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

Image of the xkcd

Have some Turkish delight. If you betray your family, there's more where that came from.

Wow. This is... not great.

The Narnia books gave me a really unrealistic impression of how good Turkish delight tastes.

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, 2018 at 15:56
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    I always assumed they were enchanted to make him crave more.
    – David K
    Apr 13, 2018 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, 2018 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, 2018 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, 2018 at 20:59

5 Answers 5

312

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.
    – user65648
    Apr 14, 2018 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, 2018 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, 2018 at 14:28
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    Hey @T.E.D.! Stop waling on our fish & chips, toad-in-the-hole and spotted dick! Apr 17, 2018 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, 2018 at 14:10
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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.

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    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. Apr 17, 2018 at 11:44
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    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. Apr 18, 2018 at 6:08
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    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, 2018 at 2:48
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    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, 2018 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, 2018 at 4:25
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The reason Edmund forgets his manners (and everything but stuffing as much candy in his mouth as fast as humanly possible) is not the fact that Turkish Delight is the greatest confection in existence, but the White Witch's magic:

At last the Turkish Delight was all finished and Edmund was looking very hard at the empty box and wishing 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.

This is apparently something she's done before, probably with other foods, as Beaver specifically calls out her food in connection with treachery.

"He had the look of one who has been with the Witch and eaten her food. You can always tell them if you've lived long enough in Narnia; something about their eyes."

So while you can look to the other answers for the reason Lewis picked Turkish Delight over say, toffee, keep in mind that this was never supposed to be a realistic impression of how good Turkish Delight tastes.

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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, 2018 at 7:13
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    Got to say, though: Enemy Eclairs are pretty good.
    – Lexible
    Apr 14, 2018 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, 2018 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, 2018 at 20:08
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    She didn't tempt Edmund with it, he asked her for it.
    – mbomb007
    Apr 17, 2018 at 13:59
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The only reason that he could not stop eating it is because it was enchanted.

As I recall (having read the book recently, though I don't have it at hand now) there's a point where Edmund is looking longingly at the empty box, and the witch is not surprised, since the treats were enchanted.

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