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Author Topic: The role of drugs in fantasy novels  (Read 5417 times)

Offline Shamrock

The role of drugs in fantasy novels
« on: March 09, 2011, 10:40:47 AM »
So I don't know how many readers have noticed the role of drugs in fantasy works?
It seems every series has some or other drug that plagues society, especially the poorer folk of the world (in which you're reading).
So does anyone have any ideas why this is a recurrent theme in fantasy novels?
And also alcohol in the series is acceptable with lots of characters in different series getting quite drunk on some occasions.
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Offline Nighteyes

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Re: The role of drugs in fantasy novels
« Reply #1 on: March 09, 2011, 10:42:26 AM »
does taking drugs improve the reading of any fantasy novels? 

Apparently The Beatles loved Lord of the Rings, and had a plan to make a film of it with them as the hobbits. 
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Offline Shamrock

Re: The role of drugs in fantasy novels
« Reply #2 on: March 09, 2011, 10:45:04 AM »
I would imagine that the Beatles as hobbits would be hysterical :)
I have a sneaking suspicion Tolkien was on the halfling's leaf when he wrote LOTR.
And I would imagine with some fantasy it would be difficult to keep track of what was going on if you're high.
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Offline Overlord

Re: The role of drugs in fantasy novels
« Reply #3 on: March 09, 2011, 11:03:18 AM »
I would imagine that the Beatles as hobbits would be hysterical :)
I have a sneaking suspicion Tolkien was on the halfling's leaf when he wrote LOTR.
And I would imagine with some fantasy it would be difficult to keep track of what was going on if you're high.

Coffee and 'Pick me up' drugs are becoming more popular as a way to keep characters awake. You will see drugs in the form of seeds apear in Douglas Hulick's book later this year and also if you look back at Steven Brust's work you will see them there too... Wise Man's Fear had pick me up drugs and coffee in them...

It's a part of literature changing with the times... as we become more accepting to 'stimulants' so too does the fantasy genre. People associate coffee and red bull and pro-plus type drugs as a means of doing a lot quickly. Therefore when we say... no way could 'Drothe' or 'Kvothe' or 'Vlad' do that much in 2 days... he needs to sleep!!!??? It's a good way of the author giving an explanation of how they did so much in such a short space of time without having to write in sleep or tiredness every 5 minutes.
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Offline Fellshot

Re: The role of drugs in fantasy novels
« Reply #4 on: March 09, 2011, 02:24:42 PM »
Well with regards to alcohol such as beer and wine, historically speaking everyone drank the stuff at all hours of the day. In some places it was safer to drink than the water.

Offline OneChapterMore

Re: The role of drugs in fantasy novels
« Reply #5 on: March 09, 2011, 02:50:56 PM »
Ther's nothing wrong with drugs/alcohol in literature - it's in all genres (c.f. 'Spice' in Dune, all sorts of drugs in mainstream literature). If its dealt with appropriately/in context of the novel then it's alright by me...
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Offline vgunn

Re: The role of drugs in fantasy novels
« Reply #6 on: March 09, 2011, 09:14:15 PM »
So I don't know how many readers have noticed the role of drugs in fantasy works?
It seems every series has some or other drug that plagues society, especially the poorer folk of the world (in which you're reading).
So does anyone have any ideas why this is a recurrent theme in fantasy novels?
And also alcohol in the series is acceptable with lots of characters in different series getting quite drunk on some occasions.


Parallels easily with the real world I assume. Also a way to show character flaws, which may have an impact on the reader.

In my novel, one of the characters is addicted to an opiate-like substance called Affyram. His usage (or need of the drug) is not glorified and he struggles against its withdrawal.

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Re: The role of drugs in fantasy novels
« Reply #7 on: March 09, 2011, 10:31:49 PM »
The use of herbs as stimulants to explain extended periods of activity (when not augmented by magic  :)) seems plausible to me.

So often, the "world" is split between magic users vs non-magic users, so add in the inevitable misery / lower standard of living usually suffered by the "non-magics" and you'll fill a tavern or fifty in a moment.

**Trying to think of a tavern which wasn't filled with discontented townfolks quaffing poor ale/watered wine and the odd nob-head aristocrat slumming it either for a bit of skirt, or to meet a contract killer... :D**

Offline waltw

Re: The role of drugs in fantasy novels
« Reply #8 on: March 10, 2011, 01:21:00 AM »
So I don't know how many readers have noticed the role of drugs in fantasy works?
It seems every series has some or other drug that plagues society, especially the poorer folk of the world (in which you're reading).
So does anyone have any ideas why this is a recurrent theme in fantasy novels?
And also alcohol in the series is acceptable with lots of characters in different series getting quite drunk on some occasions.


