Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Narnian Robin, a Harbinger of Change

In my home, I have a collection of stuffed toys acquired over the years since I was a young child. They reside in a special game room that has been set aside for visits by my grand nephews and nieces. Many of the stuffed toys fill the nooks of a hutch I inherited from my grandmother. In a place of honor on top of the hutch are two birds: a yellow meadowlark that reminds me of the warbling songs I grew up with in Denver, and a cheery robin, a universal symbol spring and hope.

In literature, birds are often used as harbingers of change, the first hints that something special lies ahead. It is no surprise that C.S. Lewis chose a robin to guide the Pevensies in Narnia. The children had decided to stay in Narnia, but they were uncertain in which direction they should travel; they had lost sight of the lamppost that led to the wardrobe, and were perplexed on how to proceed. It was then they noticed a robin that “kept going from tree to tree, always a few yards ahead of them, but always so near that they could easily follow. In this way it led them on, slightly downhill.” Lucy even commented that it “almost looks as if it wanted to say something to us.”

The robin would have been fairly easy to follow because of its bright breast plumage. English robins are a light brown with a fairly wide band of white separating the brown and orange of the breast (as compared to the American robin, which is dark brown with a red breast). It was this spot of orange that would have stood out sharply against the snow of Narnia, the land where it is “always winter but never Christmas.”

As a harbinger of spring, robins are among the first birds to arrive after winter’s cold. Their lovely warbles often solo in the frigid weather. They foreshadow the start of thawing and warming, and the blossoming of trees and flowers. The robin in Narnia fulfills the same function as it does in England, America, and many other countries in announcing the coming of spring.

In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (TLWW), Lewis writes: “Wherever the Robin alighted a little shower of snow would fall off the branch. Presently the clouds parted overhead and the winter sun came out and the snow all around them grew dazzlingly bright.” The robin’s appearance is the first sign that spring was on its way, that the power of the White Witch to maintain year ‘round winter is weakening. It is the first indication to the inhabitants of Narnia that the witch’s spell was cracking, that they would be able to escape her clutches.

The robin heralds a great change coming to Narnia—the arrival of the two daughters of Eve and two sons of Adam who would sit on the royal thrones and rule wisely; the return of Aslan, Narnia’s Christ figure who would atone for Edmund’s wrongs, be slain, and return in glory; and the breaking of the power of the White Witch and her evil, wintry hold on the country.

Lewis and Robins

Several years before writing TLWW, Lewis wrote a poem about spring’s harbinger. Entitled “What the Bird Said Early in the Year,” it is about what a robin sang to him as he strolled down his favorite path at Oxford, Addison’s Walk:

I heard in Addison’s Walk a bird sing clear:
This year the summer will come true. This year. This year.

Winds will not strip the blossom from the apple trees
This year nor want of rain destroy the peas.

This year time’s nature will no more defeat you.
Nor all the promised moments in their passing cheat you.

This time they will not lead you round and back
To Autumn, one year older, by the well worn track.

This year, this year, as all these flowers foretell,
We shall escape the circle and undo the spell.

Often deceived, yet open once again your heart,
Quick, quick, quick, quick! – the gates are drawn apart.

This fanciful poem talks about the cycle of seasons (which did not occur in Narnia at the time of the Pevensie children’s first visit), and mentions escape and undoing a spell (which happened to the witch’s powers when the Pevensies and Aslan began to fulfill a prophecy [See note #1]). This reference to a robin is another instance of how Lewis reuses similar thoughts and images in different literary works.

Addison’s Walk

Addison's Walk (originally called Water Walk) is a picturesque footpath on an island in the grounds of Magdalen College, Oxford, England. It runs partly past the River Cherwell. The Walk is named after Joseph Addison (painting at left), a Fellow of the College from 1698 to 1711, who enjoyed walking there and later writing articles about landscaping for The Spectator magazine. The path most likely originally dates from the 16th Century although the name "Addison's Walk" has only been in use since the 19th Century.

Addison’s Walk was special to Lewis. In his autobiography, Surprised by Joy, he mentions a significant experience that happened there just before 3 a.m. on Sunday morning, September 20, 1931. It was at this time that Lewis and two good friends and fellow Inklings, J.R.R. Tolkien and Hugo Dyson, took a walk along the Cherwell. All the previous evening the men had been discussing their lifelong fascination with myths. It was sad, Lewis declared, to think that classic tales of courage, beauty, sacrifice and virtue are all untrue and ultimately worthless.

