A Lot of What I Needed to Know I Learned from Narnia

In Cotsen’s current exhibition, “Ice and Snow,”  an illustration of little Kai being carried off in the Snow Queen’s sleigh is next to the iconic image of Mr. Tumnus and Lucy walking through the snow from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  As much as I have always loved that picture by Pauline Baynes, the first volume of the Chronicles was not my favorite one:  I  preferred The Horse and His Boy to it, perhaps because it was the first book I remember buying with my own money.  

horseandboyThe Manhattan Beach public library didn’t own a complete set of the Narnia books, so my mother drove me to Either Or, the  independent bookstore downtown near the water, to place a special order for a volume I hadn’t read.  About two weeks later The Horse and His Boy came in and I begged to collect it first thing after school  My mother, who probably had a lot more pressing things to do that miserable, wet November afternoon, indulged me.

khan Decades later I understand completely why so many people find the Orientalism permeating The Horse and His Boy off-putting. The long exchange between the Tarkaan and Arsheesh the fisherman in the first chapter, which ends in their haggling over a price for Shasta, does deftly set in motion the lost royal orphan plot.  But the tongue-in-cheek dialogue in the style of an English translation of A Thousand and One Nights now grates.  For better or worse, the adventures of Shasta, Aravis, Bree, and Hwin thoroughly grounded me in Western conceptions of the other–East and West, black and white, North and South, the prince and the pauper.  At age nine, I doubt I realized that The Horse and His Boy also showed me at the same time how a cleverly constructed narrative subverts those seemingly inexorable oppositions and demonstrates their truthiness as much as their potency.

tisrocIt was the thread of political intrigue in The Horse and His Boy that brought me back again and again to the book.   I was simultaneously horrified and fascinated by the Tisroc’s calm betrayal of his eldest son Rabadash.  That the father could lucidly explain why the military expedition would serve his interests no matter how it turned out showed that he was as cold-blooded as a serpent.   Such a master of duplicity deserved to have his ambitions overturned, even though the absurd Rabadash would take the fall.

desertThen began the most harrowing part of the story–the forced ride across the great Calormen desert to mountainous Archenland.  The descriptions of the children beginning the journey across the sands in the cool dark of night, then continuing through the blazing day, was very real to anyone growing up in hot, dry Southern California.  It was so easy to imagine how thirsty they all were when they reached the secret valley after traveling nearly twenty-four hours.  That they fell asleep out of exhaustion and lost the advantage gained by finding the secret shortcut to Archenland was heartbreaking every time, even though I knew Rabadash would not succeed in extending the Tisroc’s empire into the free North. defileWhat the ending of The Horse and His Boy taught me I could have never anticipated.  Shasta, who was raised in a fisherman’s hut is dumbfounded with the news that he, not his twin brother Prince Corin, will be the next king of Archenland.  Shasta (or Prince Cor as he is now called) generously tries to return the crown he thinks must belong to his brother, but is told by his father King Lune that rulers are under the law and therefore cannot subvert the laws of succession at will.

“Hurrah!  Hurrah!” said Corin.  “I shan’t have to be King.  I shan’t have to be King.  I’ll always be a prince.  It’s princes have all the fun.”

“And that’s true than thy brother knows, Cor, ” said King Lune.  “For this is what it means to be a king: to be first in every desperate attack and last in every desperate retreat, and when there’s hunger in the land (as must be now and then in bad years) to wear finer clothes and laugh louder over a scantier meal than any man in your land.”

When the situation calls for backbone, quite often I hear King Lune’s words about what it means to be a leader.  They may be good thoughts to take with us into a new year.




Christmas Dessert Buffet Menu by Children’s Literature Celebrity Chefs!


Little Jack Horner caught in the act by Jessie Wilcox Smith

Poor little Jack Horner…  Surely he deserved something more than plum pudding in his corner.  To make his holidays brighter (and a lot more sugary), here is a dessert buffet of recipes from cookbooks sponsored by some of the most beloved characters in children’s literature.  The recipes were included edited for length, but were not tested in Cotsen’s curatorial or outreach kitchen.


From Easy Steps in Cooking, or Mary Frances among the Kitchen People, written and illustrated by Jane Eayre Frye. Oakland, CA: Smithsonian Co., c1912. (Cotsen 40860).




From Astrid Lindgren, Kaenner du Pippi Langstrump? Illustrated by Ingrid Nyman. Stockholm: Raben & Sjoegren, 1947.

3 1/2 C. flour; 2 tsp. ginger; 2 tsp. cinnamon; 2 tsp. cloves; 1 tsp. baking soda; 1/2 tsp. salt; 1/2 C. dark corn syrup; 1 tsp. grated orange zest; 1 C. butter; 1 C. sugar, 1 large egg, lightly beaten; pearl sugar

Whisk together dry ingredients  in a bowl.  In a small saucepan, warm the butter and sugar, stirring until melted.  Cool to room temperature, then whisk in the egg.  Pour over flour mixture and stir until blended.  Form dough into ball, wrap tightly with two layers of plastic wrap and chill overnight.  Preheat over to 375 degrees With a lightly floured rolling pin, roll out dough on a lightly floured kitchen floor to 1/4 inch  thickness.   Using a star cutter, cut dough into cookies.  Put stars on baking sheets covered with parchment paper and sprinkle with pearl sugar.  Bake until edges begin to brown, about 7-8 minutes.  Cool on baking sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks.

