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The Box of Delights is a children's fantasy novel by John Masefield. It is a sequel to The Midnight Folk, and was first published in 1935.

Plot summary

The central character is Kay Harker who, on returning from boarding school, finds himself mixed up in a battle to possess a magical box, which 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 called Cole Hawlins, whom Kay meets on a railway station. They have an instant rapport, and this leads Cole to confide that he is being chased by a man called Abner Brown and his gang. For safety, Cole entrusts the box to Kay, who then goes on to have many adventures.

BBC radio adaptations

There have been three adaptation of The Box of Delights by the BBC on radio.

1. Children's Hour

With a script by Robert Holland and John Keir Cross, this six part production was mounted three times by the BBC in 1943, 1948, and 1955.

1943 cast

1948 remount

1955 remount

The fact that the BBC did remounts of this production suggests that no official recordings exist of these productions. There may be private off air recordings.

2. Saturday play

A one off drama with a new script by John Keir Cross broadcast in 1966 and remounted in 1978.

1966 cast

1978 cast

3. BBC Radio 4 1995

Two part drama with script by John Peacock.

BBC television adaptation

The Box of Delights was adapted for television by the BBC in 1984, featuring Patrick Troughton and Robert Stephens. It was broadcast November–December, in six parts, with the last episode transmitted on Christmas Eve. Starring Devin Stanfield as Kay and directed by Renny Rye, it used an innovative mixture of live action and animation, with Quantel Paintbox and chroma key effects to bring the adventure alive. Noted for its yuletide atmosphere (it is set during Christmas), the series has become something of a nostalgic treat for followers of cult TV. The seasonal theme music is Victor Hely-Hutchinson's orchestral arrangement of "The First Noël" from his Carol Symphony. The railway station scenes were filmed at Template:Stnlnk and Template:Stnlnk on the steam heritage Severn Valley Railway.

The episodes are:

  1. "When the Wolves Were Running"
  2. "Where Shall the 'Nighted Showman Go?"
  3. "In the Darkest Cellars Underneath"
  4. "The Spider in the Web"
  5. "Beware of Yesterday"
  6. "Leave Us Not Little, Nor Yet Dark"

The serial was repeated in 1986, edited into three 50-minute episodes. For this transmission the episodes were entitled:

  1. "When the Wolves Were Running"
  2. "The Spider in the Web"
  3. "Fire and Flood"

The television version was shown by PBS in the USA for three years in the late 1980s. BBC Worldwide released the serial on DVD in 2004. In 1985, a 120-minute version was released for sale in the USA on VHS video by Simon & Schuster Video (Region 1 NTSC format).

Differences between the novel and the BBC adaptation

The novel contains more magical adventures or events than appeared in the BBC version. This was presumably because of budgeting and special effect constraints; however, the BBC did not otherwise alter the plot significantly. The novel describes Kay as using the box on more occasions than those depicted in the television adaptation. The following incidents occur only in the novel:

  • After the Punch and Judy show the children are shown various magic tricks that include a miniature army of soldiers that walk out of the wainscott and drill.
  • Kay Harker and the Jones children take refuge from Abner's men in a tree by a river bank. They are also shown around the tree and the various animal and insect dwellings within it. There is also a scene where the children dance with fairies.
  • Kay is taken to witness a medieval jousting match.
  • More detail is provided as to how the Box of Delights found its way into the possession of Cole Hawlins. The novel states that the Box came to England as an antiquity and found its way into the hands of a Countess. Cole Hawlins then discovered the hiding place of the Box. Abner Brown also discovered the Box's location but only after Cole had taken it. The BBC adaptation suggests that Cole was given the box by its creator Arnold of Todi.
  • Arnold of Todi is convinced to come back out of the past. However, he has no interest in re-claiming the box. He attends the Midnight Service towards the end of the book.


John Masefield adapted an opera libretto from his book, also incorporating elements of The Midnight Folk, which was eventually set to music in the late 1980s by British composer Robert Steadman.

Film adaptation

Brilliant Films has announced that a film version of The Box of Delights is in development. Mike Newell is to direct and the screenplay is being written by Frank Cottrell Boyce.[1][2]

See also


External links

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