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100 Ghosts: The Box of Delights by John Masefield

In 1984, when I was 10, my younger brother got this book for Christmas. I’ve still got it somewhere, his name scrawled (as it out ineffectually) proprietorially on the title page. I’m not sure why I’ve ended up with it rather than him, but for the fact I’m an unashamed hoarder and a black belt in sentimentality. It was bought, predictably, on the back of our viewing the BBCs much lauded adaptation which we both totally fell for. In recent years I have taken to playing the DVD as we put up the Christmas decorations, and then watching the rest of it over the following days. The theme tune is alone captures the very essence of the festive season, and turned up high enough handily drowns out the whinging of my children who would rather be watching Killing Eve.

It was REALLY HARD to illustrate due to one main factor - there is so much going on and so many locations in the book that it’s almost impossible to come up with an overriding image that sums up the story. There are wolves, foxes, rats, mice, several bad vicars, a comedy policeman, a pub, a house, a cathedral, an ecclesiastical college (!), an Anglo-Saxon hill fort, somewhere called Bottler’s Down, a train, a gang of posh kids, several kidnappings (scrobblings), an ex governess, a mystical old lady, Romans, Herne the Hunter, an ancient bloke, a bit of time travel, a mystical Punch and Judy man and his small delightful box which makes you fly, shrink, or have visions. And it’s Christmas.

The Punch and Judy man is Cole Hawlings. He meets our hero Kay Harker, home from school for the hols, and later, Cole entrusts the mystical Box to Kay as the struggles hots up between the custodians of the good, old magic and the evil, new fangled sort. Kay takes this in his stride - he’s already been up against arch villain Abner Brown and his wife and former governess Sylvia Daisy Pouncer in the Midnight Folk. Available to buy on DVD or currently to be found on Britbox, which started off a bit rubbish but gets better by the week. It’s not, I grant you, strictly a ghost story, but it’s October and I’m very much hoping to wring a Christmas card out of it so I’ve shoehorned it in.

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