Thread: HEAVEN: Dec 2015. Book Group: "The Box Of Delights" by John Masefield Board: Limbo / Ship of Fools.


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Posted by TurquoiseTastic (# 8978) on :
 
Hello everyone and welcome to the Christmas book thread... yes, yes I know we are still in the season of Advent, but by the time we're discussing the book it'll be pretty much Christmas, innit.

And it is indeed a book which I particularly associate with Christmas. My thanks go out across three decades to my former English teacher Mr. Coghlan who sang the praises of the book to us. He also encouraged us to watch the splendid BBC adaptation involving Patrick Troughton (it needed no other recommendation to this Doctor Who fan). I remember watching it on Christmas Day just before dinner in the evening.

Anyway I was shocked to find that the copy I have had for many years is the abridged version! I have now secured a copy of the full version and please check to make sure you have done the same!

Happy reading and I'll post some questions up around the 20th.

[ 24. March 2016, 09:19: Message edited by: Firenze ]
 
Posted by Ariel (# 58) on :
 
Indeed. I have my old copy of the full version that I've had since childhood though lacking a few pages now. I bought what I thought was a replacement, only to discover it was the abridged version, truncated by a soulless editor, and most of the poetic bits (including the prose) have been removed as irrelevant to the plot. I'm surprised they didn't update it as well while they were at it.
 
Posted by Sarasa (# 12271) on :
 
I've just downloaded this to my Kindle. I remember something about the abridged version in discussions on the book thread, so I'm glad to report this is the full version. I don't know how I've managed never to read it as I've read most children's classics in my time, looking foirward to the discussion.
 
Posted by Penny S (# 14768) on :
 
I've got both books, and will probably race through "The Midnight Folk" first. I had that for Christmas one year after it had been broadcast in Children's Hour. I went upstairs to start reading, and when I was called down for a chore I said I was just finishing the chapter. Unlike "Box", it has no chapters!
 
Posted by Tree Bee (# 4033) on :
 
Like Sarasa, I haven't read this before though I have a vague memory of it being televised.
My copy is the full monty.
 
Posted by Curiosity killed ... (# 11770) on :
 
I have downloaded this to my Kindle too and am looking forward to it. (Although most of my reading will probably be later in the month when I will be able to read travelling, not w*rk.)
 
Posted by Tubbs (# 440) on :
 
I read both last month so will pop back to contribute once the questions are up

Tubbs
 
Posted by Penny S (# 14768) on :
 
Without doing spoilers, it has occurred to me that other things were being written at the time that "The Midnight Folk" and "Box" were written that they fit in with. I remember something else that was on Children's Hour that involved children going on magical journeys somewhere. I thought it was "Where the Rainbow Ends" but it wasn't - though it is of the genre. The one that I recall had them meeting Mercury on the journey and visiting the planet, as well as bumping into St George for some reason.
If anyone else remembers it, I'd like to track it down.
 
Posted by Sir Kevin (# 3492) on :
 
I am not familiar with this book. Can anyone give me a brief synopsis? I'll see if we can get this on Z's Nook...
 
Posted by Ariel (# 58) on :
 
It's a children's book. A 1930's fantasy story. I won't say more, but Google will help you to find out.
 
Posted by Jane R (# 331) on :
 
Is there room in this discussion for someone who read it for the first time (as a result of noticing it was about to be discussed on the Ship) and went 'meh'?

My Other Half reads it every Christmas. It's part of his Christmas rituals. But I just don't *get* why he likes it so much...
 
Posted by Tubbs (# 440) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Jane R:
Is there room in this discussion for someone who read it for the first time (as a result of noticing it was about to be discussed on the Ship) and went 'meh'?

My Other Half reads it every Christmas. It's part of his Christmas rituals. But I just don't *get* why he likes it so much...

It's not my party, but I don't see why not.

Tubbs
 
Posted by Firenze (# 619) on :
 
I have just downloaded this to my Kindle.

I heard a Children's Hour adaptation when I was a very small child, so it has always occupied that vivid, fragmented space of early memories.

I am almost afraid to read it now, in case it turns out to be just a book.
 
Posted by Ariel (# 58) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Jane R:
Is there room in this discussion for someone who read it for the first time (as a result of noticing it was about to be discussed on the Ship) and went 'meh'?

