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The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

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Hope in Black and White

Artist Charlie Mackesy’s coffee table picture book The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse is an unconventional bestseller.

Through a series of moving ink sketches and accompanying words, Mackesy presents a curious boy, a wise horse, a withdrawn fox, and a cake-loving mole who discuss some of life’s biggest questions: What is it all about? What’s going on? Why do I feel like this? How can I carry on?

These were questions that Mackesy himself asked when, at the age of 19, his best friend was killed in a car accident. An avowed atheist, this tragedy shaped his view of life as a catastrophe, in which fragile human beings keep making a mess of things. However, attending the Alpha course allowed him to see a beautiful truth at the core of Christianity, in an image which he has since cast in bronze. It’s that of the father hugging the prodigal son.

This snapshot captures so much of the faith Mackesy – now in his fifties – proclaims. Human beings get it wrong, but God is gracious. He reaches out to us in spite of all our wrongdoing, and his grace means we can relinquish the need to perform and instead simply ‘come as we are’. As his pen-and-ink mole puts it, ‘Love doesn’t need you to be extraordinary’.

The book’s focus on the importance of friendship as an antidote to the brokenness of humanity is striking. In one of the most popular images, the boy asks, ‘What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever said?’ and the horse replies, ‘Help’. The idea that connecting with others requires vulnerability is timely; the idea that being vulnerable is a courageous act is timeless. In fact, it echoes a deep biblical truth: ‘When I am weak, then I am strong’ (2 Corinthians 12:10).

Sales figures for this quiet, heartfelt, book – which has now spent multiple weeks at the top of the bestsellers list – are evidence of its pertinence. But what is it about this particular message of hope in the midst of the mess that has proved so popular?

The book has no explicit moral; Mackesy prefers to let readers decide for themselves what resonates. Perhaps the closest it gets is the assertion: ‘Life is difficult, but you are loved.’ What a concise and approachable encapsulation of the gospel, from an artist whose biblically-inspired reflections on honesty and kindness offer hope to a society daily facing fear, heartache, and tragedy.


Rachel Smith
Rachel is a writer, a new mum and attends King’s Church Durham


Rachel Smith


  1. warm & thought-provoking, thanks

    By Bruce Gulland  -  26 Jun 2020

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