Repost: By The Power Of Jell-O!

[Ana's Note: By popular demand, this is a re-post of an old deconstruction, partly to have content while I struggle with my ongoing disability challenges and partly so that newcomers can comment on old conversations.

The original post is here. I have not edited the content. I do have stronger feelings now (as opposed to then) about the use of food in this series and the way in which Good English Fare is contrasted with foreign fripperies.]



Narnia Recap: Edmund has followed Lucy into the wardrobe and found himself lost and alone in the magical land of Narnia. Edmund calls for Lucy, but thanks to Narnia Time, she has been in the world long enough to leave the immediate area of the portal. A woman riding in an expensive sleigh pulls up and introduces herself to Edmund as the Queen of Narnia; she demands to know what Edmund is.

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

   "My poor child," she said in quite a different voice, "how cold you look! Come and sit with me here on the sledge and I will put my mantle round you and we will talk."
Edmund did not like this arrangement at all but he dared not disobey; he stepped onto the sledge and sat at her feet, and she put a fold of her fur mantle round him and tucked it well in. [...]
   The Queen took from somewhere among her wrappings a very small bottle which looked as if it were made of copper. Then, holding out her arm, she let one drop fall from it onto the snow beside the sledge. Edmund saw the drop for a second in mid-air, shining like a diamond. But the moment it touched the snow there was a hissing sound and there stood a jeweled cup full of something that steamed. [...]
   "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 onto 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 center and Edmund had never tasted anything more delicious. He was quite warm now, and very comfortable.

Raise your hand if you read the Chronicles of Narnia as a child and wanted nothing more than to taste this strange "Turkish Delight" concoction that was apparently so good that it could cause you to be warm and cozy in the coldest winter and would bring you to betray your own family for more of it. I know I did.

I can't have been the only one: I remember when the most recent movies were coming out, several articles ran fluff pieces about how the candy wasn't particularly that good and that quite a few children were going to be terribly disappointed should they ever have a chance to try the stuff. 

Wiki has this to say about Turkish Delight:

Turkish delight or lokum is a family of confections based on a gel of starch and sugar. Premium varieties consist largely of chopped dates, pistachios and hazelnuts or walnuts bound by the gel; the cheapest are mostly gel, generally flavored with rosewater, mastic, or lemon. The confection is often packaged and eaten in small cubes dusted with icing sugar, copra, or powdered cream of Tartar, to prevent clinging.

They're gel cubes. The more expensive ones suspend nice things in the gel -- nuts and fruit, mostly -- but they're essentially gel cubes. And may I just say that if I have a choice, I'd rather eat the ones dusted with sugar than with cream of Tartar! But I certainly wouldn't want to eat a whole box of these things.

(Interestingly, you can buy them from Amazon, or there are online recipes, if you're feeling adventurous.)

In re-reading this book, I spent a lot of time thinking about this scene. This is a lynchpin scene for the entire book -- literally everything that will happen in the novel from here on out will be a logical result of this scene here. Edmund is (supposedly) seduced to the side of evil, and his price is a foamy beverage and a box of sugar-dusted gel cubes. As Judas had his blood money; so it seems that Edmund must have blood candy.

I find myself wondering, therefore, why gel cubes? Were they picked at random by Lewis or as something he knew his younger relations were especially fond of? Was the confection a rarity in London at the time and therefore especially valuable, like a candy version of (something else I haven't bothered to taste) rare caviar? Or is there a symbolic meaning behind the candy -- perhaps, that the insubstantial, un-fulfilling, and utterly non-nutritious nature of the candy is analogous to the wages of sin? Is there a meaning behind the name Turkish Delight that Lewis hoped to invoke? Can a good English boy want a confection that is heavily associated (according to Wikipedia) with the Eastern Orthodox church?

These are the thoughts that keep me up at night, I swear.

   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. [...]
   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.

This is another major speed-bump in the "Edmund as Traitor" narrative: Edmund has been given magical food by the villain.

Food has a long history of being an important motivator in people's actions, particularly in the ancient mythological sources that Lewis draws so much of his material from. The food of the underworld compels anyone -- even a goddess like Persephone -- to remain in the underworld even against their wishes; the pomegranate seeds that Persephone ingested force her to spend several months of the year in Hades with her husband. The food Circe served Odysseus' men turned them into pigs and wild beasts; the men instantly shed their humanity and became pets for her garden and food for her tables. Ambrosia, the food of the gods, confers immortality on those who consume it; again, regardless of the wishes of the already-existing gods.

These are stories about the power of food, and it's not surprising that food is considered powerful in older stories. To modern, wealthy audiences, food is a pleasure, but to ancient, poorer audiences, food was a necessity. You lived or died by the food that you ate. Some foods made you sick, other foods killed you -- it wasn't a stretch of the imagination that certain foods could rob you of your freedom and compel you to do things against your will.

That food was dangerous was a fact of life, but also a source of drama -- you had to eat, after all, and thus was every meal a source of potential danger. Not even the gods were immune from the danger of ingesting something secretly terrible: Tantalus was confined to Tartarus for holding a banquet for the gods and serving his son as the entree. Surviving myths held that only Demeter, in her constant sorrow, was tricked, but I'm convinced that earlier, less-reverent versions of the same tale featured all the gods being duped. The story packed a meaningful punch: no matter how powerful you became, your friends could still poison you at the dinner table.

Knowing this classical history as Lewis must have, it is simply not enough to provide us with a scene where Edmund ingests magical food from a villain -- food so powerful that the eater will do anything to have more, even to the point of gorging himself to death -- and then never attempt to justify how Edmund can still be seen as a traitor acting on his own free will.

   "Son of Adam, I should so much like to see your brother and your two sisters. Will you bring them to see 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." [...]
   "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."

This scene is not the seduction of a young mind from the principles of good-but-boring to the side of evil-but-exciting; this scene reads -- to me -- as the witch manipulating Edmund through the magical hypnosis she has cast upon him.

She's fed him magical food -- food that appeared to be Turkish Delight because that was what Edmund most wanted at the moment -- and now she's using that word as a hypnotic trigger to plant a command in Edmund's mind: He will obey her. He will bring his siblings to her. He will come directly to her house. Magical hunger will torment him day and night until he completes this command. Tur-kish de-light, tur-kish de-light, tur-kish de-light. This isn't the seductive serpent in the garden -- this is the Imperius curse.

Then one more command comes up, and it is a command that has unintended consequences: 

   "And, by the way," said the Queen, "you needn't tell them about me. It would be fun to keep it a secret between us two, wouldn't it?"

The witch seals Edmund from telling the others about this visit. This will, I believe, crop up in a way that the witch doesn't intend in Chapter 5.

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