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Book review: Whitefoot: A Story from the Center of the World
Jan 22nd, 2015 at 6:36pm
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Yes, I know everyone is anxiously awaiting my review of Jayber Crow, and dammit, I am working on it!  But in the meantime I have this much shorter review of a children’s book by Wendell Berry titled: Whitefoot: A Story from the Center of the World

Book Review and Meditation on themes from the book
Whitefoot: A Story from the Center of the World by Wendell Berry with black and white sketch illustrations by Davis Te Selle

Whitefoot is a beautiful little children’s book written by Wendell Berry.  However, though it is a children’s book it can be enjoyed by an adult just as much as a child because Berry has intertwined substantive messages with the story.  Typical Berryesque themes are spread throughout the book, themes like waste not want not, enough is enough, be content with your place in the world, know your place well, love life and cherish it, and more.

Right away anyone who knows Berry’s work can recognize his ‘fingerprint’ on this book by the substitle: A Story from the Center of the World.  Whitefoot, like all mice, Berry tells us, knows that she lives at the center of the world.  As Berry says “That one lives at the center of the world is the world’s profoundest thought.”

This idea of living at the center of the world can be taken at least two ways.  In one form the idea is that where you have been placed in the world is ‘good enough’.  One of Berry’s themes throughout his work is opposition to the modern and especially American idea that rural people like farmers and the inhabitants of small towns must leave their places of birth in order to ‘move up’ in the world and ‘make something of themselves’.  This itching to ‘advance’ oneself in the world is often profoundly disruptive both for individuals and communities: if ones philosophy of life is to always be ‘moving on and up’ how does one ever arrive at inner peace?  How does one with such a philosophy know when ‘enough is enough’?

The second way to take this idea that one lives at the Center of the World is to consider Christ’s saying that the Kingdom of God is within us.  God, whose nature is illimitable, cannot help but be within every single thing He has created.  At the same time as God is illimitable He is also the Center of everything that has existed or will exist, He is the throne from which the axes of creation spread out like ‘lightning darting in all directions’, and as every one of His creatures has some of Him in it, there is a very real sense in which every part of creation is the Center of the Universe.

But back to the story.  Whitefoot the mouse lives on about one acre of ground that she knows is the Center of the World.  She knows her native land well, having crisscrossed it innumerable times in her searching for food and housing.  She does not know that her homeland is on the edge of the ‘Old Keith Farm,’ or that a large river is only a few hundred yards away. 

Whitefoot is a pretty little thing and she takes a ‘small feminine pleasure’ in her beauty.  Though her life would be short (almost certainly less than two years long), she loved and took exceeding good care of it, keeping herself well fed and housed, and keeping out of the sight of larger creatures.  Whitefoot “was highly skilled” in being what she was born to be, a mouse, and she neither contemplates nor desires any other existence.

Whitefoot lives and works according to an ancient and honorable principle: enough is enough.  According to Berry “She worked and lived without extravagance and without waste”. 

Yet Whitefoot’s skill and knowledge will soon be put to the test.  The spring rains are coming and she will be washed towards the river: Will she survive!?

I give the book my highest rating: five white mice and a glass jar for white foot to live in. 

Christ Pantocrator

To say homo sapiens, is to say Homo religiosus; there is no man without God. ~Frithjof Schuon
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