Spark is his impartiality. He does not take sides. The red fox and the crimson hunters exercise their very different fascination. He tells a story whole, in such a way as to give readers the task of judgement, should they wish to judge. His thumb does not press on the scale. When there is hunter and hunted, it is hunting that is his subject. Spark contrasts Masefield and Kipling: Kipling draws, or compels, the reader into his own moral perspectives.
Muriel Spark revised John Masefield so that the book we read today is not quite the one she wrote in 1951–2. It mattered to her to get it right, and there was nothing sacred about the errors and wrong emphases she had made forty years before. She was not sentimental about her early self: she was all of a piece, and if there were false notes in her early work she was glad of the opportunity to put them right, as she did also with Child of Light: A Reassessment, her book on Mary Shelley, originally published in 1951. She felt sufficient connection still with Masefield the writer, and the man who took her seriously in 1950, and with her own developing self, to revise rather than re-write. She also felt it necessary to acknowledge the scholarship and criticism of Masefield that came in the wake of her book and, to some extent, built on her response.
In her 1960 essay ‘How I became a Novelist’ Spark writes, ‘I read and wrote a great deal of poetry and was especially enthusiastic about the narrative poems of John Masefield, particularly Reynard the Fox and Dauber. Later, when I was writing a book about Masefield and went to visit him I found his zest for life and dedication to the art of story-telling very stimulating and, in a way, infectious. I felt that I, too, wanted to write stories, but I was not sure how to begin.’ The best way, she discovered, was to consider the object of her enthusiasm, to study and analyse it, and to take and apply its measure.