As today's xkcd so neatly puts it, the Chronicles of Narnia give a really unrealistic impression of how good Turkish Delight tastes

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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,
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe - Chapter 4: Turkish Delight

Having tasted Turkish Delight IRL, its really not that great. So what was Lewis' fascination with it, and why did he present it as if it was the end-all-be-all of candy?

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    Ummm. Turkish delight in the middle of world war 2. I think it likely that Edmund hadn't had ANYTHING that tasted good in a very long while. – JRE Apr 13 at 15:56
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    I always assumed they were enchanted to make him crave more. – David K Apr 13 at 16:33
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    "Having tasted Turkish Delight IRL, its really not that great." Have you only tried one kind? Because it comes in a bajillion flavors. Imagine someone tasting mint chip ice cream, not finding it all that fabulous, and decide that ice cream in general is not all that fabulous (which is just objectively wrong ;). Plus I am with @Valorum on true Turkish Delight (lokum). – Lexible Apr 13 at 19:47
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    @C.Koca Because subjectivity is relevant insofar as trying to understand authorial inspiration and intent, which is the purpose of the question. Regardless of OP/XKCD's opinions on Turkish Delight, the focus is on understanding the author's choices relative to the time, and as it turns out, there actually is depth to it. – Mwr247 Apr 14 at 4:26
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    "Having tasted Turkish Delight IRL, its really not that great." Have you tasted Turkish Turkish delight, or only the sad imitation that can be found in western countries? – Rand al'Thor Apr 14 at 20:59
up vote 290 down vote accepted

It's helpful to consider in context of the time. Rationings were in effect in WWII England, and Turkish Delights were a particular delicacy that was popular at the time and hard to come by. Also consider that food in general was less sugar packed than many of the options we have today, so many foods at the time that we might consider "disappointing" would have had a much different impression of the people of their time. From an article a couple years ago regarding this exact question:

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.

Why Was Turkish Delight the Ultimate Temptation in C.S. Lewis’ Narnia? - Leah Schnelbach

The article I've referenced summarizes and cites from an article written by Cara Strickland. She goes far more in depth into the matter, including pointing out Lewis' fascination with Turkish culture (Aslan is apparently the Turkish word for Lion, for example). It's far too long and detailed to include though, so I recommend checking it out directly if you want to go deeper.

So it was essentially both a cultural delicacy at the time, and as the article speculates, likely something of specific connection to Lewis himself.

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    The extra element of temptation probably lies in the name as well. In Turkish, it is not called delight, wonder or perfection. The literal translation is "mouthful", so watching the Turkish translation did not really gave me a magical feeling. Also, "aslan" literally means lion in Turkish, meaning there might be even a deeper meaning to choice of Turkish delight. – C.Koca Apr 14 at 11:42
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    Were "other flavor" Turkish Delights commonly known in England at the time, or just the rose kind? I've always found the rose ones okay, but underwhelming — but lemon, strawberry, or mint ones are a treat. – hobbs Apr 15 at 2:47
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    Also remember that he was English, so you have to compare it to English food, not food in general. :-) – T.E.D. Apr 16 at 14:28
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    Hey @T.E.D.! Stop waling on our fish & chips, toad-in-the-hole and spotted dick! – Accio_Answer Apr 17 at 11:22
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    It also makes for a very nice picture, covered in powdery white sugar, corresponding to the ice queen. – Daniel Apr 17 at 14:10

It should be remembered that until Edmund asked for Turkish delight, Jadis had very likely never heard of it at all, and so the enchantments she used to create it were running on his ideas about it.

It was already Edmund's favorite candy (or he would have asked for whatever his favorite candy was and we would be talking about that), and he could have been envisioning it as more enjoyable than his actual experience warranted.

And since the whole point of offering it to him was to hook him into her schemes, she amped up the pleasure of eating it.

  • I don't know why this has been downvoted as it makes complete sense to me. As a child I took it as read that the turkish delight was enchanted in some way. Reinforced when I tried the real stuff and found it..nice, not world-shattering, not family-betraying-good, but good. The idea of a witch presenting enchanted food is not exactly new either. – Ruadhan2300 Apr 17 at 11:44
  • I assume it was downvoted because it basically said that the choice of candy was a basically random one made by Edward. However, the choice was actually made by C. S. Lewis when writing the book and the original question was why did Lewis made that choice. – Vince O'Sullivan Apr 18 at 6:08
  • I'd really like to know how "It was already Edmund's favorite candy" got interpreted to mean "the choice of candy was basically a random one". – EvilSnack Apr 19 at 2:48
  • I think it's downvoted because the question is why Lewis picked Turkish Delight as the treat Edmund asked for, and this answer doesn't address that at all. You say it's Edmund's favorite candy, but he's a figment of Lewis's imagination. He didn't have a favorite candy until Lewis gave him one. – cjm Apr 19 at 22:16
  • My answer addresses the question of why whatever Lewis chose was made into the "end-all-be-all of candy", and not why Turkish Delight was chosen for this role; which is how I interpreted the question, as it was phrased in the final line of the OP. – EvilSnack Apr 30 at 4:25

Beside the delightfullness of some brands of Turkish Delight according to some of those who have answered here, there is also the Turkishness of Turkish Delight to considered.

