Monday, 25 September 2017

Food Glorious Food

By Alice Bennett 

York Food and Drink Festival is a city-wide culinary celebration running from 22nd September to 1st October 2017. Markets and events provide opportunities to meet producers and taste new things. We ask that you’re careful consuming food and drink in the library, but we do have some tasty treats hidden away in the collections…

In this blog post we consider some icons of fictional food.

Would Proust have remembered so much without his madeleine? What would James have been without his Giant Peach? And how would the Famous Five have coped without lashings of Ginger Beer?

Food and drink play a part in many famous moments in fiction. This pivotal role of food in fiction starts in childhood. Fairy tale food often takes a sinister twist. Even something as familiar as porridge, the homely favourite of the Three Bears, can become monstrous, flooding a town in the misuse of the magic porridge pot. Seemingly innocuous food moments in fairy tales can become contentious - an edition of Little Red Riding Hood was banned in one US county, as an illustration of Red Riding Hood taking food and drink to her mother showed a bottle of wine in her basket, which was deemed unsuitable for a children’s book. In many stories, food can be used as temptation. Poison can lurk in apparently wholesome items, with Snow White tricked by the apparently perfect apple.

 Franz Jüttner Illustration from Sneewittchen Mainz (Snow White) 1905

Another traditional example is the sugary temptation of the gingerbread cottage used to lure in Hansel and Gretel. CS Lewis also resorted to confectionery temptation in Narnia, when the White Witch entraps Edmund with enchanted Turkish Delight. 

Ludwig Richter illustration,  'Hänsel und Gretel vor dem Hexenhaus' (Hansel and Gretel before the witches house) 1903

The inclusion of food in children’s literature is common. This can be fantastically oversized - from Jack’s magical beanstalk to the Giant Peach, which transports James and his insect friends away from his cruel aunts. Food can be used to demonstrate exoticism and plenty. The feasts at Hogwarts in the Harry Potter series create opulent images of abundance, as well as illustrating the difference of the wizarding world through mysterious treats such as Butterbeer, Chocolate Frogs and Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans. Sweet foods seem to be particularly popular as images of treats and plenty, but can turn sour in excess. The Chocolate Factory that is Willy Wonka’s playground has a distinctly sinister side, whilst Bruce Bogtrotter faces punishment through cake - although not quite death by chocolate. Bizarre food items can illustrate the magical or outlandish, whilst others have an almost universal appeal - Charlie Bucket is effectively the archetypal kid in a sweet shop.

Some of the most famous literary food appears in Alice in Wonderland. The size-changing  cake and potion labelled “eat me” and “drink me” add to the strangeness of Wonderland, as well as driving the plot, whilst the Mad Hatter’s tea party is one of Carroll’s most memorable scenes. Alice’s adventures through Wonderland and through the Looking-glass are interlaced with food moments, including the sneeze-inducing pepper, the oysters devoured by the Walrus and the Carpenter and that most curious insect, the bread-and-butterfly. 

 The Mad Hatters tea party in Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.

Carroll is by no means the only canonical writer to employ food to drive his plot. One of Shakespeare’s most gruesome scenes is that in which the avenging Titus Andronicus serves pies to Tamora, queen of the Goths - pies in which her own murderous sons are baked. Less disturbing is Robert Louis Stevenson’s use of food in conjuring memories of home as the marooned Ben Gunn dreams of toasted cheese from the Treasure Island. The role of food as a social indicator makes it a useful tool for the author, easily denoting class and status through an individual’s diet. Dickens makes great use of this, from the malnourished Oliver Twist’s request for more gruel in the workhouse to the poor but respectable Cratchit family, as they sit down to Christmas dinner.

Food continues to provide the basis of memorable scenes - one of the most notorious examples in recent fiction is that pie, in the novel The Help (and the subsequent film adaptation). Fictional foods can horrify, amuse, tempt or enchant us - and continue to do so today.

Feeling peckish? Feast on these delights from the library:

Lewis Carroll - Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-glass and What Alice Found There MA 173.1

Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, novel in the Peggy Janiurek Collection

Roald Dahl, Matilda, novel available at  MA 193.9 DAH

Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol - editions of the novel at MA 163.4  

Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist, editions of the novel at MA 163.4

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Tales of the Brothers Grimm, editions available at MG 124.4

C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, novel at MA 198.9 MIT, BBC TV adaptation in the audiovisual collection at LP 4.50942 CHR

Marcel Proust, Remembrance of Things Past, at MJ 138.2

J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter novels, available in the  Peggy Janiurek Collection

William Shakespeare, Titus Andronicus, editions of the play at  MA 102.71 TIT, DVDs of film adaptations in the audiovisual collection at MA 102.71 TIT

Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island, editions of the novel at MA 173.3

Kathryn Stockett’s The Help, film adaptation available in the audiovisual collection at LP 4.30973 TAY

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