Astrid Lindgren didn’t provide a recipe, thanks to Epicurious for Anna Lindberg’s family recipe.


Blackberry and Apple Meringue


From Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows. Illustrated by E. H. Shepard. London: Methuen, 1970. (Cotsen 32085).

1 large cooking apple; 50 g. (2 oz) granulated sugar; 450 g. (1 lb. blackberries); juice of one lemon; 2 egg whites; 75 g. (3 oz) superfine sugar

Heat the oven to 150 degrees C (300 degrees F or Gas Mark 2)  Peel and core the apple and cut into thinnish slices.  Put the applies in a pan with 2 T water and the granulated sugar.  Cook gently, covered, for 4 minutes, then add the berries, return to the simmer and cook for 1 minute.  Remove from the heat and add the lemon juice. Tip into a pie dish.  Beat the egg whites until stiff, fold in the superfine sugar, and pile over the fruit, covering the dish entirely.  Bake for 30 minutes, then cool for about 30 minutes before serving with cream.

Arabella Boxer, The Wind in the Willows Country Cookbook.  London: Methuen, 1983. (Cotsen 15424)


Hidden Window Dessert


Carolyn Keene, The Hidden Window Mystery. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, c1958. (Cotsen in process 7305311).

1 package EACH of cherry, orange, lemon, and lime gelatin; 1 C. pineapple juice; 1/4 C. sugar; 1 1/2 Tbsp. melted butter; 12 graham crackers, crushed; 4 C. whipped cream or other whipped topping

In a saucepan, boil enough water to make 1 cup.  This means you must start with a little more than a cup.  Dissolve the cherry gelatin in this.  Stir well.  Add 1/2 cup cold water and pour gelatin into a ice tray with no divider.  Do the same with the orange and lime gelatin separately.  (Use the same pan, but rinse it each time.)  In the same pan again. boil the pinapple juice with sugar.  Dissolve the lemon gelatin in this.  Add 1/2 cup cold water.  Let set in a large mixing bowl to the syrupy stage.  Fold in the whipped cream.  When firm, cut the cherry, orange, and lime gelatins into cubes.  Fold them into the lemon gelatin mixture.  Grease a springform pan.  Stir melted butter into the crushed graham crumbs and spread on the bottom on the pan.  Pour in the mixture.  Chill 12 hours.  You’ll have many colored windows in each slice of cake!

Carolyn Keene, The Nancy Drew Cookbook: Clues to Good Cooking.  New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1978, c1973.  (Cotsen 15426).


Mrs. Tiggy’s Tipsy Pudding


Beatrix Potter’s prickly little washer woman from The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy Winkle.

1 large spongecake; 125 ml. (1/4 pint) sweet sherry; juice of an orange; 75 g. (3 oz) superfine sugar; 250 ml. (1/2 pint) double cream; raisins; 100 g. (4 oz flaked almonds)

Cut a hollow on the underside of the cake, keeping the bit for later.  Fill the hollow with the sherry and orange juice; pour the remaining wine and juice over the top.  Refrigerate overnight, spooning the mixture over the cake from time to time.  In the morning, replace the bit of cake in the hollow.  Split the almonds into narrow bits and brown lightly in the oven.  Stick them all over the cake.  Use the raisins for nose and eyes.  Whip the cream stiff and fold in the sugar.  Pile in peaky dollops all around the cake and serve.

Margaret Lane, The Beatrix Potter Country Cookery Book.  London: Frederick Warne, 1983, c1981.


Treacle toffee from Hagrid


Christmas at Hogwarts as imagined by Mary de Grandpre.

75 g. (3 oz) Golden Syrup; 75 gg (3 oz) black treacle or molasses; 150 g. (6 oz) brown sugar; 75 g. (3 oz) butter; 1/4 tsp. cream of tartar

Line a 6 x 8 inch baking pan with non-stick parchment.  Measure all ingredients into a deep, heavy-bottomed saucepan.  Place over medium heat and stir occasionally until the butter is melted and sugar dissolved.  When the mixture is smooth and nicely combined, bring to a rolling boil.  When the mixture reaches 140 degrees C/ 285 degrees F on the candy thermometer (analog or digital), pour carefully into the pan.  For even pieces, wait until the toffee is cool enough to hand, but leaves a slight impression if poked with a finger (15- 20 minutes).  Cut into the toffee deeply enough to leaves lines and when it has cooled completely, break along the lines.  For toffee that will break your teeth, let it cool completely, then break into pits with a hammer or rolling pin.  Store in an airtight container with parchment in between layers.

With thanks to BBC Food


Boston Cooler


Endpapers for Johnny Gruelle, Raggedy Ann in Cookie Land. Joliet, Wisconsin: P. F. Volland & Co., c1931. (Cotsen in process 0000).

12 oz. can root beer; 4 small scoops vanilla ice cream

Pour the root beer into two glasses.  Carefully put two scoops ice cream in each glass.  Serve with a long spoon and a straw.

Nika Hazelton, Raggedy Ann and Andy’s Cookbook.  Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, c1973.  (Cotsen 28282).

And happy holidays to all!