The Owlings’ main character, Josiah, is a young boy who lives in rural America. Nothing is given by way of information about Josiah when it comes to his age and location. What is said of Josiah gives the reader a glimpse into his interests, of his observations of his small world, and his family life. For instance, Josiah and Addi (his best friend) note their bus driver’s peculiarities in order to detect his mood and tendencies. Also, when Josiah and Addi arrive at her house after school (Chapter 3 “Bad News and a Scary Owl”), the children note the somber mood in the air, making the distance between their parents in the kitchen and the front door seem like “a country mile.” DeWitt’s development of Josiah allows the reader to step into his world and to connect with the issues he’s facing. Unbound by age or geographic location, anyone can relate to Josiah.
As I stated in my previous post, The Owlings is reminiscent of C. S. Lewis, particularly his Chronicles of Narnia, in that throughout the book, Josiah encounters talking owls. Where this book departs from Lewis’ Narnia series is that it lacks the adventure and action of battles, travel between worlds, and mysterious lands and castles. But such aspects would not fit with the dilemma in which Josiah finds himself. Rather than facing evil cronies of the White Witch, our young friend encounters reality of a harsh world (losing his home to eminent domain) and of competing worldviews. It is the seemingly mundane, every-day life issues where finds the greatest tension and the impetus behind Josiah’s transformation.
DeWitt’s novella opens up with Josiah sitting in his thinking spot. On this particular night, the young lad thinks back upon his day at school, particularly his science class. With his regular science teacher out on maternity leave, the substitute teacher (Sam) introduces the class to
naturalism – that nothing exists outside of nature. Though the students seem confused, Sam patiently and respectively answers students’ questions. Josiah Is not sure, though, whether what Sam claims is true; Josiah likes nature and had hoped there was something beyond what we perceive in this world.
Josiah’s world is soon rocked with the news that he and his mom would be required to move from their family farm to make way for a highway expansion. Once Josiah receives the bad news, The Owlings is dominated by his family’s concern about and planning for the move, as well as Josiah’s strange encounter with a bespectacled, caped owl. Sam and his naturalist message takes back stage to Josiah’s impending move until he is visited by three owls on one fateful night.
DeWitt’s juxtaposition of the two dominating themes in Josiah’s life mirrors contemporary culture. Josiah’s concern about Sam’s claim that “nature is all there is” takes the back seat to his family’s impending move and loss of their family farm. Josiah has to come to the realization that not only is he going to lose his home, but he will also have to move away from his best friend Addi, whom he has lived next to his entire life. In fact, as the book progresses, Josiah’s home situation and his curiosity about the owls dominates the story. It lulls the reader into placing greater emphasis on the housing problem as opposed to the worldview clash taking place in the classroom.
And so it goes in the Western culture (particularly American culture) – life’s ultimate questions are typically brushed aside as everyday struggles and decisions are given greater attention and prominence. Questions about the origin of the universe, the nature of mankind, ultimate reality – among others – tend to be relegated to the arena of “personal beliefs” or for those interested in such “academic” questions. Such questions have little (if any) relevance on the goings on and problems of the modern world and do little in solving problems such as that faced by Josiah and his mother.
A significant twist occurs in the story when Josiah is greeted by three owls one evening. They sought to help Josiah with his very serious issue. Josiah – as well as the reader – is taken aback when the owls seek to discuss what Mr. Sam is teaching in science class as opposed to Josiah’s impending move. According to the owls, one’s worldview – how they understand and view the nature of the world – is a far more important issue as it affects how one approaches all of life, including issues like losing one’s home.
Josiah is confused at first; he thought the owls would help him figure out a way to get his house back. Yet, as the owls discuss the importance of one’s worldview, Josiah comes around to understanding the issue at stake. The morning after his late-night conversation with the owls, Josiah and his mother are surprised with the news that their farm home would be saved because their land is home to a rare owl.
The Owlings does not end with Josiah accepting Jesus Christ as his savior. It does not end with him at least going to church to learn more about what the owls shared with him. But, this was DeWitt’s intention. The purpose of the novella is to get anyone – believer and un-believer – to acknowledge at the least that life’s ultimate questions are very important – more so than many are led to believe.
DeWitt intends his book to be a conversation-starter. Unlike the atheistic naturalist who holds that all answers are found through science, DeWitt’s books points one to the need of going to Scripture to know more about the answers to life’s ultimate questions. They are not found in a novella – or any other work of literature; rather, the answers to these vital questions are found in the Bible. As such, DeWitt’s book intentionally leaves the reader with more questions than answers so that they are spurred on to search out those answers from the Wise One Himself – God as revealed through His Word.
DeWitt’s use of literature to illustrate the importance of reflecting upon life’s ultimate questions and on worldview thinking helps make what many feel to be a dry academic topic more accessible. The message is more readily received through connecting with realistic characters than through dry or technical textbooks. The Owlings is an excellent for parents to share with their children as a means to introduce the all-important task of developing a thoughtful and, Lord willing, biblical worldview.