Absolutely, it would be good to have your input. I've been re-reading it over the years and still partly see it from my childhood perspective, when I loved the book. As an adult I've come to see it differently. I'm not sure how much I'd like it if I read it now for the first time, so I'll be interested to see if you come up with any of the same points.
 
Posted by Sarasa (# 12271) on :
 
I think the discussion of this book is going to be interesting. I'm another one coming from the reading it for the first time as an adult angle. I think I'd probably have a different view of the book if I'd read it as a child.
I think we should hold off too much discussion fo the actual book until TurqouiseTastic has had a chance to post some questions. Roll on the the 20th!

[ 09. December 2015, 19:29: Message edited by: Sarasa ]
 
Posted by cattyish (# 7829) on :
 
This is one of my re-read at Christmas books. It is quite short. I once made the mistake of taking it on a four hour flight. Poor Mr C; I ran out of book.

Cattyish, still has the VHS videos of the BBC version.
 
Posted by Penny S (# 14768) on :
 
Think I've got it somewhere, too. As I recall, bits of it were very close to the original, but twee fairy bits had strangely disappeared.
 
Posted by TurquoiseTastic (# 8978) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Tubbs:
quote:
Originally posted by Jane R:
Is there room in this discussion for someone who read it for the first time (as a result of noticing it was about to be discussed on the Ship) and went 'meh'?

My Other Half reads it every Christmas. It's part of his Christmas rituals. But I just don't *get* why he likes it so much...

It's not my party, but I don't see why not.

Tubbs

Absolutely fine - it would seem odd to have a book group where one wasn't allowed to dislike the book under discussion! Interesting thoughts may arise even if the book is not one's cup of tea.
 
Posted by ArachnidinElmet (# 17346) on :
 
The book has been ordered from the library, so I'll probably get it just as you've all finished the discussion, but it's on its way.
 
Posted by Curiosity killed ... (# 11770) on :
 
We've been rude about books before, The Rosie Project and The Miniaturist come to mind. And then there was a book club I led on the The Lieutenant, which a lot of us liked; one of the Australian shipmates, who knew far more about the background; commented on that one adversely.

I'm another reading Box of Delights for the first time as an adult. I'm going to be late to the party.
 
Posted by Eirenist (# 13343) on :
 
I heard it as a radio play of BBC Children's Hour and loved it. The only thing I disliked on reading the book itself was the over-use of the adjective 'charming', surprising in a book written by a poet.
 
Posted by Penny S (# 14768) on :
 
I believe there was a lovely suit of armour, as well. Weak word and questionable concept.
 
Posted by Eirenist (# 13343) on :
 
'Lovely little', if I remember correctly. But it's pointless to read back 21st-century anti-violence sentiments into one's view of a book written in the 1930s. As far as the radio series is concerned, I think a big factor was the use of music by Lance Sieveking, the director - Victor Hely-Hutchinson's 'Carol Symphony' and snatches of 'Pictures from an Exhibition' to give a frisson at appropriate moments. But it's the book you'll be considering.
 
Posted by Penny S (# 14768) on :
 
It's not just the pacifist view of armour - there's a lot about metal tubing that doesn't really deserve that word. (And not all that quick to put on, either.)
 
Posted by Eirenist (# 13343) on :
 
It was only tough little Maria who was obsessed with guns, I think.
 
Posted by Penny S (# 14768) on :
 
Funnily enough, I liked, and still like, Maria!
 
Posted by Eirenist (# 13343) on :
 
I agree: although she was 'scrobbled like a greenhorn' (a line omitted from the TV version), it was because the villains thought she would be a valuable addition to their gang.
 
Posted by ArachnidinElmet (# 17346) on :
 
Having checked out my copy, requested from the library, it turns out to be the abridged version mentioned upthread. Gah. It's the only available copy, so I'll have to run with it. Does anybody know how much has been removed in abridging?
 
Posted by Garasu (# 17152) on :
 
If it's The box of delights : When the wolves were running / John Masefield ; abridged by Patricia Crampton ; illustrated by Faith Jaques. - New York : Macmillan, 1984., then it's about half the length of the unabridged version.
 
Posted by Ariel (# 58) on :
 
What was the point of that?

I did object to the abridging - the book was written by a Poet Laureate, and the poetic bits were an integral part of the pleasure of it and should have been left in. It wasn't necessary to remove them.
 
Posted by Penny S (# 14768) on :
 
Really good illustrator, though.
 
