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)

1 comment:

  1. I've only had turkish delight once and I'm not a big fan. I think it was the texture but I'm sure there are better brands...although the ones I tried were straight from turkey. Bart's old boss brought us back a box. But the way that lewis writes about them makes them seem so delicious!!