Opening the Box of Delights by Philip W Errington

 

I have been a fan of this wonderful story by John Masefield for the last nearly 40 years.  Despite having worked in libraries since the mid 1970s I had not read the book until the television series came along in the 1980s and I sat and watched with my two sons.

This is a story of deep fantasy, set during the Christmas period and with a young central hero who is pitted against some very dark and dastardly villains.  The story was written in 1935, so we have a real sense of time, although the place itself is totally fictitious.  The story centres around young Kay Harker  as he travels to stay with family at Christmas.  He meets with a mysterious old Punch and Judy man called Cole Hawlings, who gives him and old box to safeguard.  However, the villainous Abner Brown and his hired thugs are also after the box; because this box allows the owner to travel through time!  The story is full of action, adventure magic and fantasy and the twist at the end leaves you wondering if it was real, or just a dream.  You really have to read the book and make up your own mind about that.

The author of this book is a world renowned expert on the works of Masefield and his enthusiasm is evident in the way that he writes about the author and his work.  This work is a wonderful introduction to the life of Masefield and to his other works, but especially his role as the Poet Laureate.  I must admit that my knowledge was limited to reading some of his poetry at school in Abingdon.  It has just come as something of a surprise to discover that the great man was living only about 6 mile away, at Burcote, until his death in 1967 and that there is every possibility  that I could have passed him in the street without knowing.  We do indeed live in a very small world.

The book is extremely wide ranging, covering the life of Masefield, his works, the various illustrators, characters, adaptions of all kinds and his world building in his two Kay Harker books.  There are an abundance of illustrations, and this creates a sumptuous treat for avid bibliophiles who are spoilt for choice in deciding which is their favourite edition of any of the titles.  then of course we have the radio productions, audio books, TV series and stage production by Piers Torday.  Each of the chapters is given a two page spread, which allows the author to  include so many topics.  However I did find myself getting frustrated at times as there were chapters where I wanted more detail, but it does make you want to go and explore further.  Whilst there is no bibliography in this book, there are references to other books in the text itself and of course we have access to huge amounts of information via libraries and the internet.

This is a brilliant book for those who are interested in children’s literature, fantasy and Christmas and will have you poring over the fantastic images for hours, probably whilst you remember the first time you came across ‘The Box of Delights’.

 

The Midnight Howl by Benjamin Read and Laura Trinder

I first met up with Emily, the very characterful heroine of this series, in the story of The Midnight Hour.  This introduced Emily, and us, to a world that she had not known existed, but which her parents were heavily involved in. Yes, we have parents who have been keeping secrets (quite big ones as well) from their daughter; obviously it was intended to keep her out of harm’s way, but things didn’t quite work out.  Anyway Emily managed to save the Midnight Hour from certain destruction,  and discovered that she was part Pooka (a shapeshifter from Celtic mythology).  Life should have gone back to normal, but for Emily that does not appear to be an option.

In the Midnight Howl we are taken back to this magical version of London, that has been frozen in time since 1859.  Emily is allowed to go there with her father (a postman in this magical realm) in order to practice her shape changing abilities, but she is banned from contacting any members of her mother’s family, because her mother was banished from the clan years ago.  Unfortunately Emily discovers that things are not well and that magic is creeping out of the Hour, because someone is bringing in goods from the real world.  The adventure that follows sees Emily re-united with her friend Officer-in-training Tarkus as well as the magical force called the Library (representing Literature) as they try and prevent the total destruction of the Midnight Hour and all of its inhabitants.

What an absolutely brilliant follow-up to a really exciting story.  Emily is one of those characters that you really hope will succeed, but at the same time she makes you want to bang your head against a wall.  She really wants to do what her parents tell her, but somehow the world and circumstances get in the way.  I think a fair description of Emily would be to say that she is feisty, very quirky and her temper has something of a short fuse.  Perhaps my favourite character is her pet hedgehog called Hoggins, who doesn’t speak (naturally) but does have a way of commenting on the action around him.  If you go to Laura Trinder’s website you will find some great downloads, including creating your own Hoggins https://www.lauratrinder.co.uk/downloads

This team have produced a wonderfully subversive and funny adventure that provides just enough darkness to keep the reader on the edge of their seat.  I am really looking forward to some further escapades with this delightful cast of characters.