Charlie Mackesy

The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse

“Life is difficult but you are loved.”

Somewhere on a near English shore, undoubtedly under a cold mantel of rain and fog, there is an artist pressing love and talent into loose leaf pages that might eventually become a book, and will certainly be posted on social media in the mean time for millions to enjoy. Let’s hope.

Hello. You’ve started at the beginning, which is impressive. I usually start in the middle, and never read introductions. It’s surprising that I’ve made a book because I’m not very good at reading them. The truth is, I need pictures, they are like islands, places to get to in a sea of words.1

Charlie Mackesy’s (b. 1962) The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse is almost warm to the touch, pulsing with heart.

The words are sparse, it is a picture book. Scenes formed with imagination and the sharp edge of a fountain pen, with characters memorable the way only English characters can be. “This book is for everyone” writes Macksey in one of the few pages with text.

The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse is the very thing you need right now.

Charlie Mackesy's illustrations for "the Boy, the mole, the fox and the House" featured in The Examined Life Library.
“I’m so small.” said the mole.” “Yes,” said the boy, “but you make a huge difference.” Courtesy of the book.

This book is for everyone, whether you are eighty or eight – I feel like I’m both sometimes. I’d like it to be one you can dip into anywhere anytime, start in the middle, if you like. Scribble on it, crease the corners and leave it well-thumbed.

I love how Mackesy suggests the book be an object of comfort. A joy of adulthood is our vast imagination crafts objects of comfort that are not always “comfortable” (unlike the blanket or soft toy of childhood). Things made precious through caring, like Walter Benjamin’s library and Oliver Sacks rocks.

Charlie Mackesy's illustrations for "the Boy, the mole, the fox and the House" featured in The Examined Life Library.
‘”I think everyone is just trying to get home.” said the mole.’ Courtesy of the book.

The drawings include a boy, a mole, a fox and a horse. Their relationship rests on a mutual need for friendship, support and curiosity. They have a unity of loneliness.

“I learned to assume that loneliness should be in part pleasure” wrote American novelist Marilynne Robinson, “And that is even a truer bond among people than any kind of proximity.”

Charlie Mackesy's illustrations for "the Boy, the mole, the fox and the House" featured in The Examined Life Library.
“Imagine how we would be if we were less afraid.” Courtesy of the book.

The “bond” of loneliness fuses these unlikely characters together, without much to say, they travel, appear and exist. Always in nature, specifically spring with all its fickleness.

They form an unlikely band and through Mackesy’s most delicate illustrations, personality. The boy is scared but strong, the mole is curious and silly, the fox is quiet and thoughtful and the horse is a lovely grace, giving each a nuzzle or ride when needed.

Charlie Mackesy's illustrations for "the Boy, the mole, the fox and the House" featured in The Examined Life Library.
“Life is difficult but you are loved.” Courtesy of the book.

One senses there is a little bit of Mackesy in each of the characters. There is a bit of me as well, if I’m honest. You too?

I hope this book encourages you, perhaps, to live courageously with more kindness for yourself and for others. And to ask for help when you need it – which is always a brave thing to do.

Recently in Paris on the glorious Arc de Triomphe, the French Government (one presumes) unfurled a banner designed by Mackesy featuring his characters with words reminding us how much love is in the world. A triumph indeed.

Words sprinkled on the page in the same brush strokes as the characters, with expression unimaginably deep and thank goodness never too soppy. What a gift, this book and its creator.

Charlie Mackesy's illustrations for "the Boy, the mole, the fox and the House" featured in The Examined Life Library.
“So much beauty we need to look after.” Courtesy of the book.

From his occasional comments on social media, one can easily get the sense that the gentle soul Mackesy is humbled by his success but never far apart from the world he creates.

When I was making this book I often wondered, who on earth was I to be doing this? But as the horse says: “the truth is everyone is winging it.” So I say spread your wings and follow your dreams – this book is one of mine. I hope you enjoy it and much love to you.

Charlie Mackesy's illustrations for "the Boy, the mole, the fox and the House" featured in The Examined Life Library.
“This storm will pass.” Courtesy of the book.

I imagine there are many such artists and makers and even politicians and business people who press love and self into their wares, hoping someone grabs the piece and feels loved. Clutch The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse close to your heart, or the uplifting grace of Mary Oliver’s Dog Songs, Walt Whitman’s grace-bestowing “Song of Myself” and my own look at the importance of touch to our communication and communion.