If You’re Tired of this World, Try Charlie Mackesy’s
A good friend gave me The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse as a gift for my birthday this year. At that point, I had neither read it nor been acquainted with Charlie Mackesy’s previous work; the book had merely sat on the outskirts of my awareness. Before I even turned a page, I loved it instantly. I’m a sucker for a beautiful book, and this exquisite hardback with its delicate illustrations and calligraphy had immediately earned its place at the top of my bookshelf. Little did I know the profound effect it was yet to have on me.
Charlie Mackesy, who previously worked as a cartoonist for The Spectator, began sharing the adventures of the boy, the mole, the fox and the horse two years ago on his Instagram account. The book is a collection of meaningful conversations and exchanges between these four characters, each of whom represent a little bit of ourselves. On the surface it appears to be a children’s book, but as Mackesy himself states in the opening pages, this book is for absolutely anyone ‘whether you are eighty or eight’.
The beauty of this book is you can start it from any page. It has no linear narrative and each page contains a separate musing on life and love, accompanied by one of Mackesy’s delightful illustrations. The art style and sweet sentiments are reminiscent of A.A Milne’s writing, which gives this modern text an already timeless feel.
As the four characters meet they share their innermost thoughts and insecurities, while posing the questions we too have all asked at some point in our lives. What do you think success is? Is the glass half empty or half full? What do we do when our hearts hurt? Every conversation reminded me of talks I have had with my own friends. In fact, I felt I already knew the characters. I could identify each of them with someone I know. But, more profoundly, I could identify each of them with myself.
The boy is inquisitive, the mole is excitable but greedy, the fox is reluctant to speak because he has been hurt so much by life, and the horse is gentle and wise. For myself, these characters provided a comfort I have much needed during this chaotic time. In a haze of stress and anxiety, it is often easy to forget to look after our own mental health. This book now serves as a permanent reminder to be kind to myself and to never be afraid to ask for help. Whenever I am feeling overwhelmed, I can turn to a page and the horse will be there to remind me that ‘sometimes just getting up and carrying on is brave and magnificent’.
I am certainly not the first to draw a comparison between Mackesy and Milne, nor will I be the last. For this reason, The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse may struggle to find its place on the literary landscape. Many will still regard it as a children’s book despite Mackesy’s intention that it is for anyone. I have spent many years studying the importance of children’s literature, but I only now realise that the likes of Lewis Carroll, Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and many others probably never intended their books to be appreciated by children alone. If a book can touch on topics that are as powerful to adults and children alike, as Charlie Mackesy’s has done, it doesn’t need to bear the label of children’s or adult literature. Instead, it simply becomes universal literature. This book is perfect for children as it teaches lessons I learned far too late in life: the importance of self-love, the durability of friendship and, above all, the power of kindness. But I suspect it will have a more lasting resonance among adults. It is a turbulent world we inhabit, with many of us struggling to navigate our way through a global pandemic, post-Brexit chaos, and a political climate of hatred and division. What we need right now is a reminder to be kind to ourselves and others, because there is more love in this world than we can comprehend. The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse is emblematic of these values. So whether you start at the beginning, the middle or somewhere near the end, I encourage you to jump straight into Charlie Mackesy’s world. Tucked cosily within its pages you will find love, hope and friendship, and you just might find yourself in there too.