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Enchanted and Unawares

by Susan Cooper

Roger’s query [about snow day reading] sent me back to John Masefield’s The Box of Delights, the book that always had the magic of a snowy English Christmas for me — snow being by no means certain in southern England, where Masefield (and I) lived, and therefore extra special. It was published the year I was born, and before I ever read it I heard it on BBC radio, in a wonderful dramatization for a program called Children’s Hour. (Highlight of my childhood—every afternoon from five to six p.m. we sat on the floor beside the “wireless set” listening, entranced—unless of course we were in the air-raid shelter under the back lawn, in which case our mum was probably reading to us by candlelight, hoping to distract us from the sound of the guns and/or bombs.) It’s still a lovely book, magical and funny, to be read by anybody of any age, since I think Masefield, like a lot of us, was writing for himself rather than for children. You could read it with the most ferocious weather going on outdoors and still be held enchanted and unawares in its particular world—which makes it all the more lamentable that at the end of the story, after a magnificent climax like the last movement of Beethoven’s Ninth, Masefield tells you in a fit of momentary insanity that the whole thing has been a dream. Rubbish, you cry to yourself as you blink your way back to the real snow, he’s wrong, he’s wrong.

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