John Masefield was born on 1 June 1878 in Ledbury, Herefordshire. An orphan at the age of six, he went to live with an aunt and uncle. At 13, he was sent to the school-ship H.M.S. Conway to prepare him for a career at sea and end his addiction to books. After many voyages, he returned to England in 1897 determined to become a writer. His first volume of poetry was published in 1902; Salt-Water Ballads included the famous poem Sea-Fever. In subsequent years, he wrote numerous volumes of poetry, novels, plays, literary criticism and works for children. John Masefield died on 12 May 1967, near Abingdon, Oxfordshire.
The Midnight Folk, published in 1927, is a stream of adventures without explanation or chapters. It was Masefield’s personal favourite and contains elements of his own childhood when, for example, the coming of the railways ended the traffic of barges on the river. Kay is a late Victorian, reciting Latin and sleeping in a canopied bed. Masefield loathed his governess: Aunt Kate became Sylvia Daisy Pouncer. Seekings House combined childhood houses that dated from the seventeenth-century that were ‘full of passages, corridors, strange rooms... and secret chambers’. At the end of the book, the beautiful lady who becomes Kay’s new guardian says: ‘I am Caroline Louisa, who loved your Mother’. Caroline Louisa was the name of Masefield’s own mother who had died when he was a boy.
Six years later, Masefield wrote to his publisher to say that he was writing a new children’s book. The Box of Delights, one of the best-loved classics of children’s literature, was published in August 1935. Whilst The Midnight Folk is set strongly in the late Victorian era, The Box of Delights looks ahead into a new technological age with the telephone, the wireless and, years before Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang, envisages cars that fly, an idea conceived by the theorist and inventor, Richard Buckminster Fuller in 1928.
The book has been adapted for radio and television. The original script for the first radio adaptation omitted the ending where Kay’s adventures are revealed as a dream. Masefield wrote acerbically to the BBC, saying “To omit even the glimmer of a suggestion that it is a dream, and to make of it nothing but a fantastic gangster story, while suggesting that it is still my design, is well I ask you, what?”