Twenty-five years have passed, give or take a few, since I chanced on this little gem for my tin collection. Doing errands in bustling downtown Santiago, I ducked out of the drizzle and smog into a recently discovered “treasure hoard” of a store. Todo A Mil (“Everything for 1000 Pesos”—the Chilean equivalent of a dollar store) gifted me Beacon Turkish Delight from South Africa on that dreary winter day. Blessed serendipity!
Turkish Delight is one of just a few pieces in my collection which represent specific books for me. (Others include a couple of Anne of Green Gables tin boxes.) Turkish delight candy makes a cameo appearance and becomes a signature motif in C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. If you’ve ever read the book or seen one of the several film versions, you won’t have forgotten the fabulous, jeweled container of powdered jellies with which the White Witch seduced Edmund (at his request, of course.)
“There’s nothing as cozy as a piece of candy and a book.” –Betty MacDonald, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s Magic
The tin I bought all those years ago came empty. But not long afterward, I found a package of Turkish delight to sample with my kids (maybe even in that same surprise-crammed shop). It may be an ordinary sweet in Britain or other parts of the world, but to Americans/Canadians/Chileans it was a great novelty. Anticipation ran high, kind of like getting a bag of jellybeans or making peanut butter fudge.
Unfortunately, it bombed. Utterly. Turkish Delight turned out to be a Terrible Disappointment.
The girls all tried one piece and left the rest to Mom to choke down or toss, whichever I preferred. I teased them about fearing to eat “bewitched food,” but I’ll admit here I didn’t find it particularly palatable either. So how did this stuff enthrall Edmund?
What is Turkish Delight?
Called lokum in the United States, this family of confections is based on a gel of starch and sugar, flavored with rosewater, lemon, mint, or bergamot orange, and dusted with powdered sugar or cream of tartar to prevent sticking. Premium varieties may also contain chopped dates and nuts.
We may not know the precise origin of this sweet treat, but it was produced in Turkey and Persia (now Iran) in the late eighteenth century, so it has a history. I was intrigued to learn that Turkish delight is considered the precursor to the jellybean, another of my favorite candies. I should have been delighted with this “delight,” but the heightened expectations and the subsequent disenchantment combined to make me grimace instead of grin with glee.
And that reminds me of why I went looking this week for my Turkish Delight canister. As I’ve labored deep in final edits for Pursuit of the Pudú (my upcoming novel, second in Desert Island Diaries), my thoughts have naturally reflected on the idea of pursuing…chasing…desiring. In the book, the characters pursue a herd of pudú deer, along with true love and elusive dreams.
Edmund Pevensie (in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe) wished for Turkish delight when offered a treat in the land of Narnia. Though I didn’t get the allure of powdered jelly cubes with weird flavors myself, surely candy—even pure unadulterated sugar—cannot be so bad for a 10-year-old boy to desire?
What’s Wrong with Turkish Delight?
In and of itself, nothing at all. Except it revealed his latent longing for the special attentions of the White Witch, the Evil One of the tale. Enticed to partake of the witch’s enchanted food, he was deceived into an obsession and addiction which would trigger a feverish pursuit of more. More candy, yes, but also of significance and position. He who was destined to become King of Narnia played the witch’s fool.
The wonderful tea at the Beavers’ house held no enchantment for Edmund. Turkish delight spoiled his appetite for real food. The character Melissa (Destiny at Dolphin Bay) experienced a similar spiritual anorexia.
Later, Edmund walked all the way to the White Witch’s castle, chasing the hope of sweet nothings. Turkish delight eventually led to his downfall as the self-serving traitor. It caused him to hunger for and seek after more and more, to do anything to get it—even to betray his own family.
The character Marcos (of Pursuit of the Pudú) self-identifies a few books later as Edmund from The Chronicles of Narnia. He recognizes his vain pursuit of unworthy goals and feel-good God-substitutes, to the detriment of himself and everyone he loves.
“’But even a traitor may mend,’” Marcos quotes Edmund. “’I have known one that did.’”
What Does Turkish Delight Symbolize?
Temptation, some might say. But I call it vanity. “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity,” says the Preacher/Quester of Ecclesiastes (1:2). Or “a chasing after the wind” (Ec. 1:14, NIV). The Message paraphrases it: “It’s nothing but smoke—smoke, and spitting into the wind… the whirling, erratic wind…” (v. 14, 6).
