This story is a delight, as we follow young Master Kay Harker on a fantastical jumble of adventures and alternate realities and to secret worlds (involving a search for lost treasure); where animals (and toys) talk and interact with Kay, people are not what they seem, and magical journeys occur. We clamber into hiding places and spy on wicked witches and scheming villains. Portraits speak and landscape paintings move. Poor Kay has much to endure with his beastly governess Sylvia Daisy (who obviously doesn't like children). The inside flap of the dustjacket gives this description of the tale within:
"Kay Harker lives in a big house with his governess, Jane the cook, Ellen the maid, and Nibbins the black cat. Nibbins is one of the family of the Midnight Folk. So too is Bitem the Fox, Blinky the Owl, Rat, Otter and a whole tribe of other friends, bears, dogs, rabbits, cats and horses, all of them Kay's toys. Kay is bent on discovering the long-lost Harker treasure. With the help of the Midnight Folk he makes nightly investigations into the mystery which lead him into all kinds of marvellous adventures. Sometimes Kay is convinced that he is dreaming, but at other times there is proof that his midnight wanderings in search of clues are no fantasy but actual fact."
Here is a passage from Kay's first night of adventures:
"Kay slipped on his slippers and followed Nibbins into the little passage: Nibbins closed the door behind him and bolted it. "I'll lead the way," he said. "Mind the stairs: they're a bit worn; for the smugglers used to use these passages. But there's lots of light. Take my paw, as up we go." They went up some stairs in the thickness of the wall; then a panel slid up in front of them and they came out on to the top landing. Nibbins closed the panel behind them. It was dark night there on the landing, except for a little moonlight. The house was very still, but looking down over the banisters into the hall, Kay thought that he saw a shadow, wearing a ruff and a long sword, standing in the moonlight. The cuckoo-clock in the nursery struck twelve. "All the house is sound asleep," Nibbins said. "Jane and Ellen are in there in those two rooms. They little know what goes on among us midnight folk. Give us a hand with this ringbolt, will you?" In the oak planks of the floor there was a trap-door, which Kay had never seen before. Together they pulled it up: beneath was a ladder leading down to a passage brightly lit like the other...
There were seven old witches in tall black hats and long scarlet cloaks sitting round the table at a very good supper..."
Fortunately, as in the best books, the baddies are defeated and all turns out well and happy; which includes the arrival of the lovely Caroline Louisa, who we will hear more from in the next story, 'The Box of Delights.'
This book was a splendid read, sometimes there was so much going on that it could be bewildering, and I think that some of the terms and references might be difficult for younger readers today, unless they are very mature and well-read and read more old-fashioned books. The old-fashionedness of it is one of its great charms, and what drew me in to seek it out. This is a book that I simply didn't want to end.