The Box of Delights
At once a thriller, a romp, and a spellbinding fantasy,The Box of Delights is a great English children’s book and a perfect Christmas treat.
Strange things begin to happen the minute young Kay Harker boards the train to go home for Christmas and finds himself under observation by two very shifty-looking characters. Arriving at his destination, the boy is immediately accosted by a bright-eyed old man with a mysterious message: “The wolves are running.” Soon danger is everywhere, as a gang of criminals headed by the notorious wizard Abner Brown and his witch wife Sylvia Daisy Pouncer gets to work. What does Abner Brown want? The magic box that the old man has entrusted to Kay, which allows him to travel freely not only in space but in time, too. The gang will stop at nothing to carry out their plan, even kidnapping Kay’s friend, the tough little Maria Jones, and threatening to cancel Christmas celebrations altogether. But with the help of his allies, including an intrepid mouse, a squadron of Roman soldiers, the legendary Herne the Hunter, and the inventor of the Box of Delights himself, Kay just may be able rescue his friend, foil Abner Brown’s plot, and save Christmas, too.
John Masefield (1878-1967) was born in Herefordshire, England. After being orphaned at an early age, he was sent to sea aboard the school-ship HMS Conway in preparation for a naval career. Masefield’s apprenticeship was disastrous—he was classified as a Distressed British Seaman after a voyage around Cape Horn—and he soon left the ship. Arrangements were then made for him to join another ship in New York. But Masefield had other plans: he deserted ship vowing “to be a writer, come what might.”
At seventeen Masefield was living as a vagrant in America. He found work as a barhand but eventually secured employment at a carpet factory. Thinking that journalism might allow him to write for a living, Masefield returned to England in 1897.
Masefield’s first volume of poetry, Salt-Water Ballads, was published in 1902, however, it was not until the publication of The Everlasting Mercy in 1911 that he made his mark on the literary scene. The success of his second book was followed by the publication of several long narrative poems, including Dauber (1914) and Reynard the Fox (1919).
With the outbreak of the war, Masefield became an orderly at a hospital in France. He also took charge of a motorboat ambulance service at Gallipoli in 1915. After the Allied failure there, Masefield visited America and undertook a series of lectures in support of the war effort. In 1930 he was appointed Poet Laureate, and five years later the much-loved Masefield was awarded the Order of Merit. He died on May 12, 1967, and his ashes were interred in Poets’ Corner, Westminster Abbey.
The two Kay Harker books, The Midnight Folk (1927) and The Box of Delights (1935), are Masefield’s lasting contribution to children’s fantasy literature. The Box of Delights is now an established Christmas favorite and as much a part of the season as Dickens’s A Christmas Carol.
It is...a unique work and will often be re-read...the beauties, all the “delights” that keep on emerging from the box—are so exquisite, and quite unlike anything I have seen elsewhere.
— C.S. Lewis
First published in 1935, The Box of Delights by John Masefield is newly available. In the adventure-laden Christmas story, Kay Harker (also the protagonist of Masefield’s The Midnight Folk) returns from boarding school for the holidays and becomes involved in a struggle with a wizard and witch who wish to possess the eponymous box.
— Publishers Weekly
Every chapter in this book is marvelous, but the real delight derives from Masefield’s style and the idiosyncratic, colorful speech of his various characters...Lovely stuff.
— The Washington Post
This book is a writer’s oft-raided treasure trove...the world’s best “crossover book”...It does time-travel better than Narnia...The story floats on brilliant, eccentric dialogue and...never loses its snowy-Christmas, Nutcracker enchantment...
— The Independent (UK)
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