A version of this with the angle changed to reflect more on the food aspect was published in the Hindu books section. Read that here.
Queen let another drop fall from her bottle on to the snow, and
instantly there appeared a round box, tied with green silk ribbon ,
which when opened , turned out to contain several pounds of the best
Turkish Delight. Each piece was sweet and light to the very centre
and Edmund had never tasted anything more delicious.” - C.S
Lewis, The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe
I forget when Narnia fell out of
fashion and it became a party piece to tell readers that the author,
C.S Lewis, really meant it to be a Christian allegory. “Don't you
see,” someone will say to me earnestly, when I tell them the books
were my earliest experience with fantasy, “The lion was Christ! It
was a Christian book!” Then they sit back, ready to be smug and
delighted by those facts dawning on me. They're not the first ones to
tell me, nor will they be the last, and Narnia-defenders, like myself
(or should I call us apologists?) have this bowed, wary expression
even as we admit all the things we loved about the books. What was
not to love? Talking animals! Magical doorways! Fauns! Little
children who became kings and queens! Learning that the worst thing
you could be was a traitor! (Second worst: coward.)
is an argument to be made about not re-reading your old favourite
books as an adult. Your rational mind isn't supposed to stop and
examine a problematic bit of prose, you're supposed to skim right
along, breathless and caught up in the adventure like the heroes
you're reading about.
first time I read about Turkish Delight was in The Lion, The Witch
And The Wardrobe, the very first
of the Narnia books, which, if you're not familiar is about four
English children who stumble through a wardrobe into a magic land and
overthrow the evil queen who has been ruling there for many years.
Before they can overthrow her, one of the children—Edmund—is
lured into her power by the magic Turkish Delight she feeds him. This
makes him silly and vulnerable—not unlike being roofied—and soon,
he is her spy.
“She comes of your father Adam's first wife, her they called
Lilith. And she was one of the Jinn.” The
words used to describe the White Witch by the friendly Beaver, who is
helping the children. Lilith, from the Bible, was, actually created
the same time as Adam, but out of the same dirt as him—unlike Eve,
who was created from his rib. In an excerpt from The Hebrew Myths by
Robert Graves, Lilith was banished because she did not want to “lie
beneath Adam” since she was created out of the same dirt he was,
and didn't see why she had to obey him. She left him eventually, and
became a demon or in charge of the demons, and was basically the
first example of a woman who chose to do what she wanted. Jinns on
the other hand, are supernatural creatures of Arabic and Muslim
mythology, and it's mostly to this that the Narnia books take
exception. While the Beavers and the children eat fish and potatoes,
Edmund has already been corrupted by the Turkish Delight, he betrays
his whole family for it, and is betrayed in turn. (In later books,
the dark-skinned Calormen have many gods and are slightly ridiculous,
and the hero turns out to be a royal Northern, beautiful and fair and
ruled by Aslan, the Christ-lion figure).
“He had eaten his share of the dinner, but he hadn't really
enjoyed it because he was thinking all the time about Turkish
Delight—and there's nothing that spoils the taste of good ordinary
food half so much as the memory of bad magic food.”
Now, in Lewis' time, Turkish
Delight was the ultimate in imported confectionery, and in war-time
England, when the book was written and set, sweets were hard to get.
Researchers say that maybe the idea of Narnia under the White Witch
where it was “always winter and never Christmas” led Lewis to
think of the sweet, after all, sugar rations were scarce during the
time, and he probably drew parallels between that life and the one he
was creating in Narnia.
I didn't like Turkish Delight the
first time I ate it. I had conjured up something soft and sweet, a
little like a marshmallow, but more exquisite, and the reality was a
rubbery gel like thing, made of starch and sugar, flavoured with
rosewater. Not quite something I'd betray one person for, let alone
a whole country, but then, mine wasn't flavoured with magic.
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