Last week, I felt well enough to go on a short outing to my local public library, and I checked out some books, including The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy. I'm exploring new genres, and this book falls under the category of comic and graphic novels.
I was first introduced to Mackesy's book when I saw the below illustration from it posted to Instagram, and I related to it–admitting weakness is brave and should be recognized as so. That illustration has resonated with so many people that even hospitals and institutions have shared it with patients, and the army has used it for those with PTSD.
I wasn't sure what to expect from the book because reviewers online seemed to either love it or hate it, but I think people's reaction to this book really comes down to what their preconceived expectations were. If you're looking for a book with a plot like that of a novel, this is not for you. If you're annoyed by non-traditional fonts, you'll further dislike this book.
But, as the book itself reads, "One of our greatest freedoms is how we react to things," and if you're hurting and want some encouragement, you might love this book. It's essentially a conversation between a boy, a mole, a fox, and a horse, who each have their own weaknesses, encourage each other, and talk about the importance of life, love, acceptance, and yes, even the Mole's fondness of cake. According to Mackesy, "All four characters represent different parts of the same person, the inquisitive boy, the mole who’s enthusiastic but a bit greedy, the fox who’s been hurt so is withdrawn from life, slow to trust but wants to be part of things, and the horse who’s the wisest bit, the deepest part of you, the soul.”
This is a book that could be read in less than an hour because although it's 128 pages, most of those pages only have one or two sentences and the rest of the page is full of pen and ink drawings. But I think it's the sort of book that should be read slowly over multiple sittings so that one can truly savor and ponder it.
I admit, this book could easily come across as a bunch of cliché phrases strung together with cute drawings, and while I agree with the core message, things like the importance of friendship, kindness, and love, it is not an explicitly Christian book. I don't think it needs to be, but I probably would have worded some things slightly differently because of my Christian perspective.
For example, one of the pages reads, "'The greatest illusion' said the mole, 'is that life should be perfect.'" As a Christian, I believe life will eventually be perfect and that the brokenness of our current world is meant to point us to heaven. To quote C.S. Lewis, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” Still, I agree with Mackesy's message on that page in the sense that we shouldn't expect life to be perfect now.
Overall, I enjoyed this book, and it's won multiple awards and is a bestseller. The latter would be surprising, except for the fact that this book was published in late 2019, and we all know what happened in 2020. Sometimes when we're hurting, we need the sort of reminders that are in this book and that are presented in a light and gentle way. Sometimes when we are anxious, we can only focus on a few sentences and a picture.
This would be an especially good book to read in a medical facility's waiting room when the minutes tick slowly and uncertainty makes focusing on most things difficult. I'd say the target audience for this book is hurting, but really, that's all of us at some point. As Mackesy wrote in the introduction, "This book is for everyone, whether you are eighty or eight."