Fantasy and food . . . two great tastes that go great together!
There’s a surprising amount of food–both magical and mundane–associated with fantasy. Food is a part of our daily lives–so it makes sense that such an important element would find it’s way into our stories. From feasts to factories, from cursed edibles to bespelled confections, fantasy has always had it’s share of foodstuffs. So let’s explore the theme, shall we?
First off, let’s consider fairy tales . . . there are plenty of good examples here:
- Snow White didn’t get the message about forbidden fruit.
- Rapunzel paid the price for her mother’s food cravings.
- It’s a trap! Hansel and Gretel fall for a sugary house of death and danger.
- Red Riding Hood’s mission is to deliver a basket of goodies to her grandmother.
- If you get a magic pasta pot/porridge pot, always make sure you know how to turn it off
There are plenty more once you get started. Food in fairy tales is all well and good. But once you get in to chapter books, readers want a little more to chew on. Perhaps a feast or two? Some delicious morsels on an epic adventure? Tasty snacks tucked into a rucksack? I have just the series for you . . .
My favorite link between fantasy and food is the Redwall Series by Brian Jacques. If you’ve ever read even a single volume of this lengthy series featuring anthropomorphic woodland creatures in medieval adventures, then you’ll understand why. Every single book features scrumptious sounding foods, that will cause even the most resolute dieter to drool and crave . Whenever the furry characters aren’t battling with weapons, or solving mysterious riddles they’re usually involved in food frolics that are completely and utterly droolworthy. I first read this wordy series when I was about ten years old and even then the food descriptions stuck with me.
Here are just a few examples I’ve drawn directly from the books:
“tender freshwater shrimp garnished with cream and rose leaves, devilled barley pearls in acorn puree, apple and carrot chews, marinated cabbage stalks steeped in creamed white turnip with nutmeg.” —Redwall
“I smell apple pie and raspberry cream pudding and scones, fresh from the oven too, with damson preserve spread over them.” —Mariel of Redwall
I found an entire three pages devoted to describing foodstuffs at a big feast in Mattimeo. Here’s just a snippet: “Then there were the cakes, tarts, jellies and sweets. Raspberry muffins, blueberry scones, redcurrant jelly, Abbot’s cake, fruitcake, iced cake, shortbread biscuits, almond wafers, fresh cream, sweet cream, whipped cream, pouring cream, honeyed cream, custardy cream, Mrs. Churchmouse’s bell tower pudding, Mrs. Bankvole’s six-layer trifle, Cornflower’s gatehouse gateau, Sister Rose’s sweetmeadow custard with honeyglazed pears, Brother Rufus’s wildgrape woodland pie with quince and hazelnut sauce. To name but a few . . .“–Mattimeo
I mean, seriously, if someone wanted me to pick a fantasy series to travel to for a meal, this would be my pick.
The series became so well known for the food described in loving detail that both a picture book, The Great Redwall Feast, and The Redwall Cookbook were published for fans of the series. The food in these stories might not be magical, but it is certainly fantastical, and it is as much a part of the fun of the story as the fighting and adventuring. For children who might be used to the same old foods every day, there’s certainly something delightful about being able to enter a world where food is not only plentiful, but varied, exotic and –most importantly–tasty.
Now, imaginary medieval feasts are one thing–but what about food that is magic? We encounter such foods in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland where various “Eat Me” and “Drink Me” items lead to magical transformations. Then there’s No Such Thing as a Witch by Ruth Chew (Scholastic, 1971), where two children find that their new neighbor’s special fudge is anything but ordinary. One piece makes you like animals, two pieces allows you to talk to animals, three pieces make you act like an animal and four pieces allow you to turn into an animal. Another older story that combines magic and cookery is Richard Jay Parker’s M is for Mischief (1965). Discover an old stove with a setting “o” for ordinary and “m” for mischief. With the help of an unusual cookbook, several children get up to all kinds of magical trouble!
For a more modern food magic, there’s A Tangle of Knots by Lisa Graff (Philomel, 2013). Cady is a young lady whose magical talent is the ability to bake–and she particularly prides herself on coming up with exactly the right cake for the right person. The author includes recipes for readers to make their own, non-magical, versions of these cakes.
At the Bliss Bakery, magical recipes are the name of the game! There are two books out in Kathryn Littlewood’s series so far. Bliss (2012) introduces readers to 11 year old Rose and her family, along with her super famous aunt Lily, who connives to get her hands on the family’s magical cookbook. In A Dash of Magic (2013), Rose will do anything to get her family’s cookbook back from her aunt, including challenging her aunt to a cooking contest.
And what about an entire kingdom is turned topsy turvey over the definition of a single word? A new royal dictionary is being written, but no one can agree on what food should be featured in the definition of ‘delicious’. Our young hero is on a quest to poll the inhabitants of the entire kingdom and finally decide what the meaning of “delicious” should be. However, other forces are at work to divide the kingdom and cause civil war–all over the definition of a single word. Find out what ultimately happens in The Search for Delicious by Natalie Babbitt.
And then there’s the most famous children’s fantasy food book of them all: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. I still remember sitting and listening to my mother read this to me. How my siblings and I all wanted to be Charlie and have the chance to see such a marvelous factory! Because it’s not really Willie Wonka’s success or his clever business skills, or Charlie’s poverty that is the point of the book–it’s the chocolate factory itself, and all the amazingly delicious–and sometimes downright malicious candy to be found within!
While it’s difficult to capture a book properly in movie form, the scene when the children first entire the chocolate mixing room in Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory captures it perfectly–and so beautifully renders the idea of having an entire landscape of edibles.
Sometimes the food is a little less central to the plot, but still unforgettable. The LIon, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis, I vividly remember when the white witch lures Edmond into betraying his siblings with the help of a dessert called Turkish Delight. At the time I’d no idea what it was, but it certainly captured my imagination. Well over fifteen years later, I had the chance to study in England and encountered Turkish Delight in the candy store. I not only bought some, but gleefully sent home a tin to my family back in the States. I admit I like Turkish Delight quite a bit, but it sincerely took the wind out of my sails when my family reported that they all thought the fancy gelatin cubes “tasted like soap”. Ah well. ^_^
I’m sure I’ve left out plenty of other books that involve fantasy and food, but should this whet your appetite for some fantasy food fiction, then I’ve accomplished my task! What are your food and fantasy favorites? Please share!