The Box of Delights

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The Box of Delights
First edition cover
AuthorJohn Masefield
CountryUnited Kingdom
GenreFantasy novel
Publication date
Media typePrint (hardback & paperback)
Preceded byThe Midnight Folk 

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. It is also known as When The Wolves Were Running.


Kay Harker is returning from boarding school when he finds himself mixed up in a battle to possess a magical box. It allows the owner to shrink in size, to fly swiftly, to go into the past and to experience the magical wonders contained within the box.

The current owner of the box is an old Punch and Judy man called Cole Hawlings whom Harker meets at the railway station. They develop an instant rapport, which leads Hawlings to confide that he is being chased by a magician called Abner Brown and his gang, which includes Harker's former governess. For safety, Hawlings (who turns out to be the medieval philosopher and alleged magician Ramon Llull) entrusts the box to Harker. The schoolboy then goes on to have many adventures as he protects the box from those who wish to use it for bad deeds.


BBC radio[edit]

There have been several radio adaptations of The Box of Delights.

Children's Hour[edit]

This six-part adaptation, with a script by Robert Holland and John Keir Cross, was produced three times by the BBC as part of its Children's Hour, in 1943, 1948 and 1955.

Saturday Night Theatre[edit]

This was a one-off drama, with a script by John Keir Cross, broadcast in 1966, and repeated in 1968 and 1969. It was then remade with a new cast in 1977.

Radio 4[edit]


Two-part drama with a script by John Peacock.

BBC Television 1984[edit]

A BBC TV adaptation of The Box of Delights was broadcast in six parts between 21 November and 24 December in 1984. It starred Devin Stanfield, Patrick Troughton and Robert Stephens as Kay Harker, Cole Hawlings and Abner Brown respectively[1] and adapted for television by Alan Seymour, directed by Renny Rye and produced by Paul Stone.[2]

It featured an innovative mixture of live action and animation, in particular Quantel Paintbox and chroma key effects. The series cost £1-million to make in 1984, the most expensive children's series the BBC had made to that date,[2] but it was widely acclaimed and won a number of BAFTA and RTS awards, in particular for its special effects.[3][4]

The opening and closing title music features an orchestral arrangement of "The First Nowell" extracted from the third movement of the Carol Symphony by Victor Hely-Hutchinson. It had been used for earlier radio adaptations and has become synonymous with the story.[5]

Big Finish 2021[edit]

Big Finish Productions produced an audio play of The Box of Delights, which was released on CD and download in June 2021,[6] starring Derek Jacobi, Mark Gatiss and David Warner. The script was adapted by Christopher William Hill.


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 the British composer Robert Steadman.


Wilton's Music Hall presented an adaptation by Piers Torday between 1 December 2017 and 6 January 2018. Billed as a world stage premiere, the production was directed by Justin Audibert and designed by Tom Piper.[7] The production was reprised, with a new cast, between 30 November 2018 and 5 January 2019.[8]

The Royal Shakespeare Company will present the production at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon from 31 October 2023 to 7 January 2024.[9]


  1. ^ Piers Torday (30 November 2017). "Long before Harry Potter, The Box of Delights remade children's fantasy". The Guardian. Retrieved 7 January 2018.
  2. ^ a b Kingsley, Madeleine (17 November 1984), "A Box Full of Magic", Radio Times, pp. 101–103, retrieved 14 October 2017
  3. ^ "BAFTA Awards Search the box of delights". Retrieved 14 April 2016.
  4. ^ "RTS Awards database". Archived from the original on 19 December 2013. Retrieved 31 January 2014.
  5. ^ "Hely-Hutchinson: The BBC man who created the ultimate Christmas music". About the BBC. 13 December 2016.
  6. ^ "19. The Box of Delights". Big Finish.
  7. ^ "The Box of Delights". Wilton's. Retrieved 1 September 2017.
  8. ^ "The Box of Delights". Wilton's. Retrieved 13 December 2018.
  9. ^ "RSC announces new season of shows through to spring 2024". 1 June 2023. Retrieved 4 June 2023.
  • Flynn, Simon: "A Magic Curiously Suited to Radio?": The BBC and The Box of Delights. The Journal of the John Masefield Society, No. 12 (May 2003), pp. 21–35.

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