Of the many aspects of the Narnia books that tend to be lost on more modern readers, Edmund’s willingness to betray his siblings, and Aslan, for Turkish Delight, is perhaps one of the biggest. Turkish Delight is not a Hershey Bar that can be picked up for a dollar, it is more of a delicacy, with the best kind is usually being imported from Turkey. The only other way to get it is by making it yourself, which is fairly simple when its three main ingredients are sugar, butter and nuts. However, for Edmund importing a delicacy from Turkey or making it from scratch would have been impossible due World War II.
This was a time in which aluminum cans, rubber tires, glass bottles, comic books, and news papers were collected and recycled for the war effort. Among the necessities that were rationed were gasoline, milk, bread, coffee, chocolate, and last but not least; sugar, butter and nuts, the three ingredients for Turkish delight. Children often had to do without candy, and if they got it at all it would be for a very special occasion like Christmas. Then they would have to share it with their siblings.
In many ways it is not that dissimilar form those who scorn the idea of Edmund’s Biblical analogue of Judas Iscariot betraying the Christ for 40 pieces of silver. While silver is still valuable in today’s market, in A.D. 29, 30 pieces of silver would be comparable to at least 5 weeks work of pay. Some scholars pin-point this in today’s currency as being anywhere
from $600USD a month to $4000USD. For a man who was following an itinerant preacher for three years, dependent on handouts being able to actual have food, clothing and a place to stay would be desirable.
Either way Edmund, like Judas is willing to sell out someone he loves for worldly pleasures and wealth. We never really get inside Judas’ head in the scriptures, and many ideas about him have been extrapolated by theologians and scholars, but we do get inside Edmund’s head and know he wants the power the witch promise and to get back at his siblings.
Even before he meets the witch he behaves in a rather “beastly” manner as his brother Peter might say. We learn in the book, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, that after her Lucy’s first visit to Narnia while Peter and Susan don’t mean to distrust Lucy’s story, Edmund for several days after relentlessly mocks Lucy for believing in Narnia to the point that the poor girl is miserable. Later he even lies about his own visit to Narnia, saying it never happened.
This is something that at first makes him such a deplorable character to many readers initially, but later makes him so compelling, and perhaps one of the most enduring. As author Diana Peterfruend notes in the essay “King Edmund The Cute” that looked at Edmund as one of the many compelling “bad boys” of literature from the book Through the Wardrobe,
“When we first meet Edmund, he’s a cranky, spiteful, little turd…(W)hen Edmund lies to his siblings about visiting Narnia, Lewis describes it as “one of the nastiest things in this story.” The death dismemberment and turning people to stone? All pretty bad, but Edmund lying to his family and casting his lot with the witch is the true betrayal here. When they speak of Edmund being a traitor this is what they are talking about. He didn’t turn against the Narnians, who were not-yet- his countrymen; he sold out his brother and sisters to the White Witch…”
This is especially true if comparing him to other traitors in literature, film and history. Consider Lando Calrissian in The Empire Strikes Back, selling Han Solo and Princess Leia out to Darth Vader. While Han may have been his friend, he had the lives of the millions of residents of Bespin Cloud City to think about, all of whom would be killed by Vader if he didn’t make the deal. Boromir in The Lord of the Rings tries to take the Ring from Frodo, not out of selfish ambition, but of a duty giving to him by his father and desire to take it back to Gondor to use it as a weapon against the Dark Lord, Sauron. Gaius Cassius and Marcus Brutus led the other Roman senators to conspire to assassinate Julius Ceaser because they felt he had amassed too much power and felt the republic was in danger if too much power rested on one man.
Edmund is not motivated by a sense of responsibility, or duty or patriotism as Lando, Boromir, Cassius and Brutus were, but more for his own personal gain. Even Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars betrayed the Jedi Order to save the life of someone he loved. In terms of treason, Edmund’s ranks closer to that of Mordred usurping the throne of King Arthur to steal power for himself, or Cypher in The Matrix agreeing to help Agent Smith and “go back to the power company” so he can forget the truth he has learned since leaving the Matrix.
