At the time I read C. S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, I didn’t know what Turkish Delight looks like. My mind latched on to the word “delight” and jumped to the conclusion that it is completely understandable for Edmund to betray his siblings for another bite of it. (It’s also completely possible to replace “Turkish Delight” with “money,” “sex” or “power” and my conclusion would still be a valid one.) It never occurred to me to Google Turkish Delight. Or it might have occurred to me but I ignored the urge. For many years, I thought of it as a delectable main course that’s fit to be served during times of celebration. (Or what’s the “delight” for, right?) Never mind that the film has already alerted me to the errors of my assumption. That, too, I chose to ignore.
Last year, my friend visited Israel and brought a box of Turkish delight home for me. So it wasn’t a main course after all. I acted as if I knew all along what it was although I couldn’t wait to get home to tear off the plastic and open the box. For a few seconds, I was Edmund, completely consumed by the thought of finally partaking of the delicacy.
“It is dull, Son of Adam, to drink without eating,” said the Queen presently. “What would you like best to eat?”
“Turkish Delight, please, your Majesty,” said Edmund.
The 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. He was quite warm now, and very comfortable.
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, kept on saying, “Yes, I told you that before,” and forgetting to call her “Your Majesty” but she didn’t seem to mind now.
At last the Turkish Delight was all finished and Edmund was looking very hard at the empty box and wishing that she would ask him whether he would like some more. Probably the Queen knew quite well what he was thinking; for she knew, though Edmund did not, that this was enchanted Turkish Delight and that anyone who had once tasted it would want more and more of it, and would even, if they were allowed, go on eating it till they killed themselves. But she did not offer him any more. Instead, she said to him, “Son of Adam, I should so much like to see your brother and your two sisters. Will you bring them to me?”
“I’ll try,” said Edmund, still looking at the empty box.
“Because, if you did come again—bringing them with you of course—I’d be able to give you some more Turkish Delight. I can’t do it now, the magic will only work once. In my own house it would be another matter.”
“Why can’t we go to your house now?” said Edmund. When he had first got on to the sledge he had been afraid that she might drive away with him to some unknown place from which he would not be able to get back, but he had forgotten about that fear now.
“It is a lovely place, my house,” said the Queen. “I am sure you would like it. There are whole rooms full of Turkish Delight, and what’s more, I have no children of my own. I want a nice boy whom I could bring up as a Prince and who would be King of Narnia when I am gone. While he was Prince he would wear a gold crown and eat Turkish Delight all day long; and you are much the cleverest and handsomest young man I’ve ever met. I think I would like to make you the Prince—some day, when you bring the others to visit me.”
“Why not now?” said Edmund. His face had become very red and his mouth and fingers were sticky. He did not look either clever or handsome whatever the Queen might say.
Alas, the real thing isn’t quite as magical as the book made it out to be. If I were to rename the confection, I would have gone with Turkish OK, but I doubt Edmund would have asked for some Turkish OK, or that there’s any magic that can transform it into something hypnotic with a name like that. After the first bite, I rethought my assessment of a brainwashed Edmund: he’s just being a greedy jerk.
The book, though, is truly magical. I first saw it sometime in mid-1994 in a secondhand bookshop in Quiapo before I knew who the author was. It was eventually made into a film, which, quoting my 2006 self: “I can’t say it’s perfect, but it’s as good as films go. And as I’ve said earlier, you can’t go wrong when the written material is perfect, unless you’re an idiot and you think you’re not. High time C. S. Lewis gets the much deserved attention anyway.” (Whoa! Calm down, gorgeous!)
My favorite C. S. Lewis work, I must say, is The Screwtape Letters. It’s laugh-out-loud funny and it still manages to sneak in the Christian lessons that Mr. Lewis always aimed for. These books present the kind of religion I might consider getting behind (but not convert to) and I’m sure many atheists and agnostics would give the books a chance if only for their literary merits.