I’ve seen addiction portrayed in fantasy. Fred Saberhagen used it to great effect in his Song of the Swords series, and I will never forget his image of people letting worms loop through their skin to get the narcotic effect of the chemicals the worms left behind. Let’s leave Herbert out of it for now. The strongest example of addiction I can name in truly popular fantasy was Willow’s use of magic in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I didn’t care for the angle personally, the metaphor felt forced, but if it helped someone out there, then I am grateful for it.
Have you seen the skeletal face of someone strung out on crystal methamphetamine? I’ve seen mummies with more flesh. I’ve seen healthier corpses. As a Family Guy episode quipped, “it’s a hell of a drug.” Addiction comes up in fantasy a lot, usually in response to power, but as I’ve watched meth melt the brain of someone I once cared deeply for, I’m grateful that it doesn’t exist in my fantasy worlds. Now here’s the hard part: do I wish it didn’t exist in the real world either? One of the reasons I write fantasy is to hold a mirror up to reality, not to moralize, but to question. When we escape into fantasy, we get caught up in the adventure and the universe a writer has crafted for us. I read fantasy to escape, to leave earth for a while, but I’ve found that the best fantasy sends something back with me: I return to reality with something to consider, something to think about. By editing out addiction, I run the risk of editing out something to think on, an issue someone might want or need to consider. If I make my worlds too idealized, I run the risk of separating them too far from reality, and losing the reader if they don’t have enough points of connection.
Is meth right for me? Um, hell no. Have a look at the ruined face of a long time user. Have a conversation with them. I think you’ll find it isn’t right for you either, but it’s a question you have to answer for yourself. The issue of addiction is something that permeates our society. In fantasy we might find a healthy way to confront it.