What can we learn from The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse?
It may be a simple fable about a young child and his adventures with some animal friends but The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse has proved hugely popular and spent months at the top of the bestseller charts, while offering hope and inspiration to a myriad of readers.
Although you may well find it in the children’s section of the bookshop, its sweet, wise sentiments have struck a chord with people of all ages from all over the world. But what are the messages the book contains that have captured the public’s imagination so effectively?
“This book is for everyone, whether you’re eight or 80.” Author and illustrator Charlie Mackesy was attempting to make sense of his own feelings when he drew a picture of a boy talking to a horse and posted it to his Instagram account. “What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever said?” Asked the boy. “Help,” said the horse. This simple message was soon printed out and pinned to the walls of workplaces, hospital wards and treatment centres, providing inspiration for those struggling with their own dark times.
What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever said? Asked the boy. 'Help,' said the horse.
This initial image was soon added to, until Charlie had an entire book of words and pictures: an uncomplicated tale that he hoped would offer a pathway to healing for any troubled soul that discovered it. The four creatures in the story – a lonely boy, a greedy mole, a wary fox and a gentle horse – were all elements of Charlie’s own make-up, and mirrored all of our personalities. As the boy and the mole meet for the first time, the initial fear they must overcome is the landscape itself. As Charlie himself states, “I think the wild is a bit like life. Frightening sometimes, but beautiful.”
Listen to your dreams
The book is imbued with words and actions fuelled by kindness, even if the mole allows his taste for cake to drive him, sometimes, from the path of righteousness – as illustrated by his favourite saying: “If at first you don’t succeed, have some cake.” As the duo sit in a tree and consider the world around them, they share wisdom and talk about ideas that have helped to elevate them when visited by doubt or strife. As the mole tells the boy. “Most of the old moles I know wish they'd listened less to their fears and more to their dreams.”
The greedy mole and the lonely boy eventually encounter a fox. At first he’s aggressive – a predator who would happily gobble up the mole for a snack. And they are frightened of him, but the mole puts those fears aside and helps his natural enemy to escape from a painful snare. The fox repays this understanding by opening up and becoming friends with the two of them, eventually repaying the mole’s kindness by saving him when he falls in a river. “One of our greatest freedoms,” the mole says, “is how we react to things.”
Eventually this trio of unlikely friends meets a horse. A horse with a very big secret. That, we won’t give away. Despite his size, the horse is incredibly kind, wise and gentle and immediately embraces the companionship of the others, offering wisdom and warmth. His depth of understanding and willingness to share his life with them encourages them all. As the boy tells him: “Sometimes I think you believe in me more than I do.” “You'll catch up,” says the horse.
In a time of confusion, rancour and tragedy, the story of the boy, mole, fox and horse offers a simple reset to the world around us. Some of the sentiments on offer may appear simple, but they are vitally important things that we can all forget or repress in times of strife. In the end, the book orbits around the notion of love. Both love for yourself and love for others. “What do you think success is?” Asks the boy. “To love,” said the mole. Individually all of these characters are weak and troubled. But once they have found each other, they are stronger and can survive anything. As the horse tells the boy: “Always remember you matter, you're important, you're loved and you bring to this world things that no one else can.”