Lent in Narnia
In his short essay "Some Thoughts," C. S. Lewis examines the paradoxical fact that the Christian calendar is as full of feasts as it is fasts, as full of fasts as it is feasts.
How did the Christian faith come to have this unique "two-edged" character, a stance which is both world-affirming and world-denying? Lewis explains that on one hand "because God created the Natural—invented it out of His love and artistry—it demands our reverence." But at the same time, "because Nature, and especially human nature is fallen it must be corrected and the evil within it must be mortified."
But make no mistake, Lewis writes, its essence is good, and correction is "something quite different" from repudiation or Stoic superiority. And hence, Lewis argues, all true Christian asceticism will have "respect for the thing rejected" at its center. "Feasts are good," Lewis concludes, "though today we fast."
Lewis makes a similar point in his essay "A Slip of the Tongue," where he argues that in the life of a perfect believer, feasts "would be as Christian" as fasts.
Though today we fast, feasts are good. Feasts are, or should be, as Christian as fasts. These statements might serve as helpful signposts as we enter the seasons of Lent and Easter.
This two-edged, world-denying and world-affirming, stance is seen clearly in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in the Turkish Delight which Edmund is tempted with and in the delightful meal served up by the Beavers.
Early in the story, the White Witch creates a box filled with "several pounds" of Turkish Delight which Edmund greedily devours. Donald Glover has called Lewis's specific choice of Turkish Delight a master stroke, one made with clear intention. What would have been lost if the Witch had tempted Edmund with, for example, oatmeal and raisin cookies? Glover argues that Turkish Delight is "a highly overrated sweet," and Narnia fans who have gone in search of the candy may agree, wondering how Edmund could have fallen prey to the overly sugared confection. Surely the name promises more than the candy delivers, and this, perhaps, is Lewis's point. Furthermore, it is not just Delight but Turkish Delight, a title containing, as Glover has observed, "Oriental and romantic overtones," further promises left unfulfilled by the sticky goo.
Gilbert Meilaender, in a chapter appropriately titled "The Sweet Poison of the False Infinite," provides an analysis of the spell that the Witch's candy casts upon Edmund. As Meilaender explains, the phrase "the sweet poison of the false infinite" comes from Lewis's novel Perelandra and refers to any love of secondary things which has become inordinate. In Miracles, Lewis maintains that we are to offer the created things and pleasures of this world "neither worship nor contempt." Meilaender points out that the theme of inordinate loves is one to which Lewis often returns.
The Witch's magic candy is a sickly imitation of the wholesome food the children are served at the Beavers' house. There they eat boiled potatoes with "a great big lump of deep yellow butter" from which everyone can take "as much as he wanted." The main course is "good freshwater fish" followed by "a great and gloriously sticky marmalade roll" fresh from the oven and steaming hot. Afterwards, they each have a big cup of tea, push back their stools, and let out "a long sigh of contentment."
Lewis's point with the Turkish Delight is not that enjoying sweets is bad; in fact, his position is quite the contrary. Enjoyment of life's pleasures in all their variety and plenitude will be an essential quality of proper Narnian life. This was seen earlier in the tea that Mr. Tumnus provided for Lucy which included "a nice brown egg, lightly boiled, for each of them, and then sardines on toast, and then buttered toast, and then toast with honey, and then a sugar-topped cake." Meilaender points out that in both his fiction and non-fiction, Lewis suggests over and over that "to be fully human involves a certain stance toward the things of creation," one of deep enjoyment but not slavish adoration.