Tolkien stopped his skeptical friend cold by forcefully arguing: No! They are not lies! Myths contain great spiritual truths. Lewis recalled later in a letter to a friend that while walking "... we were interrupted by a rush of wind which came so suddenly on the still, warm evening and sent so many leaves pattering down that we thought it was raining. We held our breath...." It was only short hours later that Lewis announced he had become a Christian.

A Bit of Serendipity

Famed guitarist Phil Keaggy wrote a tune entitled “Addison’s Walk.” When I heard it, I could imagine myself walking down a secluded pathway by a slow-moving river, a breeze occasionally ruffling the leaves of the large trees that form a canopy overhead. I could also picture the Pevensie children following a brightly colored robin as it flitted from one snow-covered branch to another.

“Addison’s Walk” has a light, happy, reflective melody. It only lasts about 90 seconds, and if you take the time to listen to it, I think you’ll catch the joy.

I couldn’t find any information about the inspiration for this tune, whether Keaggy visited Oxford or not, or is a fan of C.S. Lewis. “Addison’s Walk” appears on Keaggy’s album “Beyond Nature,” a Celtic-influenced album for which Keaggy won his second Dove Award (gospel music) in 1992, so there is potentially some connection between the song and the place. In the above video clip, there is a sign atop the old upright radio behind Keaggy that reads “31.” I initially wondered if this was in homage to C.S. Lewis’ fateful stroll along Addison’s Walk in 1931; in learning more about Keaggy, I ran across a couple of other songs that were filmed with the same backdrop, so I’m sure the “31” is just a fun coincidence.

For more information about this incredible guitarist, check out the following sites:

Another Serendipitous Tidbit

In April 2009, the gospel music Dove Award for best instrumental album went to “Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Capian,” Harry Gregson-Williams, Walt Disney Records.

Note #1: The Pevensie children’s arrival in Narnia began the fulfillment of an old prophecy about the end of the evil White Witch’s reign and the return of the seasons—

When Adam’s flesh and Adam’s bone
Sits at Cair Paravel in throne

The evil time will be over and done.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Narnia's First Citizen: Mr. Tumnus

C.S. Lewis said that the ideas for his fictional stories often first came to him in the form of a single image. In the case of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (TLWW), the picture in his head was that of a faun. He said:

“All my seven Narnian books…began with seeing pictures in my head. At first they were not a story, just pictures. [The Chronicles of Narnia]…began with a picture of a Faun carrying an umbrella and parcels in a snowy wood. This picture had been I my mind since I was about sixteen. Then one day, when I was about forty, I said to myself: ‘Let’s try to make a story about it.’”

Since the fawn was the inspiration for all that follows in the Chronicles of Narnia, it is only fitting that Mr. Tumnus is the first citizen of Narnia whom Lucy meets upon entering the land beyond the wardrobe. The following video clip from the Walt Disney movie is of their first encounter:

Mr. Tumnus, like several characters in the Narnian Chronicles, are multi-faceted creatures, embodying both good and bad characteristics. In the case of Mr. Tumnus, our initial reaction is that he is good; he seems pleased to meet Lucy and readily invites her to join him for tea at his home. He is compassionate, understanding, and concerned for Lucy’s well being. The two seem to be developing a very nice relationship. He even plays his flute for Lucy, which relaxes her to sleep. The following clip is of Mr. Tumnus playing the Narnia Lullaby:

It isn’t until Lucy wakes up that readers discover Mr. Tumnus is, in fact, a spy for the wicked White Witch who has instructed her minions to capture all sons of Adam and daughters of Eve and turn them over to her. She wants to eliminate the humans so the prophecy ending her reign will not come to pass. After Mr. Tumnus gets to know Lucy, he regrets being in league with the witch and resolves to defy her orders. (It is likely that the image of Aslan in the flames shocks Mr. Tumnus to his senses, and is a turning point in his change of allegiance). Mr. Tumnus tearfully admits to Lucy that he has not been honest with her, and has not been a true friend. Lucy hands Mr. Tumnus her handkerchief to dry his tears, she forgives the deceit, and a true friendship is forged.