There were two separate novels that sprang to mind reading this, however, the drugs were more for the richer segment of society. In Joe Abercrombie's 'Best Served Cold' the use of Husk (setting described like an opium den) seems acceptable as a way to dull extreme pain. Robin Hobb has some sort of spice which is burned in a brazer (Used by the nobility).

Come to think of it, Robin Hobb also has what I think is called Cindin (don't remember exactly) but it is described like a clove that is stuck between the cheek and gum which brings on a mild sense of euphoria. This drug is used more by the common folk (In this case anyone on the ships in Liveship Traders).

In those cases above, I don't think the drugs plagued society but were portrayed as a vice that had the potential to harm.
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Offline Funky Scarecrow

Re: The role of drugs in fantasy novels
« Reply #9 on: March 10, 2011, 01:44:25 AM »
Stern disapproval of narcotics is a pretty recent thing. If you're using a pre-industrial society in your story, it makes sense that some people are going to be off their faces on something or other. Heck, if you're basing your society on almost any culture up until roughly the equivalent of mid-twentieth or so, narcotics of some sort are likely to be around. Most western countries didn't bring in an outright ban on opiates and coca based products until the twentieth century was well under way. It was only when production of the stronger narcotics became industrialised allowing for widespread distribution that usage became a societal problem in the first place.

No matter the where or the when, people love to get stoned. ;)

As for alcohol, it's the cheapest and most effective way to sterilise drinking liquid in a pre-industrial world. It wouldn't take a genius to work out that the people who are best at avoiding cholera and typhoid are the ones who drink a lot of booze. The attributed reason for it would almost certainly be wrong, but the effect would be the same. Widespread consumption of alcohol by all social classes.
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Offline Dornish First Sword

Re: The role of drugs in fantasy novels
« Reply #10 on: March 10, 2011, 03:43:08 AM »

No matter the where or the when, people love to get stoned. ;)



Hahah so true, my favourite line of the day.
 Any of the Rothfuss fans can tell you he has drugs in his stories and damn does he do them well, and insanely hilariously as well. A particular scene in The Wise Man's Fear is the funniest scene I have ever read in all fantasy. 
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Offline Dragonmuse

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Re: The role of drugs in fantasy novels
« Reply #11 on: March 10, 2011, 05:40:08 AM »
I agree with Funky Scarecrow, if you look at any society and base your fantasy world on any culture, there is going to be some degree of drug use of some means of getting 'high'.
How it is handled in fantasy makes it interesting or cliched.
The other interesting thing about including drug usage in your novel is that it can alter the age group you can adress it to. Drug use may take your story out of the PG and/or the YA rating. Something to watch, depending on your target audience.
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Offline Shamrock

Re: The role of drugs in fantasy novels
« Reply #12 on: March 10, 2011, 05:54:25 AM »
Loving all the replies. So I agree and I think drugs in fantasy novels give it a bit more depth to the world. What is a world without something plaguing the protagonist or others in the book.  And it can lead to some comical instances, as well as pity for other characters, such as in Trudi Canavan's The Ambassador's Mission (can't remember the character's name).

I agree with you Dragonmuse, it can change it from YA to adult fantasy by the way it is handled. I'll never write a book but I am in publishing so it something very important to think about when editing for your market.
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Offline Dornish First Sword

Re: The role of drugs in fantasy novels
« Reply #13 on: March 10, 2011, 06:27:55 AM »
Great to see you engaging with your potential audience being part of the publishing industry Shamrock only good can come of it.
 I think drugs aren't necessarily a no no in YA it all depends on context of course, a YA novel would certainly be somewhat out of out of place to say the least if it involved a prolific amount of drug use and more so the "acceptance" of it.
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Offline pornokitsch

Re: The role of drugs in fantasy novels
« Reply #14 on: March 10, 2011, 11:24:35 AM »
Ther's nothing wrong with drugs/alcohol in literature - it's in all genres (c.f. 'Spice' in Dune, all sorts of drugs in mainstream literature). If its dealt with appropriately/in context of the novel then it's alright by me...

Spice isn't a drug. Spice is life :)