It’s a question that has haunted every Narnia fan: WHY TURKISH DELIGHT? Why would Edmund Pevensie willingly sell his family (and, allegorically at least, his soul) to the White Witch for boxes of candy? I mean:
While he was eating the Queen kept asking him questions. At first Edmund tried to remember that it is rude to speak with one’s mouth full, but soon he forgot about this and thought only of trying to shovel down as much Turkish Delight as he could, and the more he ate the more he wanted to eat, and he never asked himself why the Queen should be so inquisitive. She got him to tell her that he had one brother and two sisters, and that one of his sisters had already been in Narnia and had met a Faun there, and that no one except himself and his brother and his sisters knew anything about Narnia. She seemed especially interested in the fact that there were four of them, and kept on coming back to it.“You are sure there are just four of you?” she asked. ‘Two Sons of Adam and two Daughters of Eve, neither more nor less?” and Edmund, with his mouth full of Turkish Delight,turkish-delight kept on saying, “Yes, I told you that before,” and forgetting to call her “Your Majesty” but she didn’t seem to mind now.
Seriously, Edmund, would you have handed Churchill over if she offered you a Mars bar?
The question of Turkish Delight often becomes still more perplexing when a young Narnia fan actually eats the stuff, and finds that it does not live up to Edmund’s rapturous praises. As with so many things in pop culture, the answer lies in the context, and since we’re living in a beautiful future, an academic article has stepped in to tell us all about the importance of Delight.
According to food critic Cara Strickland, the Turkish sweet cast an intoxicating spell over late-Victorian England. Made from a confection of rose oil and sugar, the candy is simple on paper, but proves extremely difficult to make – no matter how Western Europeans tried, they never quite replicated it. Thus, if you wanted real Delight, you had to import it from Turkey, which got expensive fast, so that it became a marker of either status or indulgence in much the way the way coffee had a century earlier.
Of course just as costs had gone down, the outbreak of World War II and its subsequent rationing meant that the candy was harder than ever to come by. Perhaps this is why it became so significant to Lewis? As he welcomed refugee children into his Oxford neighborhood, he thought back on the candies and holidays that had marked his own childhood.
It makes sense that Turkish delight would have been on Lewis’s brain as he crafted a book where Christmas features as a main theme. In Narnia, it is “always winter and never Christmas,” a product of the White Witch’s evil magic. It makes sense to draw a parallel between this dismal fantasy and the stark realities of wartime. Rationing extended to timber, which made Christmas trees harder to come by, and confectionery rationing didn’t end until February of 1953—still well before the end of sugar rationing later that year. When the White Witch asks Edmund what he’d like best to eat, it’s entirely possible that Lewis was answering for him: the candy that would be most difficult and expensive to obtain. Edmund isn’t just asking the witch for candy, he’s essentially asking her for Christmas, too.
As you see, asking WHY TURKISH DELIGHT? is not a frivolous question at all. Head over to Strickland’s full article to learn more about the making of Turkish Delight, and why it took British pop culture by storm.