In the embodiment of Mr. Tumnus, the first citizen we meet in Narnia, Lewis portrays the duality that exists in all of us, and the price we pay for disobedience. We all have the seeds of good and evil in us, and we choose on a daily basis the direction our lives will take. Even though Tumnus expresses sorrow for his evil intentions and returns to doing good, he eventually pays the price for not turning Lucy over to the White Witch when the witch turns him into a stone statue. We, too, must pay the price for our wrongdoings as part of the process of repentance. And just as Aslan restored the stone statues to life, Christ’s atonement and grace make our redemption and eternal life possible.

Serendipity: Parallel Worlds

Devin Brown, in his book Inside Narnia, suggests a comparison between Mr. Tumnus and the White Rabbit from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland:

  • Like Mr. Tumnus, the White Rabbit—who wears a waistcoat and has a pocket watch—is a wild creature who has been transformed into a civilized one and thus also demonstrates a blending of two worlds.
  • When Alice speaks to the White Rabbit, he is startled and, like Mr. Tumnus, drops what he has been carrying, white gloves and a fan.
  • Mr. Tumnus’ first words are “Goodness, gracious me,” an expression which could be said to parallel the first words of the White Rabbit, “Oh, dear! Oh, dear!”
  • Mr. Tumnus begins to cry and ends up using Lucy’s handkerchief, which he must wring out again and again. Soon Lucy finds herself standing in “a damp patch.” A similar image can be found in an early scene in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, where Alice is descried as “shedding gallons of tears, until there was a large pool around her.”
Other comparisons between Lucy in Narnia and Alice in Wonderland include:
  • Like Narnia, Alice’s Wonderland is bigger on the inside than it seemed from the outside and is entered through a tunnel-like or hole-like opening.
  • After Lucy and Alice enter their imaginary lands, both encounter hostile queens.
Music Video of Lucy and Mr. Tumnus

There are dozens of music videos that use clips from the Walt Disney movie of TLWW. Here is one that nicely summarizes the relationship between Lucy and Mr. Tumnus (running time approx. 5 minutes).

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Socratic Teaching Method

In C.S. Lewis’ classic fantasy The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (TLWW), the Professor, to whose home the Pevensie children have been sent to avoid the London Blitz, has a wonderful discussion with the older children, Peter and Susan, about their younger siblings.

When youngest sister Lucy first told her brothers and sister about visiting Narnia, they didn’t believe her. After Edmund and Lucy visited Narnia at the same time, Lucy was excited that Edmund would now be able to confirm her earlier story. Unfortunately, Edmund claimed there was no Narnia, that he was just pretending to humor Lucy. Both Edmund and Lucy stuck to their stories and caused a row. Peter got mad at Edmund for teasing their little sister, and both Peter and Susan were afraid that Lucy was going mad. They decided they must talk with the Professor about the situation.

To their surprise, the Professor stopped what he was doing, pulled up chairs for Peter and Susan, and gave them his full attention. After they explained the situation, rather than rushing to judgment or making a pronouncement, he began asking a series of questions, which was “the last thing either of them expected.”

To paraphrase their conversation, in which the Professor used questions, restatement and further questions in the Socratic manner:

Question – How do you know that your sister’s story is not true?
Answer – Edmund said they were only pretending.
Comment – That fact “deserves consideration, very serious consideration.”

Question – Does your experience lead you to regard your brother or your sister as the more reliable? I mean, which is the more truthful?
Answer – Generally, both children thought Lucy to be the more truthful.
Response – “A charge of lying against someone whom you have always found truthful is a very serious thing.”

Question – Are you saying Lucy is lying?
Answer – The children said they thought Lucy might be mad.
Response – “Oh, you can make your minds easy about that. One only has to look at her and talk to her to see that she is not mad.”

Question (aside) – “Why don’t they teach logic at these schools?”
Response – ‘There are only three possibilities. Either your sister is telling lies, or she is mad, or she is telling the truth. You know she doesn’t tell lies and it is obvious that she is not mad. For the moment then and unless any further evidence turns up, we must assume that she is telling the truth.”

Question – Why do you say Lucy’s story can’t be true?
Answer – Peter conjectures that if Narnia really did exist, everyone should be able to find it when they opened the wardrobe. He had looked and didn’t find anything.

Question – What has the fact that you looked in the wardrobe and didn’t find Narnia have to do with Lucy’s claim she had been there?
Answer – Peter explained that “if things are real, they’re there all the time.”

