatible. Sammy realizes the simple life is more natural for her. She is assaulted by Wash Gibbs, the town ruffian and leader of the Baldknobbers, a band of outlaws who terrorized the hollow years...

(The entire section is 945 words.)