Five Places Pot Shows Up In Classic Literature

When we talk about cannabis being a dynamic tool for artists, most of those conversations usually revolve around people like musicians and visual artists – jazz greats like Louis Armstrong or Cab Calloway, or painters or sculptors, even film directors. We generally don’t think about writers being potheads – maybe because we tend to think of writers being big drinkers instead. Certainly guys like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and any number of Irish poets are fairly well known for their booze consumption. And maybe we associate Bret Easton Ellis with, like, cocaine maybe? Eh, it’s inconsistent. 

But most great writers almost certainly smoked pot at some point in their lives and careers. Stephen King surely did (though he’s sober now and still writing amazing stuff). Edgar Allan Poe? You don’t write a character like Fortunato without smoking weed at least once. Willa Cather? Well, yeah – you think those pioneers didn’t toke up a few times in the backs of their massive Conestoga wagons? HP Lovecraft? OK, probably not. Too bad, too – maybe some good ganja would have made the dude less racist. 

Anyway, a handful of truly classic scribes even put their familiarity with (and love of) pot right on the page. Here are the ones we’ve found so far. Oh, and spoilers abound, so if that matters to you, just read the paragraph headings? Or like, go have a soda? You do you, man. 

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas. The post-Revolutionary French loved their hashish – they viewed it with an exotic alien mystique. When Dumas wrote his instantly famous novel of revenge and jailbreak (published in 1844), he included a scene wherein the title character offers a bit of green jelly to a visitor. “Taste this,” he says, “and the boundaries of possibility disappear, the the fields of infinite space open up to you, you advance free in heart, fee in mind. Taste the hashish, guest of mine – taste the hashish. Open your wings and fly into superhuman regions.” When the guest takes the drug, it hits him like a ton of bricks: “His body seemed to acquire an airy lightness, his perceptions brightened in a remarkable manner, his senses seemed to redouble their power, the horizon continued to expand.” Clearly this was written by someone who was very familiar with the sensation of THC on the landscape of the mind. Dumas was no dumbass. 

Perilous Play by Louisa May Alcott. Alcott is most famous for writing Little Women (and its two sequels; yeah, there was a whole Marchverse), but this charming short story has the same appeal in a much smaller package, and sings the praises of hashish use to boot! Our story begins during a hangout session among several young friends and, like, their doctor? Or maybe one of them just happens to be a doctor. But if they’re friends, it’s weird that they call him by the honorific and not just his name. Anyway, everyone is bored and so the doctor gives them hashish. Seriously! Two in the crew, Mark and Rose, are frightened by the prospect of getting high and tell everyone they’re not into it, but then secretly drop the hash anyway and get separated from the rest of the group. Like most anti-drug prudes, they have a terrible trip, but Mark manages to confess his undying love to Rose. She resists at first, but then relents (because that’s what genteel women were like, supposed to do back then? it’s confusing), and in the end they offer words of gratitude to hashish for helping them get together. It’s pretty adorable.

A Psychical Invasion by Algernon Blackwood. Blackwood may not be as well known as the other names on this list, but you’ll probably recognize his name if you’re a fan of ghost stories and the kind of dread-soaked cosmic horror popularized by HP Lovecraft (yeah, he was a racist, but proper credit for inventing a whole literary subgenre). This story introduces John Silence, the closest thing Blackwood has to a Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot character. The story is an adventuresome one that doesn’t cast pot in the greatest of lights – it’s viewed in part as a doorway to a world of demons – but nor is it directly castigated in the way it too often is.

Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. If you’re only vaguely familiar with Lewis Carroll’s Alice books, remember there’s only two: Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. Disney sort of combined them to make their 1951 adaptation, and most people’s knowledge of the books is piecemeal. But one thing most people remember is the caterpillar who smokes the hookah while talking to Alice. His name is Absolem in the Tim Burton adaptations but is nameless in the original book. He is three inches high, and Alice doesn’t like him because she finds him rude. And, OK, look: there’s no direct proof these books are about drugs. Really, they’re just flights of fancy that a nice man wrote to entertain some children. But there’s also no denying that it’s easy as hell to interpret the whole “eat me” and “drink me” scenes, in addition to a landscape of absolute hard-core brain-madness, as an ode to drugs. Blame Jefferson Airplane if you need to, but the similarities aren’t hard to spot. And that caterpillar is smoking ganja. 

John Barleycorn by Jack London. Jack London fueled his writing with adventures, and was never afraid of a new set of experiences. In his autobiographical novel he delves deeply into his struggles with alcoholism, he also describes his experiences with hashish, which are so profound that he’s unable to keep up with them. Describing the mental experience of a hash high as “Hasheesh land,” he says: “In past years I have made two memorable journeys into that far land. My adventures there are seared in sharpest detail on my brain. Yet I have tried vainly, with endless words, to describe any tiny particular phase to persons who have not travelled there.” For someone who set out to become a writer and who longed to convey fantastic experiences to those who couldn’t experience them, this must have been torture. Weed is great, Jack, but we get it. We get it. 

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