Posted by ArachnidinElmet (# 17346) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Garasu:
If it's The box of delights : When the wolves were running / John Masefield ; abridged by Patricia Crampton ; illustrated by Faith Jaques. - New York : Macmillan, 1984., then it's about half the length of the unabridged version.

Yep, that's the one. It's the only one I can lay my hands on at the moment, so it'll have to do for the time being.
 
Posted by Eirenist (# 13343) on :
 
There's a paperback edition published by Egmont UK in 2008, text 'based on a proof copy preceding the first English edition, corrected fronm the manuscript held at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas, Austin). ISBN number is 978-1-4052-3253-1. It's illustrated by Quentin Blake.
 
Posted by TurquoiseTastic (# 8978) on :
 
OK fellow Boxers – I hope you have enjoyed your reading. Having (unbeknownst to me) only possessed the abridgement before I feel I have now experienced virtually a whole new book!

Here are a few possible discussion starters. Please excuse my literary moment of madness... (well, Masefield started it...)


The Hero is our little Kay
Do you like him? Is he OK?

The Box with all that magic stuff in
How does it score as a MacGuffin?

Those flights of fancy, Herne and such
Fantastic? Or are they Too Much?

Bishops and Curates Throng the Pages
Is this a book from Christian Ages?

Mysterious Timey-Wimey Things
Tell me your thoughts on what they bring

“Dreamlike” Say Some – As we Find Out!
Is the Last Page a Big Cop-Out?

 
Posted by Ariel (# 58) on :
 
Re-reading the book I was struck by what a confident and fearless character Kay is. Much less of a boy than Peter, who comes across as a pale shadow a lot of the time.

The Box is a lovely concept, but what I really want to know is who Cole is. He's been wandering the roads for centuries. Why? And are there more like him? What's his story?

quote:
Those flights of fancy, Herne and such
Fantastic? Or are they Too Much?

For me those are some of the loveliest parts of the book. It's actually quite a dark book to re-read as an adult: the descriptions of savage winter days, run-down areas, dismal cellars, severe weather and darkness pervade a lot of it, so the breaks are the more welcome. Cole's children's show in the early part of the book with the little army emerging from the skirting board is rather twee, though.

(Another disappointment for me has always been the description of the wonderful presents at the Bishop's Christmas party. The boys get all these marvellous toys, but the list for the girls is about two-thirds shorter and I remember thinking as a child how disappointed I'd have been just to get a necklace, sewing kit and dressing-up clothes.)

I've never thought of the book as being specifically Christian. It's just one of those things: only very dark forces would scrobble clergy.

The trip back in time is a bit of a dreamlike sequence which Kay optimistically plunges into confident he'll find a way out somehow - which in real terms is a very big expectation. Yet of course it does happen.

quote:
Is the Last Page a Big Cop-Out?

I'm going with Yes. It always felt too rushed and simplistic an explanation.

I think it's the "Midnight Folk" where Maria, Peter and Jemima are the names of Kay's childhood toys who were his companions then? That's about the only thing that makes this plausible. They're much less developed characters throughout the book and apart from Maria it's hard to get a sense of them as people.
 
Posted by Penny S (# 14768) on :
 
I've always felt that the dream explanation was a cop-out. Masefield didn't do it in "The Midnight Folk", where Peter, Maria and Jemima were among the toys which had been removed by Pouncer. The book doesn't end with Caroline Louisa telling him about the Joneses, so it remains in the air about the possibility of their being dreams or not.

If they are dreams based on his toys, it doesn't say much about his school as a source of friends, even if he has picked up slang.

I wasn't bothered about Herne. (Pratchett did a reference, didn't he, via the god of small hunted things, or have I imagined it?) I had read a lot of books in which people met with long lost deities. My library had a sequence of brilliant Irish ones with Lugh and Angus and so on, and there were others. (Like my lost Mercury and St George adventure.) Probably there could be a thesis in it, including Garner and James Stephens.

I was bothered about the fairies. The soppy sort, they were.

How old would Kay have been - has he had a term at prep school and he is eight? Or would he be eleven? Eight would fit with the fairies and the twee animals, with his being a bit Fotherington-Thomas. Eleven wouldn't.

