“Time and Tide and buttered eggs wait for no man.”
The Box of Delights, is a 1935 children`s book by John Masefield, and it is the most Christmassy of all books you care to mention. Young Kay Harker while returning home to Seekings and the welcoming presence of his gang of cousins, is given the eponymous Box for his care and protection, by a mysterious Punch and Judy man, Cole Hawlings, “Only, I do date from pagan times, and age makes joints to creak.” The Box gives it`s owner the power to shrink to any size, get to places at lightning speed, or both at once.
As is mostly the case, the box is a treasure of such a megatonnage of magnitude, that it should be entrusted to a large national army for safe keeping, rather than a young boy, but that would negate the fun of the adventure, because very soon a gang of crooks with more than a whiff of magic about them, led by the dark magician, Abner Brown and his witch wife, Daisy Pouncer, are on the case, and hot on the heels of young master Harker and his precious box.
In the tradition of all the best children`s books, the adults not only disappear from the scene early on, but are absolutely no use whatsoever to our young hero, as he uses the box to travel back and forth in time to avoid detection and capture by the evil Abner and his minions.
The sense of the past is strong in this book as Kay takes a short cut ……….” through Haunted Lane as it was called, which was a way he did not like, for it was a very dark lane of old houses some of which were still marked with red crosses on their doors to show that within them two centuries before, someone had lain sick of the plague.”
With the adults conspiring through ineptitude to being snowed in elsewhere and unable to help, leaving the children pretty much to their own devices, Masefield`s beautifully dreamy, almost hallucinogenic and poetic language, drifts soporifically to the fore, to turn this wondrous book into one of the truly great Christmas literary classics.
Not to say that this book is all about a nostalgic past; there are gangsters, aeroplanes, cars which turn into aeoplanes, and lots of good old fashioned magic – black and white, as Abner buys a snowstorm from a witch………..
He lifted his hand in a strange way and, instantly, an old, old crone, was thrust through the floor by little red hands, towards him. She looked so old she might have been a thousand years or more; nose and chin almost met; her face was the colour of old wood.She seemed terrified of Abner.
“What d`you want with me master?” she said.
“I want a storm out of the north and the east,” Abner said, “With snow.”
Dreamy and poetic, these passages and descriptions are rather important to The Box of Delights. John Masefield was poet laureate from 1930 until he died in 1967, and his poetic prose trips along like a butterfly on an illegal, hallucinogenic chemical substance……….It was a grim winter morning, threatening a gale. Something in the light, with it`s hard sinister clearness, gave mystery and dread to those hills. “They look just the sort of hills,” Kay said to himself, “Where you might come upon a Dark Tower, and blow a horn at the gate for something to happen.”
Masefield`s gorgeous prose garlands his book with it`s boughs of sumptuous description, such as the Bishop of Tatchester`s Christmas tree:
It`s bigger boughs were decked with the glittering coloured glass globes which Kay so much admired. The lesser boughs were lit with countless coloured electric lights like tropical fruits: ever so much better, Kay thought, than those coloured candles which drip wax everywhere and so often set fire to the tree and to the presents. At the top of this great green fir-tree was a globe of red light set about with fiery white rays for the Christmas star.
The whole book is shot through with such a folklorish, mythological atmosphere that even the “real” world that Kay inhabits, is full of weird, eerie, mysterious, enigmatic, and at times, downright frightening satanic figures, seemingly dredged up from a dark age of malignant, scary magic, banished into the shadows by the electric light and rational thought of modern times.
Abner Brown and Daisy Pouncer will stop at nothing to cancel Christmas, steal the Box of Delights and herald a new age of darkness and evil magic: will they succeed, or will Kay Harker and his cousins put a spanner in their works, keep the precious box safe, save the day, celebrate Christmas and open their presents?
It`s a thriller, it`s a romp and a spellbinding fantasy of the imagination for children of all ages……….It`s a great book and a perfect Christmas treat.