And then, of course, there’s the impact of these lofty statistics, the depth of success that is running parallel to the breadth, the Mackesy Effect that can’t be quantified. I defy anyone to scroll through the online comments on his social media pages, browse the reviews of his book, or explore the Twitter hashtag pertaining to the short film, and not be struck by the stories of seemingly endless people whose lives have been profoundly touched by the effect that Mackesy is having upon the world.
My morning peek into the Twitter-verse shows that today alone, the animated film is being watched in schools as an exercise in mental and emotional well-being, copies of the book are being distributed to sufferers of PTSD and gifted to residents of care homes, while the distinctive drawings are adorning the walls of therapy rooms and hospital wards.
Fascination at such an impact can be reduced to a singular word: why?
This isn’t a question dubiously asked from a safe distance, surveying the astonishing success and scratching my head with scepticism. I am by no means unconvinced by the genius of it all. Quite the contrary, my copy of the book is one of the most well-thumbed books I own. I pull it off my shelf and open it up more regularly than I care to admit, each time utterly bewildered as to why it feels as though it was written just for that precise moment.
And so, to ask the question once more: what is it about this simple fable, in all of its various forms, that is continuing to captivate us? I have a theory. One that was somewhat hidden in plain sight all along.
There’s a phrase that has been whirring around my mind as I’ve been probing at Mackesy’s enchanting work: it is a fable in which children can paddle and elephants can swim. This phrase has been frequently used to describe a particular biblical book, the Gospel of John.
John’s Gospel has a reputation for being somewhat of a literary and theological enigma. Therefore, whether it be in pure delight or utter defeat, John’s Gospel has been described in this way – as a text in which children can paddle and elephants swim.
Far more than a whimsical-sounding review, this rather endearing visual very succinctly sums up the paradox that is the literary nature of the fourth Gospel. It can be read and understood at a surface level, each scene working together to create a tapestry of moments, curated to tell the tale of a life that caught the attention of everyone around it. And of course, a death and resurrection, painstakingly recorded to ensure that the impact of such a momentous life moves beyond the confines of first-hand witnesses. This is how the fourth Gospel has been paddled in for two millennia.