Question – Is that true?
Answer – Peter could not answer, and Susan claimed that there hadn’t been enough time elapse for Lucy to really have gone anywhere.
Response – The professor said that the fact of the time difference “is the very thing that makes her story so likely to be true.” He said that, if there were other worlds, he would expect that their measurement of time would not be the same as ours. He also confirmed that he didn’t think any little girl would be able to fabricate such an elaborate story as the one Lucy told of Narnia. (See Note #1, below.)

After this conversation, Peter asked the Professor if there really were “other worlds all over the place.” The Professor responded with “Nothing is more probable.” His parting comments were “We might all try minding our own business.” This ended the discussion. Peter and Susan felt better about their little sister, and they had newfound respect for the Professor who had treated them more like adults than children.

The Power of the Socratic Method

I learned about the Socratic method of teaching in college, and it remains my favorite method of presenting lessons. By asking open-ended questions, class members are encouraged to reflect critically and interpret the question based on personal knowledge and experience. There usually are no right or wrong answers, and the responses reflect individual thinking, feeling or behaving. Responses also often generate additional questions, responses, and insights.

The Socratic method is the oldest, and still the most powerful, teaching tactic for fostering critical thinking. (It is routinely used in training law students.) The teacher presents questions, not answers. Through ongoing questioning and responding, students form their own answers through disciplined thought. One reason it is so powerful is that each student is able to learn what is most important to him and his situation, as well as gain an appreciation for the differing ideas of others in the class. The method goes beyond memorization, into reasoning and application of ideas to new situations. It fosters personal growth.

In TLWW, the Professor uses a form of Socratic teaching. He both asks and responds to questions designed to get Peter and Susan to figure out the situation for themselves. At the end, both children seemed calm, and also felt more mature because of how the Professor talked with them. Learning by this method was held in high regard by the Professor, who didn’t much care for the English school system.

Condemnation of the School System

The Professor’s aside question of “Why don’t they teach logic at these schools?” is reflective of Lewis’ overall feeling about school systems. In his autobiographical book Surprised by Joy, Lewis described the horrendous boarding schools he was sent to as a young boy. It wasn’t until he had a private tutor—William Kirkpatrick—that he enjoyed education. Lewis credited Kirkpatrick, an “obsessively rational thinker,” with teaching him how to think and reason clearly. This last tutor he had before entering Oxford taught Lewis the “give-and-take that seeks truth through the relentless probing of an opponent’s position,” using (as Lewis described it) an exaggerated version of Socratic dialog. Under this tutor, Lewis honed his considerable debating skills.

It’s no surprise, therefore, that the Professor in TLWW used a form of Socratic dialog when talking with Peter and Susan about Lucy and Edmund. Lewis knew from personal experience the power of the method, and how it stimulates the mind and forms a strong foundation for future learning and reasoning.

Lewis’s condemnation of schools was the framework around which he wrote The Abolition of Man, subtitled "Reflections on education with special reference to the teaching of English in the upper forms of schools." Lewis began his book with a critical response to what he called “The Green Book,” by “Gaius and Titus” (in fact The Control of Language: A Critical Approach to Reading and Writing by Alex King and Martin Ketley (1939), who had asked him to review their work). The Green Book purported to teach English to school children, but took it upon itself to teach that all statements of value (such as "this waterfall is sublime") are merely statements about the speaker's feelings and say nothing about the object. Lewis claimed that such a subjective view of values was faulty, and, on the contrary, certain objects and actions merited positive or negative reactions: that a waterfall can actually be objectively praiseworthy, and that one's actions can be objectively good or evil. In any case, Lewis noted that this was a philosophical position rather than a grammatical one, and so parents and teachers who gave such books to their children and students were having them read the "work of amateur philosophers where they expected the work of professional grammarians." (I’m sure King and Ketley regretted asking Lewis to review their book!)


While Lewis was very vocal about the shortcomings of England’s school system (he mentioned it again in The Silver Chair), he was passionate about education and learning. He was an academic who spent his entire adult life teaching and tutoring at Oxford and later Cambridge universities. A lifelong learner himself, he also encouraged others to pursue intellectual and spiritual education, to hone their critical thinking abilities, and expand their cultural horizons. He wrote extensively in multiple genres and was able to reach a wide spectrum of individuals. His radio broadcasts during World War II (which were later compiled into the book Mere Christianity) provided hope and comfort through turning to God and Christ in times of trouble. His powerful thoughts and words have stood the test of time, and he is today among the most often quoted philosophers and critical thinkers.

