The Box of Delights by John Masefield is a book I learned of on the Well-Trained Mind forums in a thread about Christmas read-alouds. I purchased it without knowing much about it, other than that C.S. Lewis said this about it:
It is a unique work. . .and will often be re-read. . .The beauties, all the ‘delights’ that keep on emerging from the box–are so exquisite and quite unlike anything I have seen elsewhere.
That was apparently enough to convince me we should read it, and so we took up this fantastical story in early December and only finished it this past Thursday. It’s a dense and fairly complicated story, and for at least the first half of it I had visions of Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday playing in my head as I tried to grasp the plot. (Rather than try to sum up a rather complex plot, I’ll just point you in the direction of this summary. Click through and read the summary if you want to have an inkling about what the rest of my review means.) Somewhere about halfway through the book I realized that the Box of Delights, after which the story is named, allows the characters to travel through time, transport themselves to other places in their own time, AND shrink themselves down to the size of a mouse so that they can move about without being detected. Interesting, huh? An understanding of the various positions within the Anglican (?) church would be a real plus in understanding this book, though we made out okay with just knowing that all of the titles we read about were cathedral staff. The fact that their names were things like the Reverend Arthur Pure, Reverend William Godley, Thomas Holyport, and Charles Lectern was endlessly entertaining to me. There are other little sly bits of humor like this in this story, and that’s the thing I like most about it. I think the girls enjoyed the pure absurdity of it, though when the final chapter came to an end, one girl was quite put out with the ending. If it hadn’t been that the ending was the culmination of quite the amazing scene which included two chariots drawn by a team of lions and a team of unicorns, I think she would’ve been even more disappointed than she was. The other girl cited this book as one of her favorites of the year. This is a very British story, and at times the gap between British and American English was broad enough to leave us scratching our heads. However, in the end I’m glad we read it, though I’m not sure it’s one that wouldn’t be enjoyed just as well or even better read independently. We’re putting this one in our Christmas Book Basket and adding it to our list of Christmas-related chapter books. (New York Review Children’s Collection, 1957)