Christian Themes

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

The Shepherd of the Hills emphasizes the simple pleasant existence that places a person closer to God. Wright suggests that only by returning to a simpler existence can men such as Daniel Howitt find the peace of mind that is lacking in the complex society in which they live. Another continuing theme of the book is that of redemption of sins. After discovering what his son had wrought in the death of Old Matt’s daughter, Howitt remains in Mutton Hollow, trying to undo the harm by helping Sammy Hale. His teaching of Sammy opens her mind and may save her from the fate suffered by Old Matt’s daughter. Sammy also learns from the Shepherd to value a simple life. Her engagement to Ollie Stewart promises her wealth and freedom from the drudgery and ignorance that is Mutton Hollow. However, she finds that such a change in her life will pull her away from God and her roots. Sammy rejects what would have been an easier life for one dedicated to family, community, and God.

This willingness to put aside false dreams of material goods and sophistication is another of the book’s themes, as is forgiveness. Old Matt had spent fifteen years living with burning hatred for the boy he blamed for his daughter’s death. However, his close relationship with Daniel Howitt and the discovery of Howard Howitt in the mine forces him to forgive past acts and to understand that both men and their children have suffered.


It must be remembered that Wright saw his writing as a ministry to the people and all his works have a moralistic overtone. The Shepherd of the Hills, although no exception, is his most plotted story, based on an old legend about a city dweller who came to the hills and seduced, then deserted a young woman, who died shortly after her child was born. While this relationship was viewed as a crime, the overriding theme is one of renewing faith in God and man.

A stranger who comes to the Ozarks is the father of the city dweller, but conceals this fact and also the fact that he was a preacher at a big city church. Instead, he becomes the Shepherd in Mutton Hollow, tending the sheep as he once tended his congregation, but gaining strength and peace in his solitude, instead of false pride and shallow egotism. The internal struggle of the Shepherd, to rediscover the God he has lost, dominates the book, but other characters face internal conflicts as well. Young Matt, the young mountain man, struggles to overcome the animal side of himself and become a real man, and Sammy Lane, the young mountain woman, searches within herself for a lady's heart. Through this moralistic story Wright builds up faith in man to show his readers that there is always hope for a finer life.