Even the White Witch Jadis thinks lowly of his motives in the film adaptation of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Thrown in the dungeon, Edmund meets Lucy’s friend Mr. Tumnus, and the witch comes to taunt them both, and says,
“Do you know why you are here?…You’re here because he turned you in…for sweeties…Take him upstairs and ready my sleigh, Edmund misses his family.”
It is a level of treason that is so slimy and so despicable that even a child knows it’s wrong, but that there in sets Edmund apart from other traitors. A kid might not snitch on their friend as Lando did with Vader, but the chance to get back at a sibling is one any of them would take. Especially if it means they get chance to have as much of their favorite sweet-treat as they could possibly hope to eat.
As Thomas Williams notes in Knowing Aslan,
“I don’t know what went wrong with that boy. Maybe he was affected by the “middle child syndrome.” Lacking the status of the older Peter and Susan, or the cuteness of Lucy, maybe he felt left out, insignificant, overlooked. Maybe that’s why he became such a bully and pest.”
In the 2005 film adaptation of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, we see him growing continually frustrated and annoyed with his older brother and sister bossing him around. We even see him run back to the house during an Air Raid to grab a picture of their father, only for Peter to grab him and take him to shelter just before their home is blown up and quickly slapped and chided by the older brother for being so stupid and selfish, when all he was doing was grabbing a memento of his father, whom he missed. His father gone, his older brother and sister bossing him a round and the war would be enough to make any child angry at the world.
As Paul F. Ford notes in the Companion to Narnia,
“He is struggling with his older brother, who is always considered better than he, and his older sister Susan, who has appropriated to herself the role of his mother, the only person he ranks above is his younger sister Lucy. Out of this tangle of sibling relationships comes his will to power, his desire to have life his own way. Lewis doesn’t try to make the reader feel sympathetic toward Edmund- he has designed him to be the temporary villain- but Edmund’s insecurity, fostered by his war-time dislocation could make any child a difficult case until he knows he is loved.”
Not only does Jadis give him his favorite treat she takes him her sled, covers him up and inflates his ego, telling him,
“…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 is 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…”
All at once not only is this beautiful and powerful woman taking notice of him, she actually thinks Edmund is pretty special. He’s not only getting his favorite treat, but she is offering him a throne of an entire kingdom. Unlike other adults, she’s actually listening to him, asking him questions, something no one else seems to do. She doesn’t boss him around like Susan or Peter or give all her attention to Lucy.
Because of this when Jadis says she would like him to bring his brother and sisters to Narnia and make them a duke and duchesses, Edmund tells her they are nothing special and even has no intention on bringing them. He likes the attention and doesn’t wish to share any of it. Anyone who has siblings can relate. When you’re in the spotlight, the last thing you want is to compete for attention again
While Edmund is somewhat uncomfortable when Lucy mentions that she is an evil witch when he meets up with her in Narnia, he tries to push any doubts he has aside. He notes to himself that she had been awfully nice to him, and even tries to deflect the problem and dismiss them as lies. Her promise of power, love, and even his favorite treat is all he could want.
While Lucy is overjoyed to see him in Narnia and is quick to tell Peter and Susan, Edmund in his quest to gain the witch’s favor, has other plans. Lucy urges him to tell them about Narnia and Peter is even interested in hearing from Edmund his take. Edmund then decided to let Lucy down and lie about the whole thing in a moment that the narrator describes as being one of the nastiest things in the story, telling them,
“Oh, yes, Lucy, and I have been playing-pretending that all her story about a country in the wardrobe is true. Just for fun, of course. There’s nothing there really…There she goes again. What’s the matter with her? That’s the worst of young kids, they always,_”
In the 2005 film adaptation we actually see Edmund settle back into a comfy chair with a smug look on his face as he tries to lie to his siblings. Then we hear his tone take on an air of condescension and superiority as Lucy’s heart is broken by her brother. Then to add insult to injury, just as she’s on the verge of tears, he says,
“I shouldn’t have encouraged her but you know what little children are like these days. They just don’t know when to stop pretending.”
