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John Masefield (1878-1967) was born in Herefordshire, England. After being orphaned at an early age, he was sent to sea aboard the school-ship HMS Conway in preparation for a naval career. Masefield’s apprenticeship was disastrous—he was classified as a Distressed British Seaman after a voyage around Cape Horn—and he soon left the ship. Arrangements were then made for him to join another ship in New York. But Masefield had other plans: he deserted ship vowing “to be a writer, come what might.”
At seventeen Masefield was living as a vagrant in America. He found work as a barhand but eventually secured employment at a carpet factory. Thinking that journalism might allow him to write for a living, Masefield returned to England in 1897.
Masefield’s first volume of poetry, Salt-Water Ballads, was published in 1902, however, it was not until the publication of The Everlasting Mercy in 1911 that he made his mark on the literary scene. The success of his second book was followed by the publication of several long narrative poems, including Dauber (1914) and Reynard the Fox (1919).
With the outbreak of the war, Masefield became an orderly at a hospital in France. He also took charge of a motorboat ambulance service at Gallipoli in 1915. After the Allied failure there, Masefield visited America and undertook a series of lectures in support of the war effort. In 1930 he was appointed Poet Laureate, and five years later the much-loved Masefield was awarded the Order of Merit. He died on May 12, 1967, and his ashes were interred in Poets’ Corner, Westminster Abbey.
The two Kay Harker books, The Midnight Folk (1927) and The Box of Delights (1935), are Masefield’s lasting contribution to children’s fantasy literature. The Box of Delights is now an established Christmas favorite and as much a part of the season as Dickens’s A Christmas Carol.