Lewis also cared deeply about children. Like the Professor in TLWW, confirmed bachelor Lewis took in a group of girls during the Blitz and seemed to enjoy the experience. (See Note #2, below.) In addition, he took pains to write back to children who had written to him (some letters were compiled and published under the title Letters to Children). And, of course, his Chronicles of Narnia were a wonderful gift to children of all ages; through the pages of the seven books, readers can have profound experiences as well as enjoy flights of fantasy.

Lewis taught on several levels, using many different techniques. I believe he wrote something for each one of us. We just need to immerse ourselves in his books and embrace the great thoughts that are found on the printed page. The experience can be life altering.

Note #1: In addition to demonstrating a Socratic teaching method, the discussion among the Professor, Peter and Susan, shows another mode of teaching used by Lewis--a trichotomy. A trichotomy is a three-part version of the philosophical "dichotomy," which dramatizes that there are only two real choices or options in assessing the truth of a proposition; a trichotomy attempts to force a choice among three things. The Professor explains that Lucy's story of Narnia shows that she is (a) lying, (b) mad, or (c) telling the truth. Put this way, they all agree that the "logical" conclusion is that Lucy is telling the truth about her adventures beyond the wardrobe. Lewis also uses the trichotomy in Mere Christianity to defend the divinity of Christ, who men variously refer to as "liar, lunatic, or Lord." Lewis adeptly champions the last option.

Note #2: One reason children were sent to the Oxford area to escape the German Blitz was that it was considered safe because Adolph Hitler had indicated a penchant for nearby Blenheim Palace. The birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill, Blenheim would have become Hitler's home had the Third Reich won the war. Therefore, Hitler did not want his air force bombing prized property. Several London children found safety the Oxford area, including those taken in by Lewis at The Kilns.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

A Lion, a Witch, and 2 Wardrobes?

A battle of Narnian proportions has raged for years over who owns the “real” wardrobe that inspired C.S. Lewis when he wrote The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (TLWW). One contender is Westmont College of Santa Barbara, California, and the other is Wheaton College, Illinois. Both Christian colleges claim ownership of the famous armoire.

The Simple Wardrobe at Westmont

Lewis describes the wardrobe in TLWW simply as “a big wardrobe, the sort that has a looking-glass in the door.” It was big enough to hold “a second row of coats hanging up behind the first one,” yet the threshold was low enough that a small child could step into it. Based on this description, Westmont seems to have an edge.

In 1974, Distinguished Professor Emeritus Arthur Lynip and 30 Westmont students studying literature in England learned that the wardrobe was still at The Kilns, Lewis’ Oxford home. The large size of the wardrobe explains its having been left in house after other furniture and belongings had been auctioned off or donated. After the house was remodeled, the 1901 wardrobe was too big to remove from its upstairs room without taking it apart piece by piece. The wardrobe was to be demolished at the time the Westmont students learned of its existence. The students quickly purchased the wardrobe sight unseen from the new owner of The Kilns, and Dr. Lynip engaged a cabinetmaker to dismantle the wardrobe, crate it, and ship it to Westmont College. It has been on display in the English Department offices for the past 35 years.

"Day after day, you see people coming through to pay homage," said Paul J. Willis, whose office is next to this doorway into Narnia. "There is that part of me that wants to say to each and every one of them, 'Hey! It's just a wardrobe!' ... Yet part of me also thinks that it's funny, and significant, that we are so serious about our literary relics."(a)

The Ornate Wardrobe at Wheaton

Wheaton College has a famous center for C.S. Lewis studies—the Wade Center. (See Note #1.) Their collection of memorabilia includes Lewis’ desk, 2,400 books from his personal library, 2,300 of his letters, and an ornate, double-door, dark oak wardrobe handmade by Lewis' grandfather in Belfast, Ireland. Lewis’ brother Warren confirmed that this wardrobe was in their family home during the years that shaped their imaginations and childhood games.

A Lewis cousin often talked about how, when they were children, they would climb in the wardrobe and Lewis would tell made-up stories. "So, when he was writing the story (TLWW), I'm sure that was part of the impetus," recalled Marjorie Lamp Mead, associate director at the Wade Center.(b)

The ornate wardrobe that the Lewis brothers grew up with moved with them to The Kilns in Oxford, where it remained until 1973 when, at Warren’s death, it was purchased by Wheaton College.


