Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 618
The Midnight Folk opens with Kay Harker, a small boy under the regime of his governess, Sylvia Daisy Pouncer, and two domestic servants at the family home of Seekings, somewhere in the west of England. His guardian, Sir Theopompus, on a rare visit, challenges Kay to find the treasure that his great-grandfather had lost at sea in 1811. Kay immediately feels the slight on his family honor. That night begins a series of fantastic adventures, which lead to the discovery of the treasure. One of the cats, Nibbins, wakens him, both to introduce him to the Midnight Folk and to show him that the house is used regularly by a coven of witches. Borrowing two of the witches’ broomsticks, they eavesdrop on the coven’s meeting nearby. Under the leadership of Abner Brown, whose grandfather was involved in the loss of the treasure, the witches swear to take up the quest for the treasure in order to regain it for themselves.
The Midnight Folk are the toys and animals with whom Kay has been friendly and who now become his helpers. Yet, those humans—the witches, smugglers, poachers, and highwaymen—who work against Kay are also, in a sense, “midnight folk.” In the beginning, the fantasy adventures take place at night, occurring apparently as dreams and working through many magical ways, such as secret passageways and pictures coming alive. As the pace quickens, however, the quest is continued throughout the day, once Kay’s boring lessons are over.
Even before he sets off for the first time to seek the treasure, Kay learns that his discarded toys, put away at his governess’ arrival, have left, determined to find its hiding place. Kay meets them briefly at King Arthur’s court, which, legend has it, is held on a nearby hill. The toys have come to ask for help in their task, which Arthur grants. Kay himself has been bidden to take up the quest by his great-grandfather, whose portrait comes alive at one stage. Yet, Kay, for all the help that comes readily to him, is able to keep only one step ahead of the witches, who use occult powers of revelation. He discovers that his governess is one of the witches and that the other two cats at Seekings are their accomplices. He has inadvertently let them have important clues, though he is also able to overhear or intercept clues meant for them.
What is discovered piece by piece as the past becomes literally alive is that the treasure of the Cathedral of Santa Barbara on the Spanish Main, entrusted to Captain Harker, was lost in his ship The Plunderer through a series of mutinies involving crewmen Roper Bilges and Twiney Pricker, both of whose descendants feature in the present story. The ship sank in the Caribbean, with Captain Harker spending the rest of his life trying to find the treasure. In fact, Pricker’s accomplice, Abner Brown, had found it only to have it lost again in an earthquake. Brown and Pricker, who tries to become respectable, also spend the rest of their lives trying to regain the treasure. Pricker eventually finds it and hides it in caves near Seekings only to be murdered by Brown, who then drowns in a huge flood. The knowledge of the treasure’s whereabouts is thus lost.
In the end, it is neither Kay nor the witches who rescue the treasure but Kay’s toys. The treasure is then restored to the archbishop of Santa Barbara. The witches’ coven is exposed, and Pouncer leaves. Family honor is restored, and Kay is now to be looked after by one of his human helpers, Caroline Louisa, a close friend of his late mother.
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