Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Masefield, John

(1878-1967) UK poet and writer, popular as a poet of the sea from his first book, Salt-Water Ballads (coll 1902); Poet Laureate 1930-1967. Some of his verse narratives – notably Reynard the Fox, or The Ghost Heath Run (1919) and Minnie Maylow's Story and Other Tales and Scenes (coll 1931), a collection of Fairytales – are of fantasy interest, though little read now, perhaps because JM's poetry as a whole fell profoundly out of favour after about the end of WWI. Some of his many plays – notably Tristan and Isolt (produced 1923; 1927), a Christian Fantasy trilogy comprising The Trial of Jesus (1925), The Coming of Christ (1928) and Easter: A Play for Singers (1929), and A Play of Saint George (1948) – are of some interest. His early adult novels – like Multitude and Solitude (1909) and The Street of To-Day (1911) – though nonfantastic, merit attention for an intensity and realism his later work conspicuously eschews.

Two collections – A Mainsail Haul (coll 1905; exp 1913) and A Tarpaulin Muster (coll 1907) – contain some Supernatural Fiction, and Oldtaa (1926) is set in a mundane Imaginary Land. JM's main interest for fantasy lies in his work for older children. In A Book of Discoveries (1910) two young lads travel – in their imaginations – through a range of adventures, some supernatural. But the Kay Harker series – The Midnight Folk (1927) and The Box of Delights, or When the Wolves Were Running (1935) – is an important English fantasy sequence, told in a voice rather like that of a modernized, speeded-up Walter de La Mare. Young Kay Harker, a descendant of the eponymous hero of Sard Harker (1924), has lost his parents, and finds himself embroiled in a hunt for Pirate treasure in the grounds of his family home. Aided by several Talking Animals and a Witch, he travels into a "midnight" Otherworld, a Crosshatch with this world and apprehensible, De La Mare-fashion, through Dreams; he is threatened by Black Magic; he finds a new family. In the sequel, several years later, the adolescent Kay is once again pursued by the villains of the first tale, now in search of the eponymous magical box. In the course of his adventures, Kay encounters Herne the Hunter, Arthur, Shapeshifter wolves, etc. At points the impact is scattered, and JM's dis-ease with adult or near-adult characters is limiting, but overall the two tales make up a central English fantasy of longing. [JC]

John Edward Masefield

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This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.