Peter and Susan would hear none of it, and it makes things worse for the siblings during their stay at the Professors. Then when they all hide in the wardrobe in their attempt to escape the MacReady, and discover Lucy was right, Edmund looks even worse to his brother and sister for lying about Lucy. Unlike Lucy he is not willing to admit he did any wrong. Upon arriving in Narnia for the first time when he calls out for his sister he admits he would only say he is sorry “if she would like.” Then when Lucy and Peter arrive in Narnia with him, he starts trying to cast some doubts in Peter’s mind, tries to pin it back on him and guilt him into believing him by telling him,
“…If you’re not still too high and mighty to talk to me, I’ve something to say which you’d better listen to….Have you realized what we’re doing…We’re following a guide we know nothing about. How do we know which side hat bird is on? Why shouldn’t it be leading us into a trap?.. if it comes to that, which is the right side? How do we know that the fauns are in the right and the Queen ( yes, I know we’ve been told she’s a witch) is in the wrong? We don’t really know anything about either.”
Mr. Beaver even notes a sour disposition among them and that he did not trust Edmund of the four siblings. Having seen it before, he could tell that Edmund been with the witch and eaten her food, as a he cannot fully enjoy the good home cooked meal of fish and chips that the Beavers prepare as all he can think of is Jadis’ bad magic food. Edmund is also the one to ask if the Witch could turn Aslan into stone, and leaves mid conversation without anyone fully noticing, hoping to get to Jadis to turn his brother and sisters in for all that Jadis promised him.
However, we learn through the narrator on his journey that despite what he has just heard, Edmund tries his hardest to push the truth from his mind. We also are assured that he isn’t such a bad guy to the extent that he wants Peter and the girls turned to stone. He only wants the Witch to keep her promise to get back at Peter, and tries to believe that she wouldn’t do anything terrible to them, even though the Beavers and Tumnus have claimed she is evil.
Edmund tries to hand wave it by thinking to himself,
“Because …all these people who say nasty things about her are her enemies and probably half of it isn’t true. She was jolly nice to me, anyway much nicer than they are. I expect that she is the rightful Queen really. Anyway, she’ll be better than that awful Aslan!”
However, even Edmund knows this is a bogus claim as deep down he knows that somehow, the witch is evil. He just will not allow himself to accept that as the truth. As Sarah Arthur notes in Walking through the Wardrobe,
“And then there are people like Edmund. They don’t even fall into the category of those who refuse to believe what they see. They fall into the category of those who aren’t willing to believe what they see. They fall into the category of those who aren’t willing to admit they know the truth, deep down. Pride keeps them from acknowledging openly what they don’t want to believe is actually real…”
As CS Lewis noted on the subject of pride in Mere Christianity,
“Greed may drive men into competition if there is not enough to go round; but the proud man, even when he has got more than he can possibly want, will still try to get more to assert his power. Nearly all those evils in the world which people put down to greed or selfishness are really far more the result of Pride.”
Here Edmund’s Scriptural parallel diverts slightly from Judas and begin to mirror those of Saul of Tarsus, better known as St. Paul, as he breaths his own threats against his siblings wanting to make them pay, and pass laws stamping out beavers. Further, Edmund is about to have his eyes opened to the truth, as he finds out the hard way that Jadis has no intention of keeping her promise to him. The once sweet lady berates him, calling him stupid and making him a prisoner.
Edmund now finds himself in the fully realized idea put forth by the senior demon Screwtape in CS Lewis’ classic The Screwtape Letters. Edmund may not have sold his soul to a devil like character to save his wife and in the end killed his friends like Darth Vader, but his deeds are in the grand scheme of things, just as bad and lead to the same consequence of endless pain and suffering. As Screwtape notes,
“It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and into the Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one-the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”
Upon hearing and seeing the truth for himself Edmund begins trying to make up for his mistakes, even trying to speak up and stop the Witch from turning a party of animals into stone. The narrator even tells the readers that it is the first time in the book that he begins to feel sorry for someone but himself. This is the boy who, out of spite, when he saw a stone lion in Jadis court scribbled a mustache on it, thinking it was Aslan, but now he knows fully just what a bad kid he is and is trying to fight against it, to no avail.
As CS Lewis noted in Mere Christianity,
“No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good. A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. After all, you find out the strength of the German army by fighting against it, not by giving in. You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down. A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness — they have lived a sheltered life by always giving in. We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means — the only complete realist.””
