Advent Calendar for Grown-ups
DECEMBER 20 The Box of Delights
The Box of Delights is a children’s fantasy novel by the then Poet Laureate John Masefield. It is a sequel to The Midnight Folk, and was first published in 1935. It is set around Christmas-time, culminating on Christmas Day, and I always find myself reading it at this time.
The central character is a young boy of ten, Kay Harker, who, on returning home to Seekings House from boarding school, finds himself mixed up in a battle to possess a magical box, the eponymous Box of Delights. This box allows the owner to go small (shrink) and go swift (fly), experience magical wonders contained within the box and go into the past.
The owner of the box is an old Punch-and-Judy man man called Cole Hawlings or Hollings, whom Kay meets at the railway station on his way home. ‘And now, Master Harker, now that the Wolves are Running, perhaps you could do something to stop their Bite?’ entreats the old man. He asks Kay to protect the magic box with which Kay and his friends have many adventures. But Kay is in danger: Abner Brown will stop at nothing to get his hands on it. The police don’t believe Kay, so when his guardian, friends and the Bishop are ‘scrobbled’ just before Christmas, he knows he must act alone… .
Its a great book with mysterious bright-eyed immortals, cars that can fly, Romans, Druids, fairies, Herne the Hunter, gangsters dressed as curates, talking rats, witches and much much more besides. It is quite dated and all the more charming for it—characters in the book use expressions like ‘it’s the Purple Pim’ and ‘queer coughdrops’!
Here I have shown Cole Hawlings, the Punch-and-Judy man, with his show wrapped in green baize upon his back, walking near the Drop of Dew Inn (aka Cockfarthings) in the Bear Ward of old Condicote, with his dog Barney beside him. Note his exceptionally bright eyes that few have got, and his ring, a ‘longways cross’ of gold and garnets. In fact he is very old indeed, coming from ‘Pagan times’ and is none other than the (real-life) medieval Spanish Philosopher and Alchemist Ramon Llull ( here called Ramon Lully).
The story also features a Bronze or Brazen Head used by the evil wizard Abner Brown (assisted by his wife and Kay’s former governess, the sly witch Sylvia Daisy Pouncer) for divination, a motif that has long fascinated me, and after which Dublin’s oldest pub is named. The medieval mystic friar Roger Bacon was believed to possess one.
If you have not read it, I suggest you do.
From Paul Bommer: Illustration, design & Print-making. Used by permission.