Drugs in Fiction

In C3. Leo, the Water-Pipe I describe some drug paraphernalia. Next Friday Faith and Jay will smoke centipede powder and hallucinate. Drugs aren’t anything new to fiction: folk lore and myths from around the world can be interpreted as describing altered states of consciousness due to drug use. Let’s review drugs in ancient and modern writing as a defense for the drug use in my book!

Although Hinduism “generally disapproves” of drug use (says this article from the BBC), the early Vedas describe a drug called Soma involved in the worship of a deity with the same name. Some say the Oracle of Delphi fell into prophetic trances with the aid of hallucinogenic vapors. You’ve probably heard of the Rastafari, who see cannabis as a connection to Jah. The idea of an Entheogen—a drug which causes God to manifest within an individual—is well-established in religions around the world and the study thereof. This connection between religion and drugs inspired the “Hippie Movement,” which this Wikipedia article mentions but leaves tantalizingly blank. (Edit: Michael Pollan’s latest book, How to Change your Mind, describes this history in detail. Traditionally known for his writing in botany and agriculture, Pollan’s take on hallucinogens is unexpected, thorough, and fascinating.)

In Homer’s Odyssey, pictured above, Lotus-Eaters eat—you guessed it—lotuses, a powerful narcotic. Odysseus sends three men to talk to the Lotus-Eaters and they start pigging out on lotuses, too. It’s so addicting the men don’t even care about getting home anymore, which you may recall is the whole point of the Odyssey. (Speaking of the Odyssey, Odysseus ties himself to a mast to hear the sirens’ song and live. It’s not a drug, per se, but it connects the ideas of addiction, desire, and human transgression of nature’s laws.)

Adolf Huxley’s Brave New World contains the drug Soma, whose name we remember from the Vedas. Soma dulls the minds of the future-society’s population so they don’t mind all the eugenics. In the climax the main characters spray Soma over a crowd of people. It’s been a while since I read BNW, but I recall Soma being ‘an opiate to the masses,’ enforcing submission and servitude.

In the Cronenberg movie The Naked Lunch (based on a book by the same name, but I’ve never read it, so I don’t want to talk about it and get something wrong) an exterminator discovers his insecticide is an addictive drug. He takes a surreal, dreamlike journey guided by his typewriter, a secret-agent insect. He investigates a drug ring in which thick, black centipedes are turned into narcotics. I love how The Naked Lunch becomes less comprehensible the more drugs are involved. It’s a descent into madness and bug-drugs are the motifs that drag us deeper. This movie obviously influenced Akayama DanJay, where crickets and centipedes connect people to a bizarre religion.

Anyway, there’s literary precedent to my characters smoking crickets and centipedes. I hope when Faith and Jay toke up next Friday it’s not decried as a public morality issue, or whatever. The perceived spiritual, metaphysical link between drugs, the subconscious mind, and the wholly/holy “other” is the playground of writers, and has been for millennia.

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