His only hope lies in his brother and sisters reaching Aslan in time. Then when the witch makes camp, Edmund believes he is done for as she ties him to a tree and makes ready to kill him. That is when a small band from Aslan’s army arrives, lead by a centaur and rescues him from the witch. When his brother and sisters see him, he is conversing with the Lion, and we are never told the nature of that conversation, nor do we need to. Aslan informs them that there is no need to bring up what is past, and Edmund makes the first overture to mend the bond with his siblings by apologizing to them. True to Christian theology, Edmund’s salvation and redemption to not come from within him by some act of will, but from someone outside saving him, both physically and spiritually.
Later during the battle of the Fords of Beruna, it is Edmund who helps strike a decisive blow for Aslan’s army. Peter relates to Aslan, Lucy and Susan later that Edmund had the bright idea to actually smash the Witch’s wand with his sword, thereby rendering her powerless. In fact we are even told that he is unstoppable in battle, as he fights on many of her hoard to strike that blow. This is a huge shift in character from the once conniving brat who plotted a way to sell out his brother and sisters for candy and a throne. Moreover it is not Peter the one whom Aslan appointed High King, to strike this blow that helps buy their army time until Aslan can arrive , but Edmund As Devin Brown notes in the book Inside Narnia,
“In making Edmund, not Peter, the one who turns the tide in battle, Lewis interjects the theme that the worst sinners often make the most valiant saints, a theme he will revisit in later Chronicles with Eustace.”
However in the process, Jadis used the shattered remains of her wand to fatally wound Edmund. Lucy acted quickly, using her cordial to heal him and would have used it all on him had Aslan not asked her if more had to die for Edmund beyond just him. The narrator even tells us that Edmund became more pleasant and a better person, even to the point that he became known as King Edmund the Just.
This is perhaps one of the things that make Edmund so appealing. His story is not just one of betrayal, but one of redemption. Whether it’s a comic book character like Iron Man or Green Arrow, a literary figure like Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, Boromir in The Lord of the Rings, or Jean Val Jean in Les Miserelables, or a film character like Darth Vader, we like to hope that someone can have a second chance, no matter what deeds they did. For Edmund he begins to show a tremendous amount of wisdom and maturity as he grows older.
In Prince Caspian when he and his siblings find themselves back in Narnia, while Peter, Susan, and Trumpkin dispute Lucy’s claim that she saw Aslan and put it to a vote to determine which path they should take, Edmund is the one to cast a vote in favor of Lucy, stating,
“Well, it’s just this…When we were first in Narnia a year ago- or a thousand years ago, whichever it is-it was Lucy who discovered it first and none of us would believe her. I was the worst of the lot, I know. Yet she was right after all. Wouldn’t it be fair to believe her this time?”
Then, when Peter casts the tie-breaking vote to go the other way, Edmund is the one to try and console Lucy. Later, when their decision proves wrong, and Aslan appears to Lucy again, Lucy’s first instinct is to wake up Peter, who simply groans, mutters something and goes back to sleep. Susan is just as bad, telling Lucy to go back to sleep. Edmund however wakes up right away, and while he is tired, asks where Aslan is .When she points to him, He dismisses it at first telling her,
“No. There’s nothing there. You’ve got dazzled and muddled with the moonlight. One does, you know. I thought I saw something for a moment. It’s only an optical what-do-you-call-it.”
Lucy explains why it is only she can see Aslan and Edmund reluctantly agrees to help her wake the others, knowing Lucy has not only been right before, it’s not wise to upset Aslan. He even offers to go with her if none of the others will, and getting very tried and irritated by all the talking, insists that they must go, even intending in his heart and mind to fully back her up. Because of this, he becomes the second person to see Aslan, starting with the Lion’s shadow. His reward when they see the Lion in full is to hear the Lion tell him, “Well done”. This is a far cry from the boy who tried to cast doubts Peter’s way in regards to who to trust in Narnia to get treats. This is someone who has long since learned from the error of his ways and will not make the same mistake again.
Later in their following adventure, Voyage of the Dawn Treader, we see some further signs of progression in Edmund’s character as we see him take some more of Peter’s previous role in actually looking after his younger sister. The two of them find themselves staying with their obnoxious cousin Eustace when Peter is staying at the Professors place while he studies for exams and Susan has gone on a trip to America with their parents. Their cousin has a knack for torturing and teasing Edmund and Lucy.