Remember the ‘60’s Bob Dylan song: “How many roads must a man walk down before you can call him a man? …The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind…” Here the wind represents the various answers to society’s problems, which may be sensed but perhaps not seen. Solutions are palpable yet remain elusive.
The Turkish delight kind of vanity/wind chases rainbows—dreams and fulfillment, always around the bend in the next pretty plaything. Solomon, the writer of Ecclesiastes, never experienced true love or satisfaction so he pursued the idols of love affairs, accomplishments, and counterfeit gratification.
“Our Heavenly Father has provided many delightful inns for us along our journey, but He takes great care to see that we do not mistake any of them for home.” –C. S. Lewis
The biblical definition of vain is “futile, bogus, illusory, fraudulent.” Unfortunately, much of what we value and chase turns out to be merely smoke and mirrors. Cotton candy spun of sugar and hot air, empty calories without nourishment or even taste. In fact, one Hebrew scholar translates vanity as “flatulence.” (Yes, I know, grossly mixed metaphors, but bear with me.)
In our current area of Chile, we live with near-constant wind. In a permanent state of orange alert, we tie belongings down, secure our water-tank lid, prepare for squalls at a moment’s notice. Metal roofing “blowin’ in the wind” menaces rather than answers life’s questions.
Still, I chase after the wind like most people. I have a long list of alternative lives, legitimate goals, and respectable wishes. And where do they take me? Often on a pursuit of Turkish delight.
What’s Better Than Turkish Delight?
You’d think I’d have learned by this point in my life the emptiness of sweet dreams and sweet talk severed from the solid substance of the living God. My Heavenly Father knows I desire filling “food” and often provides delightful gifts. But like a diabetic in a hypoglycemic crash, I tend to chase the instantaneous boost to my happiness levels.
“One of the secrets of a happy life is continuous small treats.” -Iris Murdoch
Eugene Peterson writes (As Kingfishers Catch Fire): “Actual enjoyment of joy is spare in our culture… Our deepest likings and impulses are raw materials furnished by God to bring us into the presence of God. But…they can be perverted and deflected into a way of life that is sheer boredom and cynicism. The intent of joy is to lead us to wholeness, but the ways we engage in it frequently lead to malaise… No pleasure, however delightful, provides a reason for living… The pursuit of pleasure leads into a swamp of boredom. The foundational human appetite is for God.”
God meets our soul’s longings far more fully than any Turkish delight. And He will not grow tiresome or cloy with sickening sweetness. Though He doesn’t always wine and dine, He won’t disappoint in the end either.
I’ve gone through a low period lately. No need for details, you have burdens enough of your own to carry, I’m sure, and no lack of imagination. Fill in the blanks: Financial insecurity. Family crises. Loss of loved ones. Friends battling cancer. The fleeting doubt, the lurking fear, the panic and anxiety.
Circumstances of this life, whether unexpected or not, can shatter us. And when we find unmet cravings and unfulfilled desires within, how quick we are to jump aboard the Enemy’s sleigh for inspirational flattery along with a sugar high.
Know when I stopped feeling hungry?
When I thought of Jesus.
I’d focused on Bible and prayer, doctrinal statements, gratitude lists, and all the gourmet goodies of a spiritual life—all fine and dandy—but not satisfying by themselves. No career or ministry success, no possession or popular glory are going to do it for me. But no failure or loss, no rejection or obscurity, no humble pie or rotten attitude can take Him away.
So, in the eye of this storm, I pause from chasing the wind. Stop, rest, and trust.
Ya think? “Oh, I’ll just be patient and wait,” said no one ever.
But with our tight fists full of Turkish delight, we can’t open up to receive God’s other blessings. I fight, gripping my lollipop, unless I can catch a clear view of the next treat. What I need to do is reach out to the Joy-Giver.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is essentially a redemption story. A tale about death and resurrection, disaster and then rescue from all flavors and brands and peddlers of Turkish delight. The victory celebration surpassed anything you and I can imagine.
If your greatest joy and deepest delight are based on anything less than Jesus and His story, you will be ultimately frustrated and empty. Let’s revel in the food and drink from Heaven. And perhaps a few jellybeans for dessert.