[ 20. December 2015, 12:14: Message edited by: Penny S ]
 
Posted by Eirenist (# 13343) on :
 
Cole says 'I do date from pagan times'. I have read a comment that the book 'lacks any sense of religious significance'. I think there is religious feeling in it, but not perhaps specifically Christian - despite the dastardly plot to prevent the Christmas service at Tatchester.
The real 'Box of Delights' is surely Kay's imagination.
 
Posted by Penny S (# 14768) on :
 
According to Abner Brown, Cole Hawlings is Ramon Lully. This is referred to in the Wikipedia article on a very interesting person. In a very busy life, he devised a machine for showing the truth of philosophical ideas.

I had two feelings about the Bishop's Christmas gifts. Yes, the girls' gifts were unimaginative, and how preserving of calm it was that Maria was not there. But as well, these were expensive gifts, given to the children of upper middle class families. Even though the ones we know are currently without their families. Is this the best use of the Bishop's largesse?
 
Posted by Penny S (# 14768) on :
 
I had a thought about Cole Hawlings, leading me towards the work of Alfred Watkins, and found this.
quote:
Now in the ‘N. E. D.’ is the mention of a word so obscure as to have a doubtful existence. It is our friend “cole” with the meaning of a juggler. There is also given, as of more frequent usage, “cole-prophet,” sometimes spelt “ cold-prophet,” as also meaning (in 1532) a wizard, sorcerer, or diviner of the false type. There is also there the word “cole-staff” or “cowl-staff,” used (in the Middle Ages) as a carrying-stick—evidently long like a wand.
From here: Watkins on Coldharbours.

This could have fed into Masefield's thinking. (It could even have a reference to dear Sylvia Daisy in it.)

Hawlings, though it has the feel of a name, turns out not to be one, no one has it. It isn't a placename, either. The "ingas" ending implies some early English group, or could be a diminutive. "Haw" comes from an early word for an enclosure, and is the ancestor of "hedge". I want it to mean something related to holy people, through a placename element "hoh".

Religious historical landscapes has discussion of both "ingas" names and "hoh" names which shows a connection between the two in Surrey. Whether this idea was available to Masefield I have no idea, and I suspect the surname recalls nothing.

[ 20. December 2015, 16:43: Message edited by: Penny S ]
 
Posted by Jengie jon (# 273) on :
 
Hum just to add to the mix, there is also a St Colman who wanders at least for part of his life ending up on the West Coast of Ireland.

Jengie
 
Posted by TurquoiseTastic (# 8978) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Ariel:
Re-reading the book I was struck by what a confident and fearless character Kay is. Much less of a boy than Peter, who comes across as a pale shadow a lot of the time.

I agree and I have always liked Kay. He takes adventures in his stride and wastes no time disbelieving things. He can be cheeky and even mischievous but has a very firm moral compass.

He is friendly but seems perfectly happy to be on his own - a rather special and unusual person without being weird at all. There is a bit where Herne, I think, rewards Kay by allowing him into Faery for one day a year. That sounds about right - he is the sort of person who would be allowed to do that, like Tolkien's Smith of Wootton Major.

If Kay were in the Moomin books he would be Snufkin. Peter would be more like Moomintroll. Maria would be Little My, of course.

I would be sorry to think that the Joneses were just in Kay's imagination. I incline to think that he named some of his toys after them because he likes them.
 
Posted by Tree Bee (# 4033) on :
 
The Hero is our little Kay
Do you like him? Is he OK?

Resourceful lad I have to say
Independent, brave all day

The Box with all that magic stuff in
How does it score as a MacGuffin?

Guess it wasn't made of tin
With his box he had to win

Those flights of fancy, Herne and such
Fantastic? Or are they Too Much?

Here I will not pull a punch
To my mind they were too much

Bishops and Curates Throng the Pages
Is this a book from Christian Ages?

Church with people still engages
At Christmas time tradition rages

Mysterious Timey-Wimey Things
Tell me your thoughts on what they bring

Pirates,islands, wolves and things
Good and evil on the wing

“Dreamlike” Say Some – As we Find Out!
Is the Last Page a Big Cop-Out?

At the end I did breathe out
Relieved the peril came to nought

The author couldn't have intended a grandma in 2015 to read and enjoy this I'm thinking. The children were frighteningly independent and unsupervised and this concerned me. I found some parts tedious but as a whole I was engaged in the flights of fancy.
I loved the author's sense of humour and the Christmassy atmosphere. And Maria is a pip!
 