Wheaton has a beautiful, ornate wardrobe linked to the childhood of Lewis, the time when he began telling his first tales of magic lands full of talking animals (as compiled in Boxen). To increase the connection with the Narnian Chronicles, the college has filled its wardrobe with fur coats and affixed a warning sign: "We do not take responsibility for people disappearing."

Westmont, on the other hand, has a Lewis wardrobe that fits the description of the one that the adult writer inserted into his most famous fantasy. It is an ordinary, everyday wardrobe like thousands of others in homes throughout England. To bolster the wardrobe’s credentials, the trustees at Westmont have hung fur coats inside, and crowned it with a stuffed lion in homage to Aslan.

So, who has the “real” wardrobe that served as inspiration for TLWW? Neither campus appears willing to concede defeat in this battle of the wardrobes.

According to professor Willis, "Lewis, of course, would say that neither of these wardrobes are the real thing. They are merely copies. They are what Lewis would call shadows of the wardrobe. What really matters is the wardrobe in the story, because that is the doorway into the land beyond our own—the true land of Aslan."(a)

Photos: My niece Anna, 1986 (above), Lucy Pevensie, during the Blitz, 1940-41 (right)

Personal Reflections
: I’ve always loved that the Pevensies entered Narnia through a wardrobe, the door of which opened to a world of excitement and enjoyment. I grew up in a home with a large armoire in which my mother kept vintage fairy tale books, the World Book Encyclopedia, our favorite card and board games, and a record player (later tape/CD player). Our armoire, like the famous wardrobe, opened to a world of fun and learning, enjoyment and entertainment. It was also the backdrop for family photos over the years. It will always hold a special place in my heart.

Note #1: The Marion E. Wade Center at Wheaton College, Illinois, houses a research collection featuring the books and papers of seven British Authors, including four Inklings: Owen Barfield, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Charles Williams. Other authors included at the Wade Center are Dorothy L. Sayers, a contemporary of the Inklings, who was born and raised in Oxford; George MacDonald, an author whom Lewis thought of as a great Christian teacher and whose writings helped reconvert Lewis to Christianity; and G.K. Chesterton, an influential 20th Century writer in many genres, including Christian apologetics, who contributed to Lewis’ own Christian apologetics viewpoint.

Note #2: It is interesting to note that the written description of the wardrobe in TLWW (looking-glass in the door) does not match the original illustration drawn by Pauline Baynes (two doors, no mirror). This disparity is curious because Lewis approved each drawing before it was published. This duality seems to support the credibility of claims by both Westmont and Wheaton as to the ownership of the “real” wardrobe.

Note #3: It was a year ago this month that illustrator Pauline Baynes passed away in the cottage in Dockenfield, Surrey, where she had lived and worked for many years. She was 86. Baynes never married, but cared for her father until his death, and illustrated books in the evenings while he slept.

Baynes attended the Slade School of Fine Art in England, but after a year she volunteered to work for the Ministry of Defense, where she made demonstration models for instruction courses. This work did not last long as she was soon transferred to a map-making department (knowledge of which she later employed to good effect when she drew maps of Narnia for C.S. Lewis and of Middle-earth for J. R. R. Tolkien).

Baynes is probably best known for her illustrations of all seven Narnian Chronicles. She also illustrated Tolkien's Farmer Giles of Ham, The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, Smith of Wootton Major, Tree and Leaf, and after Tolkien's death, the poem Bilbo's Last Song.

While Baynes and Lewis worked very closely together, their interaction was primarily long-distance. The two met personally only twice. Of the first time, Baynes recorded in her diary, "Met C S Lewis. Came home. Made rock cakes."(c) Little did she know at that time how the association would affect her life. When the final book in the Narnia series, The Last Battle, was awarded the British Carnegie Medal, a prize similar to America’s Newbery Medal, Baynes wrote to congratulate Lewis. He graciously responded, “Is it not rather ‘our’ Medal? I’m sure the illustrations were taken into consideration as well as the text.”

In advance of the Lewis Centenary and the 50th anniversary of TLWW, Baynes was asked to go back and add color to her original black-and-white drawings.

