John Masefield’s The Box of Delights: or When the Wolves Were Running

Kay Harker is on his way home from boarding school for the Christmas holidays when he finds himself being followed by two suspicious characters. When he arrives home he finds that not only will he be sharing his holidays with the four Jones children, including the fearless Maria Jones, but people around him begin to disappear after a mysterious old man gives Kay a message to pass along: “The wolves are running.” Then Kay is entrusted with a magical box which the evil wizard Abner Browne and his witch wife Sylvia Daisy Pouncer would do anything to get their hands on, including having their gang kidnap Kay’s friends.

The Box of Delights: or When the Wolves Were Running, first published in 1935, is the sequel to The Midnight Folk, yet it can be read as a stand-alone novel. In some ways, it is even more charming than The Midnight Folk, as it seems to make more use of British history and folklore. As Kay time-travels through history, he gets to witness the Trojan War, march with ancient Romans and converse with a medieval alchemist. At the same time, The Box of Delights is a seasonal story about the darkest time of the year in which Kay meets such figures of British folklore as Herne the Hunter and the Oak Tree Lady.

Once again, Masefield’s poetical prose is worth mentioning, especially those passages which demonstrate Masefield’s love of nature. The birds of the air and the beasts of the field remain, even when granted the power of speech, recognizably animal-like (one of my favorite quotes comes from a mouse which describes cats as “doomsday in fur”).

Long before the phrase “crossover genre” became a label for selling more books, The Box of Delights was written as a thriller, a fantasy, and a story of the dark time of the year, and it remains a perfect tale for reading while snuggled up in a blanket on a snowy day.

(New York Review of Books Children’s Collection, 2007)

About

Kestrell Rath, reviewer, is a bibliophile, owner of the Blind Bookworm page, and runs a mailing list for blind readers using new technology. She attends college in Boston.