When he shows up in their room and starts mocking them, not only does Edmund tell Lucy to ignore him, but tell Eustace to go away. Later, after his cousin undergoes a startling transformation in Narnia and encounters Aslan, Edmund is the first to see Eustace, and offer him forgiveness, informing him,
“Between ourselves, you haven’t been as bad as I was on my first trip to Narnia. You were only an ass, but I was a traitor.”
Edmund is someone who knows exactly what grace and forgiveness means having fully received it. He knows that everyone, no matter how bad deserves a second chance, and allows that second chance to transform him and to become a better man. Because of this, he was willing to extend that same chance to others.
It isn’t just because of the magic of Narnia that brings this out of him, but Aslan. It is part of the reason why when he and Lucy leave Narnia at the end of Voyage of the Dawn Treader, he is moved to tears. To be told to never again go back to the land that changed him and see the One who saved him from himself and taught him about grace is heartbreaking. It is Edmund who asks Aslan if he is in there world as well as Narnia, not Lucy. The boy who once scribbled a mustache on a stone lion, thinking it was Aslan, as a young man, grew to love the Great Lion.
Once, he only wanted candy and revenge. But because of Aslan and Narnia he became something more. It is no wonder why fans grew to love him so much. No longer did he try to take power for himself but sought to help others, and trying his hardest to live by the grace he was given. This is best seen in a brief moment before the battle against the Witch’s forces in the movie, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, when they learn that Aslan had been killed. Peter is feeling despondent and wondering how they can face this battle alone. Edmund, looks at the brother he once hated with love in his eyes and tells him,
“Then you’ll have to lead us…Peter, there’s an army out there, and it’s ready to follow you… Aslan believed you could. And so do I.”
FILM: Adamson, Andrew (Dir.)The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. Starring Georgie Henley, Skander Keynes, William Mosely, Anna Popplewell, James MacAvoy, Tilda Swinton, Ray Winston, and Liam Neeson. Ann Peacock,Andrew Adamson, Christopher Markus, and Stephen McFeely ( writers). 2005. Walden Media/Walt Disney.
FILM: ” ” The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian. Starring Georgie Henley, Skander Keynes, William Mosely, Anna Popplewell, Ben Barnes, Eddie Izard, Peter Dinklage, Sergio Castellitto, and Liam Neeson. Andrew Adamson, Christopher Markus, and Stephen McFeely ( writers). 2008. Walden Media/Walt Disney.
FILM: Apted, Michael ( Dir.) The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Starring Georgie Henley, Skander Keynes, Will Poulter, Simon Pegg, Ben Barnes, William Mosely, Anna Popplewell, and Liam Neeson. Andrew Adamson, Christopher Markus, and Stephen McFeely ( writers). 2010. Walden Media/Walt Disney.
Arthur, Sarah. Walking Through the Wardrobe. Pg. 63-64.2004. Tyndale House Publishers. Wheaton, Il.
Brown, Devin. Inside Narnia. Pg. 238.2005. Baker Books. Grand Rapids, MI.
Lewis, CS. Mere Christiainity. Pgs. 110,126. 1996. Broadman& Holman Publishers. New York, NY.
Lewis CS. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Horse and His Boy 2000. Harper Collins. New York, NY.
Lewis CS. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe pgs. 36, 44,59,83, 2000. Harper Collins. New York, NY.
Lewis CS. The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian pg. 128,145. 2000. Harper Collins. New York, NY.
Lewis CS. The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader pg. 110. 2000. Harper Collins. New York, NY.
Lewis CS. “Letter XII” The Screwtape Letters. Pg. 54. 1996. Broadman& Holman Publishers. New York, NY.
Ford, Paul F. “Edmund Pevensie” Companion Guide to Narnia. Revised Edition.pg. 188. 2005. Harper Collins. New York, NY.
Peterfruend, Diana “King Edmund the Cute” pg. 24. Through the Wardrobe: Your Favorite Authors on C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia. 2008. Teen Libris. Dallas, TX.
Williams, Thomas Knowing Aslan. Pg. 9. 2005. W Publishing Group. Nashville, TN.
2005 Walden media/Walt Disney Pictures
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