A very heartfelt tribute was written by Brian Sibley, personal friend and associate of Baynes. It is filed with personal remembrances and wonderful illustrations. His blog can be accessed at:

(a) “The Real Wardrobe,” by Terry Mattingly, Scripps Howard News Service, posted March 29, 2007.
(b) The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobes, The Guardian, Jan 5, 2006.
(c) Brian Sibley blog, URL above.
(d) Inside Narnia by Devin Brown, 2005, Barker Books.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Turkish Delight, Temptation, and Addiction

When I first read C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (TLWW) approximately 25 years ago, I was curious about the confection called Turkish Delight. What was there about this candy the White Witch gave Edmund Pevensie in Narnia that so quickly enslaved him to the point where he blocked out reason and sought to betray his brother and sisters? Through other cultural references, I knew Turkish Delight (or Rahat Locoum) was a real candy, and I was determined to learn more about it.

What I Already Knew

As a teenager, I had seen the musical Kismet one summer at Denver’s City Park. I recalled a scene in which Lalume, the sexy wife of the evil Wazir, tempts Hadji, the poet of old Baghdad, who has overnight gone from beggar to millionaire. Lalume and other women of the Wazir’s harem dance seductively before Hadji as the two sing about “Rahadalkume,” or Turkish Delight:

On nights when my lord looketh listless,
And black is the hue of his gloom,
His handmaiden hath what he lacketh.
And what doth he lack?

Tis sweet with the meat of a lichee nut
Combined with a kumquat rind.
The kind of confection to drive a man
Out of his Mesopotamian mind.

It seems Turkish Delight had the same tempting, all-consuming, addictive effect on Hadji of Kismet as it did on Edmund of Narnia.

I recall asking my mother if she knew what Turkish Delight was. As was her habit, she sent me to the encyclopedia (pre-Internet, of course), but there was no entry. Fortuitously, my grandfather was able to fill in the blanks. He had actually eaten the confection when working for the Bureau of Reclamation as a consultant on a dam in Turkey. He confirmed that Turkish Delight was a gummy, fruit and nut concoction, which he didn’t find very tasty. Grandpa wasn’t much into sweets, however, so I was still curious about the confection many considered deliciously addictive.

Finally Finding Turkish Delight

As mentioned, my interest in Turkish Delight was renewed after I read TLWW in the early 1980s. As luck would have it, I ran across a box of it at a small store in Bellevue, Washington, the only place at the time in the Puget Sound area that sold David Winter houses, which I collect. The store also imported other English goodies such as shortbread cookies, Christmas crackers, horehound candy, and specialty teas.

My excitement at finding Turkish Delight quickly turned to disappointment as I began to chew. I had to agree with my grandfather that it wasn’t particularly appetizing. The confection was almost the consistency of a gummy bear, had a less-than-sweet flavor of rose petals, was filled with walnut bits that tasted bitter, and was covered with something like cornstarch. I seriously doubted that, with my sweet tooth, I would ever become addicted to Turkish Delight. But then I thought that perhaps the candy was just stale, and that fresh Turkish Delight would taste better.

My next thought was that the English Turkish Delight I just eaten was very similar to a luscious candy I had discovered upon moving to Seattle—Aplets and Cotlets. Produced by Liberty Orchards of Cashmere in Eastern Washington, Aplets and Cotlets were sweet, nut- and fruit-filled, soft gelatin treats. And they were definately addictive! I was finally able to understand how the White Witch was able to enslave Edmund with Turkish Delight, because I could probably eat a pound or more of Aplets and Cotlets.

Intermission…or Random Neuron Firings on Turkish Delight

1 - I love all of the candy made by Liberty Orchards, which was founded by two Armenians who brought the recipe for “the confection of the fairies” with them from the Middle East when they emigrated to the U.S. After the release of TLWW movie in 2005, Liberty Orchards began calling a couple of their confections “Delight” to capitalize on the interest generated by the movie. The company now has a web page devoted to Turkish Delight:

2 - If you’re curious about the taste of Turkish Delight and don’t want to order any from Liberty Orchards through the Internet, here are some recipes you can use. I haven’t tried them yet, but from the ingredients and instructions, I would guess that the first recipe would turn out more like the “authentic” Turkish Delight, and the second recipe might be more like the Aplets and Cotlets. In addition to recipes, the web page also contains a brief history of the originator of Turkish Delight, a renowned late 18th Century candy maker from Istanbul, Turkey, Bekir Effendi. (Effendi’s shop is still in operation today in its original spot.)

