Monday, January 21, 2008

Masefield's The Box of Delights

ALA Midwinter (Jan 11-14) was a peculiar experience (at least, for me). On the one hand, I was there for work purposes, attending some sessions and schmoozing colleagues in the hall and in the exhibits.

In another light, however, I'm there for fun. You can wander the booths in the exhibit hall for hours, thumbing through advance reading copies of various and sundry worth. Librarians pick up physical copies of titles at tremendous discounts. For example, I wafted through the itty-bitty booth that New York Review of Books had and picked up three wonderful titles -- The Box of Delights by John Masefield, The House of Arden by E. Nesbit, and The Magic Pudding by Norman Lindsay -- paying less than I would have done at Amazon or Borders.

This week, in between other tasks, I decided to see if I could get through John Masefield's The Box of Delights. I've dipped into it off and on all week and am enjoying the holiday tale, even in the middle days of January. Part of the books attraction are Magic and Splendid Adventure and Wicked, Wicked Gangs of Thieves. (One has to love a villain who silkily refers to his dullard henchmen as "My Astuteness" and "My Brightness".) Kaye, a youth just home from school for the holidays, encounters Cole, an elderly Punch-and-Judy man and his kindnesses to Cole and his dog, Toby, yield all of these delights. There is also Maria Jones, a well-armed young hellion of a girl, who has been expelled from three schools already. Indeed, even the mention of her name makes headmistresses swoon. But she's awfully brave in a pinch. The box of delights is entrusted to Kaye and it's important that he keep it safe while the Wolves are Running.

There is a wonderful description of an English Christmas party for the children at the Bishop's Palace but even more enchanting, Kaye encounters the beautiful Lady who draws him into safety away from the Wolves. "Instantly they were within the quiet of the tree in a room panelled with living oakwood and hung with tapestries of oak leaves in which the birds were alive." Just that sentence conveys a wonderful image and of course, Masefield, a Poet Laureate, then goes on to show us even more Magic. There are anthropomorphic mice who guide Kate through tiny spaces, and there is the larger-than-life Herne the Hunter. There is the kind but patronizing Inspector who never believes the information that Kaye brings to him with regard to the friends and adults kidnapped (scrobbled is the English slang) by the villain and his cohorts all in pursuit of the Box of Delights.

I am somewhat entranced by the world of this book while regretful that I didn't find this in my childhood. Worse yet, my sons are too old for me to read it to them. Perhaps in the proper course of things, I can share this with a grandchild. It's so very magical and so in keeping with a child's understanding of holiday magic.

Out of the many-colored Earth
that eats the light and drinks the rain
Comes Beauty. Wisdom, Mercy, Mirth,
That conquers Reason, Greed and Pain.