If Communist Cookies, or Nazi Nougat, or Stalinist Sweets, or Enemy Eclairs, or Anarchist Apple Fritters, had been a popular band of candy or sweets when Lewis was writing, he might have chosen them for Jadis to tempt Edmund with, for the sake of their sinister sounding names.

But if Lewis was limited to using a real and familiar type of sweets, I guess that the name of Turkish Delights might have had the most sinister and hostile connotations of any real type. Various Turkish realms had been feared threats to various Christian and/or European societies for six hundred years up to the Great Turkish War of 1683 to 1699 when their conquests in Europe began to be reversed.

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    Tip: “Nazi Nougat” – Adamant Apr 14 at 7:13
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    Got to say, though: Enemy Eclairs are pretty good. – Lexible Apr 14 at 17:37
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    Since "Aslan" is the Turkish word for "lion," it seems improbable that the reference to Turkishness was intended to be sinister. – rob Apr 14 at 17:49
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    "Anarchist Apple Fritters" would be a great name for a punk band. Edgy, yet comforting and homey. – Helbent IV Apr 14 at 20:08
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    Do you have any evidence at all to support this answer? – user76284 Apr 16 at 0:45

While I support the answer of Mwr247 for important context (even if it largely lifts from another source that lacks a clear CC license), I came across an interesting answer for this question years ago at a diverse table of people from many countries.

The Turkish representative had brought a box of Turkish delight, imported from Turkey, and thus labeled in its original Turkish language ("Lokum"). This was touted as the real thing; I'd finally get to learn after years of waiting just what Edmund (Lewis) was referring to.

The Danish representative, arriving a few moments later, laughed and commented that in his language, the word means "toilet."

So even linguistically, we were set up for the experience of the dessert being a welcome treat but not nearly as amazing as Edmund described it, in comparison and context with a modern peacetime of relative abundance where a wide variety of sweets and rich foods are relatively easy to come by.

If Lewis knew this, this particular choice of treat could have been a hidden reference to something which seems quite attractive on its surface but has a much dirtier true meaning underneath. With evacuated Danish children in wartime England, real Turkish delight something that would have to be imported (according to Leah Schnelbach's article quoted by Mwr247), and the higher average number of languages Europeans are familiar with (compared to residents of other English-dominant countries), it would not necessarily be that unusual for Lewis or at least some of his readers to pick up on this connection.

His writing style puts meaning on so many different levels and layers, that I would not be entirely surprised if this was intentional. Also, he could not have conveyed that meaning with any other choice of treat, so it lends a bit more weight to the possibility that the extra layer of meaning may have been intended.

In a later reading of the particular section quoted in the question, I also interpreted "Turkish Delight" as a code for addictive drugs (e.g. opiods) that also make one forget one's manners, think only of trying to shovel down as much as one can, where the more one consumes the more one wants to consume. Lewis's goal of embedding morals and lessons important for young people to learn would likely have included strong cautions against this sort of substance, even if is something that sounds exotic and tempting, because such drugs lead to one's downfall and hurt one's family.

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    OMFG is this speculative, “n a later reading of the particular section quoted in the question, I also interpreted "Turkish Delight" as a code for addictive drugs (e.g. opiods) that also make one forget one's manners, think only of trying to shovel down as much as one can…” – JakeGould Apr 14 at 16:26
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    Sugar is an addictive substance. So is coffee. Your answer is baseless. – JakeGould Apr 14 at 20:56
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    Not in the same way or to the same extent or with the same consequences as described in the text. – WBT Apr 14 at 21:37
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    You're saying that his reference to a commonly known delicacy was actually a vaguely scatalogical linguistic pun relying on his readers knowing both Turkish and Danish (languages that, AFAIK, Lewis himself didn't speak), and thus which 99.9999% of his readers were sure to misinterpret? Please, give him credit for being a better author than that. – Sneftel Apr 16 at 10:09
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    I think if an author is able to bury another layer of meaning in linguistic choices about something which seems very attractive on the surface but isn't when you really look into it, that's a valuable trick and worth giving credit to someone for doing that, even if it's not clearly intentional. Readers would be far more likely to miss that connection than misinterpret. It's the different layers of meaning that's part of what makes Narnia such good writing. – WBT Apr 17 at 13:26

Possibly due to how the writing works as Turkish delight is a very specific food for a westerner to imagine.

If I say chocolate you are imagining a vague concept of twenty plus types but you have probably only had Turkish delight a few times and it makes the reader imagine the food with much more clarity.

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    Is there anything here beyond pure speculation? – Edlothiad Apr 16 at 9:07
  • @Edlothiad The writing technique? I don't think it was empirically tested so no, it would be speculation. – PStag Apr 16 at 9:10
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    I've downvoted this answer as it is nothing more than speculation. Especially when you read the sources in the top answer and see there was likely a stronger connection that just "something unique". – TheLethalCarrot Apr 16 at 9:17
  • @TheLethalCarrot Hypothetically, how can an answer to this question not be speculation other than a direct quote from CS.Lewis answering this question? – PStag Apr 16 at 9:27
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    @PStag There is a distinction between pure speculation and informed speculation. This reads more as pure speculation to me. – TheLethalCarrot Apr 16 at 9:31

protected by SQB Apr 14 at 15:58

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