3 – Apparently, the smell of Turkish Delight is as addictive and intoxicating as the taste of the candy. Three “gourmand” perfume manufacturers have scents named Loukhoum. The product description of Keiko Mecheri’s version says of it: “A deliriously sweet and addictive fragrance inspired by the Turkish delicacy rahat loukhoum—a confection of rose petal jam, noor dates and white almonds. Luxurious and dreamy, conjuring up visions of flying carpets, rose-colored clouds and opulent palaces. Rich vanilla and precious woods ease into a soft, powdery drydown that is hypnotically soothing. Warning: this fragrance is habit-forming.”

Back to Edmund and the White Witch’s Turkish Delight

So…having proved to myself that the confection is addictive (and hopefully convincing you as well), I turn back to poor Edmund who asks the witch for Turkish Delight. She magically conjures up “several pounds” of it, which Edmund greedily devours, wanting more.

Lewis scholar Donald Glover says Lewis’ choice of Turkish Delight was an intentional “master stroke.” Glover agrees with my grandfather that Turkish Delight is a “highly overrated sweet” that promises more than it delivers; the “Turkish” descriptor conjures up Oriental, romantic images while the flavor never really transports the consumer to other realms. The name is deceptive, and the candy has no real food value; both are imitations.

Devin Brown in his book Inside Narnia states, “Part of the reason that Edmund devours one piece after another of the witch’s Turkish Delight, one reason why he ‘wants it all again,’ is because it is not real candy but only an imitation. While tasty, it is not satisfying. In fact, it is the opposite of satisfying, creating a craving which can never be fulfilled no matter how much is eaten. Readers are told that anyone who eats enchanted Turkish Delight ‘would want more and more of it, and would even, if they were allowed, go on eating it till they killed themselves.’”

In a later chapter of TLWW, all four Pevensie children journey through the wardrobe together. Shortly after arriving, they meet a talking beaver who invites them to his house for dinner, where they are served a healthy, filling meal. This wholesome food is a counterpoint to the emptiness and imitative nature of the witch’s confection. Unfortunately, Edmund is not able to appreciate the wonderful meal prepared by Mrs. Beaver: “He had eaten his share of the dinner, but he hadn’t really enjoyed it because he was thinking all the time about Turkish Delight—and there’s nothing that spoils the taste of good ordinary food half so much as the memory of bad magic food.” Not only had Turkish Delight become addictive to the taste, but mere thoughts of it had already enslaved Edmund’s mind.

Lewis also addresses gluttony in other books besides TLWW. In his science fiction book Perelandra, he spends significant time describing the food Ransom discovers on the planet Venus. Of one particular food he says, “[Ransom] let the empty gourd fall from his hand and was about to pluck a second one, when it came into his head that he was now neither hungry nor thirsty. And yet to repeat a pleasure so intense and almost so spiritual seemed an obvious thing to do. …It appeared to him better not to taste again. Perhaps the experience had been so complete that repetition would be a vulgarity—like asking to hear the same symphony twice a day.”

Lewis also talked about this phenomenon in his first science fiction book, Out of the Silent Planet. In this book, Ransom explains to one of the creatures on Mars that if something is a pleasure, a man “wants it again.” The creature is confused and asks, “But why? Would he want his dinner all day or want to sleep after he had slept?”

Edmund exhibited this human weakness of wanting more and more of a good thing. He had not yet learned that too much of a good thing can be bad or about moderation being a key to lasting enjoyment.


In Lewis’ Preface to Paradise Lost, he discusses evil as a sickly form of the good, observing, “What we call bad things are good things perverted.” In Edmund’s case, one or two pieces of Turkish Delight would have been a special treat, but eating “several pounds” of the confection at one time turned into gluttony and created a very real addiction with long-lasting cravings.

A recent television news story claimed that addiction was the number one problem of people in the United States: food, alcohol, tobacco, drugs, monetary greed, porn, video games, sports, cell phones, television, books, hobbies, Internet usage, and more. While many of these things are good in moderation, addiction to them often damages us physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually. A Relief Society lesson earlier in the year confirmed these negative effects by stating that the Holy Ghost is blocked by addiction; the Spirit cannot abide with us if our minds or bodies are controlled by addiction. Addiction is one of Satan’s most powerful tools, and we must do what we can to stay addiction free.

"Teach them to withstand every temptation of the devil,
with their faith on the Lord Jesus Christ."
(Alma 37:33)