Posted by Ariel (# 58) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Tree Bee:
The author couldn't have intended a grandma in 2015 to read and enjoy this I'm thinking. The children were frighteningly independent and unsupervised and this concerned me.

You mean Kay going on a train journey by himself, talking to strange men, going into a pub by himself, the children being left alone with the servants to look after them, sneaking out during the night and so on?

The freedom he had is essential to the story, which couldn't really work in modern times. These days Kay would have had his mobile phone with him at all times, and someone to travel with him on the train, and he'd have been booted out of the pub for trying to sneak in under-age, where he then wouldn't have met Cole.
 
Posted by Tree Bee (# 4033) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Ariel:
quote:
Originally posted by Tree Bee:
The author couldn't have intended a grandma in 2015 to read and enjoy this I'm thinking. The children were frighteningly independent and unsupervised and this concerned me.

You mean Kay going on a train journey by himself, talking to strange men, going into a pub by himself, the children being left alone with the servants to look after them, sneaking out during the night and so on?

The freedom he had is essential to the story, which couldn't really work in modern times. These days Kay would have had his mobile phone with him at all times, and someone to travel with him on the train, and he'd have been booted out of the pub for trying to sneak in under-age, where he then wouldn't have met Cole.

Yes, all that stuff. As I'm an older lady reading the book now, my perspective is all wrong if I'm going to immerse myself in the story. If I'd known it was all a dream I could have relaxed a bit about all the scrobbling. But I didn't.
 
Posted by Ariel (# 58) on :
 
One of the questions this story raises is about personal freedom. Could this story ever have been written in the current era? Could it ever be updated without significant rewriting/plot alteration? And are modern children over-protected in some ways? Would a modern child enjoy this story or be equally disconcerted by it?
 
Posted by Garasu (# 17152) on :
 
I'm not sure that Percy Jackson is particularly wrapped in cotton wool?

Haven't children's books always had to find some way of nullifying adult involvement?
 
Posted by venbede (# 16669) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Garasu:
Haven't children's books always had to find some way of nullifying adult involvement?

Well quite. I seriously wonder what children’s classics are left if there are no unsupervised children. Narnia, Swallows and Amazons, Famous Five, Alice, Treasure Island, Tom Sawyer…

Children want to enjoy adventures and be people in their own right.

(Even in Little Women, the story depends on the absence of the father.)
 
Posted by Ariel (# 58) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by venbede:
Well quite. I seriously wonder what children’s classics are left if there are no unsupervised children. Narnia, Swallows and Amazons, Famous Five, Alice, Treasure Island, Tom Sawyer…

... which are all pre-21st century books. I do wonder whether there are any modern books for children which would survive as "children's classics" - there may be, I'm not familiar with the range apart from Harry Potter.
 
Posted by venbede (# 16669) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Ariel:
Would a modern child enjoy this story or be equally disconcerted by it?

If children only read books that reflect their own sociological situation, why do they read Tolkien, Alice or Winnie the Pooh?

As I say they want adventures and they can have vicariously in books which their over protected lives don't allow.

[ 23. December 2015, 08:00: Message edited by: venbede ]
 
Posted by Garasu (# 17152) on :
 
But to pick up on the "are they being written in the 21st century" question, check out the list of Carnegie medal nominees or Costa children's book awards (as proxies for classics) and you'll find a load of them.
 
Posted by Sarasa (# 12271) on :
 
Did I like it?
Not a Lot.
Why? You ask,
No decent plot


I think the trouble for me with Box of Delights is that I read it with my adult head firmly on. Actually I gave up about a third of the way through, when I skipped forward and discovered it was all a dream. It reminded me of Turkish Delight. Nice in small amounts, but sickly if you eat the lot. I think I missed my window of opportunity, in the same way I'm not that keen on WInnie the Poohh. My husband and son love it, but they were introduced at the right age, by the time I read it I thought it all a bit twee.
There were things about Box of Delights that I wanted to like, the phrase 'the wolves are running' is great, and some of the decriptions are wonderful. However I found it impossible to get a sense of place and what was happening in my head. I love fantasy, but I have to belive in the world it is set in and this wasn't beliveable for me.
 
Posted by agingjb (# 16555) on :
 
I wonder why the last paragraph wasn't simply replaced by the sentence:

"The singing shook the whole world."
 
Posted by Jane R (# 331) on :
 
If this is your favourite Christmas book ever, look away now - I agree with Sarasa!

