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19.  The Man Who Went Away 

The Man Who Went Away, by Harold Bell Wright, dust jacket The Man Who Went Away, by Harold Bell Wright

First Edition

Harper and Brothers, 1942, red cloth cover, yellow ink on spine and front..  "FIRST EDITION/G-R."  Illustration on dust jacket wraps around spine.

Total sales: No records found. Probably 8,000 to 10,000

List of Editions

Value Guide


Harold Bell Wright was very active and outspoken in his support for efforts to preserve the various forms of wilderness and wild life. This book is dedicated to the Save the Redwoods League.  The story is set in the redwood trees of Humbolt County, California. Many Harold Bell Wright fans consider this his best book.

Wright's ideas of God and religion had never resembled the American Christian fundamentalism that blossomed during his most productive years. And over time, his concept of God and faith had evolved further from traditional Christianity. Most likely his last philosophical essay -- on the spiritual evolution of man -- is found in The Man Who Went Away, coming from the mouth of the forester, on pages 178 to 194.

Related Letter

On January 14, 1942, in the midst of the Second World War, Harold Bell Wright wrote to his old friend, Don O. Vernon, in Lebanon, Missouri.  In this letter from Quiet Hills Farm in Escondido, California, Wright recounts the struggles he and his wife Winnie had gone through while writing, “The Man Who Went Away.”  Thanks to Eric Tudor for making these relevant paragraphs available:

          “I finished my new book the first of the year.  Winnie is typewriting the final script.  I doubt if I can find much of a market for it, these war times, but I shall go ahead as if we were normal in business and all that.

     Think of it!  I started this book the summer of 1932--in the Redwood country.  The winter of 32 and 33 we were in Barbados where I had planned to write the thing.  But the bank situation and the uncertainty of everything did not make for easy thinking along the lines I was trying to develop in this story so we came home.

     When we got home things looked worse and worse.  I decided the best move was to buy a little home/farm as an anchor to windward just in case.  I had the money in the bank, and the farm/home seemed the safest place to spend it.

     I spent from 1934, Feb. to 1936, mid-summer building, planting, etc., etc.  With farm established I started again on the book.  Just nicely going when I was forced to undergo a major operation.  That put an end [to] my writing for nearly a year.  I took up the job again, worked about two months, went back to the hospital for another operation.  This time I was a full year getting back to my writing.  Then just when I was into the story again I had a bad upset--heart and chest combination  which made work impossible.  The winter of 1940-41 Winnie and I went to the desert near Palm Springs where I planned to finish the book and take it East early this last summer.  I was going fine when the day before Christmas flu/pneumonia took a hand in my affairs.  We got home from Palm Springs last June.  I have been shut in ever since, much of each day in bed, spells of two or three days in bed.  But I finished the thing.

     Soldiers are all about us, planting their guns in the hills—our Quiet Hills.  We see them from the veranda.  The airplanes are overhead.  All the fuss and jitters of the times, black outs, ready to jump in some direction any minute.

     Do you wonder that I often wish for the Ozarks? 

     This sounds like a woeful, doleful, sort of script, Don, but I don’t mean it that way.  It occurred to me you might be interested in the making of the story. . . .   --Hal

(handwriting simulated)

Bob Lewis owns a copy of The Man Who Went Away that has this note, inscribed by Harold Bell Wright to his physician:

"Dear Dr. Sherrill, 

I have no words that will adequately express my indebtedness to you. You kept me alive while I wrote this book. If I could be sure my work was worthy I would feel better about the whole thing. Perhaps when you have read it you will wish you were not such a good doctor. 

Harold Bell Wright - Quiet Hills Farm - Aug 1942


This title has the distinction of being one of the "furious five," Harold Bell Wright's five rarest books, and also one of his best. I believe it is his fourth rarest book, after To My Sons, Long Ago Told, and The Devil's Highway. But it is still rare. If you can find a copy at all, dust jackets are on a fairly high percentage of them, perhaps because they are newer than the other titles by Harold Bell Wright. All first editions are published by Harper & Brothers, who also printed second and third editions, which they clearly labeled as such. Musson may have produced a Canadian first edition, but I have not seen one. Reprints were also produced by Grosset and Dunlap (first printing: 5,000), and in the 1990s Yestermorrow produced 500 reprints for Barbara Berry's Bookshop. These Yestermorrow copies show up frequently on eBay, first editions and Grosset and Dunlap reprints, less frequently.

Total sales: No records have been found. Probably about 8,000 to 10,000 were sold.

Review of Book by Dr. Joyce Kinkead  Copyright 1979 by Joyce Kinkead.  Used by Permission

          Wright's last western novel, The Man Who Went Away (1942), published almost twenty years after his others, relies on the theme of the West as garden.  The setting is a virgin Redwood forest in Northern California.  Instead of the cowboys of earlier westerns, there are gangsters, government agents, a beautiful blind girl (June Grayson), her materialistic grandfather, and a young biologist, Will Irvine.  Drug smuggling and a "Save the Redwoods" campaign, not cattle and ranching, are the subjects of this novel, which is a strange mixture of mystery and of Wright's spiritual philosophy.

            The suspense of the novel begins with the arrival of a mysterious man, continues as a variety of characters pass through the primitive forest, and ends with the identification of many of the characters as FBI agents who capture the drug smugglers.  Continue >>>

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This Harold Bell Wright web site is written and produced by Gerry Chudleigh with the help of many friends.
Copyright © 2000-October, 2012 by Gerry Chudleigh
Last updated 10/06/12