book review: Box of Delights by John Masefield


Christmas time is the perfect moment to choose a story to read that is dripping with yuletide references and a classic battle of good versus evil.

Kay Harker is coming home from school for Christmas and bumps into a punch and judy man and a couple of curates on the train and his adventure begins. The old punch and judy man, Cole Hawkins, asks him to do him a favour telling an old woman in the village that the wolves are running and from that moment on the young Kay is drawn into the protection and magic of the box of delights.

Kay is up against Abner Brown and his gang that are based in an old missionary college and choose to dress as clergymen when not running around the countryside as wolves or flying through the air in quiet mysterious airplane cars.

The Box of Delights contains a way into the past and can help the owner go small or fly through the air, both options Kay uses widely as he discovers the plot of Abner Brown and his gang. Brown wants the box for its magic and having kidnapped Hawkins then starts to work back through everyone the old man might have met taking them captive in the cells in the cellar of the old missionary college hoping they will tell him the location of the box.

He never chooses to scrobble Kay because the boy’s former governess is Brown’s mistress and she informs Abner that the boy was stupid and couldn’t possibly have been trusted with such an important object.

Through a series of magic moments in the present, with mice, fairies and rats all emerging from the hidden places, to adventures in the past Kay is brought to a climatic fight with Brown.

Reunited with Hawkins the magic of the box helps them escape but it is plain and simple greed and double crossing that see off Abner.

Despite snow and the capture of the clergy the box comes to the rescue and the Christmas Eve service, the 1000th at Tatchester Cathedral, is saved.

The story is a wonderful Christmas read and the BBC made it into a drama back in 1984 that is still enchanting despite the dated look of the special effects. One thing sticks in my mind, which is why even when he makes his friends small and they meet fairies etc, why do they never talk about it afterwards? Was it all a dream? Perhaps.

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