Kay seemed to have no discernible personality. Or perhaps I just didn't like him. I rather liked Maria, but she was the only really memorable character in the book.

The Box... meh. I don't object to the occasional appearance of Herne the Hunter and similar, but many other authors have done this sort of thing rather better. I am probably being unfair to John Masefield here, because he did it before Diana Wynne Jones, Catherine Fisher, Susan Cooper, Terry Pratchett et al., but that's how I feel about it.

I thought the ending was a complete cop-out but it did explain why the police were so sanguine about all the mysterious kidnappings and disappearances in their patch.

I also agree with Penny S: having a party and handing out expensive presents to the upper-middle-class children of the neighbourhood is not the best use of the Bishop's spare cash. However, as this is Kay's fantasy Bishop perhaps we should not judge him too harshly. Perhaps the real Bishop has parties for the working-class children instead and the party Kay goes to is just a dream about how he'd like things to be.

No, it's not a Christian book in spite of the preoccupation with carol-singing and disappearing clergy. The author doesn't seem to have much idea about how the Anglican church actually works; a real Bishop wouldn't have time to go wandering off carol-singing a few days before Christmas, even if he wanted to (although having said that, our Archbishop is currently on pilgrimage; I think the Dean is minding the shop). There's never a coherent explanation of why it would be such a great victory for the Forces of Darkness if the Christmas service in the cathedral didn't take place, either.

And I hated the style; I thought it was badly over-written. He should have stuck to poetry.
 
Posted by Leorning Cniht (# 17564) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Jane R:

No, it's not a Christian book in spite of the preoccupation with carol-singing and disappearing clergy. The author doesn't seem to have much idea about how the Anglican church actually works; a real Bishop wouldn't have time to go wandering off carol-singing a few days before Christmas, even if he wanted to.

It's not a "Christian" book, but it's a book that resides in a Christian culture. I don't know what Masefield thought Bishops did, but what's in play here is what Kay thought Bishops did. Sing carols, hold church services and look episcopal is not an unreasonable expectation for a small boy to have of a Bishop.

In Kay's world, the Bishop, senior clergy, and church at Christmas are markers for everything that is right and proper.
 
Posted by Leorning Cniht (# 17564) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Garasu:
But to pick up on the "are they being written in the 21st century" question, check out the list of Carnegie medal nominees or Costa children's book awards (as proxies for classics) and you'll find a load of them.

As an exercise, I went and looked at the earlier books on the Carnegie list, to get a sense of whether they're really indicators of "classics" (The Costa prize is modern.)

Of the Carnegie medallists written before I became of age to read them, I've read four: The Borrowers, The Last Battle, Tom's Midnight Garden, and Watership Down.

Those aren't great odds.

I've read more of the recent ones, because they tend to be books I've given to siblings, nieces and nephews and the like, but it suggests that something less than 10% will stand the test of time.
 
Posted by venbede (# 16669) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Leorning Cniht:
It's not a "Christian" book, but it's a book that resides in a Christian culture.

A book can have definite religious aspect without being Christian. The most powerful account of a mystical experience in a children's book, and indeed in literature, is the chapter "The Piper at the Gates of Dawn" in "The Wind in the Willows",which is pantheistic.

I'm not a fan of "The Box of Delights". I'll write later.
 
Posted by venbede (# 16669) on :
 
During a convalescence this month, I was looking for easy and comforting reading and I read The Midnight Folk, which I read as a child, and started The Box of Delights.

Half way through I found I was reading less and less each day and not enjoying it so, very unusually for me, I gave up. I preferred The Midnight Folk, although I thought the plot about the Harker treasure was weak. It was the image of a lonely little boy finding comfort in his fantasies that was so endearing. In The Box of Delights, Kay is no longer so unhappy so that doesn’t work. The fantasies and plot didn’t seem to be going anywhere.

But I didn’t finish it, so I may be unfair.

Incidentally, what happened to Kay’s parents? He is clearly unhappy in the earlier book, but he never seems to miss them. The absence of parents is a standard feature of children’s books, but it is odd not to be traumatised by being an orphan.
 
Posted by Ariel (# 58) on :
 
Of the Carnegie ones I've read, Philip Pullman's "Northern Lights" has Lyra who's another one who has an unusual amount of freedom and no parental restrictions, until Mrs Coulter tries to put some in place.

