By Reya Mehrotra
It is nearly prophetic when Charlie Mackesy writes “everyone is a bit scared, but we are less scared together…” in 2019. Cut to 2020, Mackesy is comforting millions with his inspirational lines blanketed with hope and kindness. With his debut book The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse, artist Mackesy concocts a balm to soothe the pandemic pain, as he says “this book is for everyone—whether you’re eighty or eight”. It is almost as if Mackesy wrote the book for it to be gifted to friends and family in need of emotional support during such trying times.
Mackesy calms you with emotions enveloped into inspirational quotes that narrate the story of four companions—the boy, the mole, the fox and the horse. The overtly simple storyline progresses as the boy meets three of his other friends one by one. The boy is lonely when the mole first surfaces. They then meet the fox and then the gentle horse. They all are different from each other and have their own weaknesses. “I can see myself in all four of them, perhaps you can too,” Mackesy writes. As the friends converse, words of wisdom flow “…nothing beats kindness…it sits quietly beyond all things…sometimes just getting up and carrying on is brave and magnificent…the greatest illusion is that life should be perfect.”
Mackesy is an artist of human emotions who carves and sketches them into words. His illustrations and paintings speak of love and kindness, and so does his first book. The book is heavy on inspirational quotes with an overtly simple narration, but that is what makes it timely and read-worthy. For pictures, Mackesy writes, “The truth is I need pictures, they are like islands, places to get to in a sea of words.” His book, too, is full of handmade sketches and paintings on every page. The handwritten inked text and scribbled images give the book the feel of a diary personalised for the readers. However, at times, the scribbly text and images may be hard to comprehend for young readers and may break the continuity of reading.
It is true that whenever crisis strikes, literature comforts. This year, children’s books are the most preferred pieces of literature as they appeal to all and tug at your heartstrings. It is this quality of the book that made even Oprah Winfrey read the book as part of the Chicago Public Library project to encourage families during the pandemic. Published by Penguin Random House, the conversations of the four friends have been recreated in school art classes, hung on hospital walls, turned into tattoos and shared online multiple times. Mackesy lends a hand and pulls you out of uncertainty with his work full of hope.
Mackesy has already sold 2,50,000 copies in the US and it is a bestseller. What strikes the most is that the illustrator-turned-surprise-author knows that one thing the world needs the most to survive this is ‘help’. He writes: “asking for help isn’t giving up….it’s refusing to give up…” When the pandemic ends, we would as well put it like Mackesy does at the end of his book—he strikes out ‘The End’ and writes instead ‘Look how far we’ve come’.
The Boy, The Mole, The Fox
and The Horse
Penguin Random House
Pp 128, Rs799