The Midnight Folk

The copy of John Masefield's The Midnight Folk that I found secondhand was published in 1957 -- it cost 3/6! -- but the book was first published in 1927. I picked it up because Susan Green had mentioned it as a favourite childhood book, and during the Dark Is Rising twitter read-through, several participants talked about The Midnight Folk and its sequel, The Box of Delights, as formative fantasy texts.

The Midnight Folk is a strange little book -- not so little, actually, it's over 200 pages in fairly small font. Young Kay Harker embarks on a quest for the lost treasure entrusted to his ancestor, Captain Harker, which has been stolen and mislaid several times over, and in so doing he tangles with witches and talking animals, walks into portraits and meets many peculiar characters, human and non-human.

Several times I was reminded of other books, which shows how influential this novel has been. Kay tries on bat wings and otter skin which enables him to fly and to swim, which reminded me of the Wart's educational experiences in TH White's The Book of Merlyn. The witches, and especially Mrs Pouncer with her wax face, foreshadowed Roald Dahl's witches. The talking portraits took me straight to Hogwarts.

I'm not sure this book would appeal to a modern audience, though it would make a great read-aloud -- there are heaps of opportunities for funny voices, and it's actually pretty humorous, though I suspect children might need to be led through some of the jokes. I found the whole treasure plot quite confusing, though I must admit pirates and treasure aren't really my cup of tea. I'm glad I've read it though, and I will keep a look out for Kay's further adventures in The Box of Delights.


  1. It is a strange book, and perhaps that's why I liked it so much...though I have to admit, I haven't read it for years. As a child, I just adored the (extremely)odd mixture of elements, and maybe now I'd think it should be two books, not one. Maybe the witches, secret passages and talking cats don't quite gel with the pirates and South American adventure and hidden treasure. Masefield seems to have put in everything he liked - history, mythology, poetry, song - and some rather Roald Dahl-like characters. I remember a boozy old lady sitting up in bed smoking a cigar and drinking champagne!I'd love to re-read it, but actually I'm worried it will fall flat for me. But then, I've just re-read The Wizard of Earthsea and The Tombs of Atuan, and enjoyed them much more than I did as a child!

  2. Yes, the old lady sitting in bed and drinking champagne was fantastic! Have you read The Box of Delights, Susan? I gather some people think it's the better book of the two.
    Must go back to Earthsea -- I first read them as an adult and was instantly smitten. Can't think why I hadn't read them sooner. Tombs of Atuan is my favourite.

  3. Yes, I have read The Box of Delights; perhaps it does hang together a bit better. I remember it as less jolly and more mysterious than the first book, with a few time slips into the deep pre-Christian past that I found very compelling as a child.
    I'd never read the Tombs of Atuan and thought it was marvellous. I read a fair bit of le Guin's sci-fi as a young woman (ie not for many years!) and loved it.

  4. Pre-Christian past sounds fascinating - I can see why it came up in discussions of The Dark Is Rising.
    Le Guin's sci-fi was inspiring -- hm, might be time to nudge it toward my girls!