"The Owl Service" by Alan Garner features teenagers who go off and do their own thing. "A Stranger at Green Knowe" by Lucy Boston is the story of an orphaned Chinese boy. "The Last Battle" by C S Lewis features children who are separated from their parents and go off and have adventures. Then there's the Arthur Ransome story, where, um, there's a bit of a theme going on...
 
Posted by venbede (# 16669) on :
 
Arthur Ransome...

I'm reading Winter Holiday at the moment and dragging it out to enjoy it. One of my favourite books.

The parents in Ransome have the right idea, however shocking some here may find it.

Better drowned than duffers. If not duffers won't drown.
 
Posted by Jane R (# 331) on :
 
Leorning Cniht:
quote:
Of the Carnegie medallists written before I became of age to read them, I've read four: The Borrowers, The Last Battle, Tom's Midnight Garden, and Watership Down.

Those aren't great odds.

I don't think 'the classics' are restricted to 'books everyone must have read' (though I'm surprised you never read any Arthur Ransome...) D H Lawrence is widely acknowledged (and studied) as one of the greats of 20th century literature, but I've never read any of his books (except for the first two paragraphs of 'Women in Love') and have no intention of doing so. And you couldn't pay me enough to read 'Ulysses', even though many people whose judgement I otherwise respect rave about it.

I think some of the best contemporary British writers are writing YA/children's books. Maybe some of their books will stand the test of time. 10% sounds about right, but it may not be the 10% that you've read. It's very difficult to tell who will still be popular a hundred years from now; Edward Bulwer-Lytton was so popular in the 19th century that he has his own classmark in the Dewey Decimal System (in earlier editions of it, anyway) but nowadays he is famous mainly for beginning one of his books with the immortal line "It was a dark and stormy night".
 
Posted by Jane R (# 331) on :
 
Oh, and
quote:
I don't know what Masefield thought Bishops did, but what's in play here is what Kay thought Bishops did. Sing carols, hold church services and look episcopal is not an unreasonable expectation for a small boy to have of a Bishop.
That's true (and essentially the same point I made about the Christmas parties). Perhaps I was being unfair, but that was one of the things that struck me as odd when I was reading the book (and I still think the end is a cop-out).
 
Posted by Eirenist (# 13343) on :
 
Children's book authors are often more than a little vague about matters ecclesiastical. In 'The Swish of the Curtain' the youngsters get permission from 'the Bishop' to start their theatre in the disused 'Brethren Chapel' IIRC.
 
Posted by Sir Kevin (# 3492) on :
 
My little sister's name is Maria: she didn't like it either!
 
Posted by Curiosity killed ... (# 11770) on :
 
Another one who didn't love this book, and having got two thirds of the way through, not enjoying it, came on here to find the questions. I now don't want to make the effort of finishing it for a damp squib of an ending.

When this book was chosen the eulogising over the descriptions engaged me, but I'm with Jane on:

quote:
Originally posted by Jane R:
The Box... meh. I don't object to the occasional appearance of Herne the Hunter and similar, but many other authors have done this sort of thing rather better. I am probably being unfair to John Masefield here, because he did it before Diana Wynne Jones, Catherine Fisher, Susan Cooper, Terry Pratchett et al., but that's how I feel about it.

<snip>

And I hated the style; I thought it was badly over-written. He should have stuck to poetry.

Kipling wrote better descriptions showing children going back into the past in Puck of Pook's Hill and Rewards and Fairies, published in 1906 and 1910. His fairies had an edge and bite. E E Nesbit had some brilliant descriptions of the past in The House of Arden published in 1910 and some of her Five Children and It and other Psammead stories visited different times and places. Those books were published from 1899 to 1904.

This book gave me faint echoes of Kay from T H White's The Sword in the Stone, published in 1938, where the descriptions of Wart becoming an ant, bird and fish had a point.

I quoted the writing style comment from JaneR as I like John Masefield's poetry. Kipling's books have poems interwoven which are little gems; the verses in The Box of Delights are not.

I found the book started well enough. The descriptions of Cole Hawlings puppet show promised a Box of Delights, but I didn't engage with Kay enough to want to finish it. I also found the occasional references to The Midnight Folk frustrating and wondered if I'd read the wrong book and that I would have liked Kay better if I'd read that book first.
 
Posted by venbede (# 16669) on :
 
I love Puck of Pook's Hill
 
Posted by Nenya (# 16427) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Curiosity killed ...:
I also found the occasional references to The Midnight Folk frustrating and wondered if I'd read the wrong book and that I would have liked Kay better if I'd read that book first.

In my opinion The Midnight Folk is far and away the superior book, which is why I have not engaged with this thread - though have been watching it with interest.
[Smile] Do read it.
 
Posted by Sarasa (# 12271) on :
 
I might have a go at The Midnight Folk . I kept on getting the feeling The Box of Delights would have been more engaging if I'd read it first.
 
Posted by Penny S (# 14768) on :
 
The major difference is that the Midnight Folk is not set in a dream. It also has better verse in it, deriving from folk song idiom. It is not clear (I think) why Kay is in the hands of a guardian and a governess rather than parents. I know there is a connection between it and another of Masefield's books, "Sard Harker", but I'm not sure what. I couldn't get into it. And I tried at a time when I was prepared to get into Apuleius' "Golden Ass", so it must be tricky!

I'm going to read another couple of books I have from childhood which use time travel to examine history - "The Children's Chronicle" by Dorothy Margaret Stuart, and "The Fearless Treasure" by Noel Streatfield, where the journeys start at a hotel on the Hythe seafront in Kent. (I think the Stuart may not involve time travel, but rather the history of a house.)

I can't remember whether someone has mentioned Lucy Boston or not.

Back when Folkestone Junior library was a regular bookhoard of treasures, it had, not only the book I have mentioned above, but also a number of Irish fantasies in which children went back to engage with the Tuatha de Danaan in their battles with the Firbolg and the Fomorians. (The island had problems with immigrants oppressing the indigenes even then!) They were of the period between the wars, like the Masefield, romantic, but less involved in philosophy than James Stephens. The books one reads as a child do shape one's imagination quite a bit.
 
Posted by ArachnidinElmet (# 17346) on :
 
The Hero is our little Kay
Do you like him? Is he OK?


Yes, kind of. He seems friendly and generous at the beginning. He's adventurous and doesn't panic. OTOH, I don't think he's heroic. He doesn't push the action forward other than to observe what others are doing (such as the fight at the Roman Camp). Despite knowing how dangerous the 'Wolves' are supposed to be, he doesn't do anything about Maria or Peter's disappearances, instead swanning off to explore the box and getting into scrapes that other people have to rescue him from.

The Box with all that magic stuff in
How does it score as a MacGuffin?

Those flights of fancy, Herne and such
Fantastic? Or are they Too Much?


I quite enjoyed them as a separate thing from the events in Tatchester. Masefield can definitely set a scene, if only someone else had done his plotting. They're like two different books.

Mysterious Timey-Wimey Things
Tell me your thoughts on what they bring

“Dreamlike” Say Some – As we Find Out!
Is the Last Page a Big Cop-Out?


Yes, but it's the only way the book makes sense. Travelling hundreds of miles in a minute, quick changes of scene, improbable escapes etc.

I don't know how much reading the abridged version affected my enjoyment of the book, but it certainly didn't help. In some cases the illustrations gave away plot points a chapter ahead.

Is anyone familiar with the tv series and whether it was better/worse/a faithful representation of the book? I remember enjoying it, but haven't watched it since the 1980s.
 
Posted by Ariel (# 58) on :
 
quote:
Originally posted by Sarasa:
I might have a go at The Midnight Folk . I kept on getting the feeling The Box of Delights would have been more engaging if I'd read it first.

I wasn't keen on the Midnight Folk as a child and re-reading some sample pages a few weeks ago, had no desire to continue any further. It's aimed at a much younger audience and Kay is quite a small boy in that one and comes across as almost a different character.

This could be an unfair criticism, but I think the Box of Delights is possibly one of those books probably best read uncritically as a child and enjoyed for its own sake, with that glow of nostalgia carried through into adulthood. Some books are like that. I think if I came to it for the first time now I'd find it uneven, patchy, dated, surprisingly dark, but would probably still enjoy the cameo pieces.
 
Posted by la vie en rouge (# 10688) on :
 
I was avoiding this thread until I’d finished the book. Having now finished it, I wish to share my feeling that the ending is rubbish and I was very cross with it indeed. “It was all a dream” always seems like such a lazy way to end a book to me.

I don’t agree that a dream is the only way for it to make sense. I would have been much happier with some hand waving and calling it “magic”.
 


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