12 March 2009

More Dope, More Danger, Fewer Dolls

The Black Candle
Emily F. Murphy
Toronto: Thomas Allen, 1922

Returning to Dope Menace, I find that much of the most sensational writing featured comes not from the pulp and porn houses, but from religious outfits like the Pacific Press Publishing Association, owned and operated by the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. Its books, like Plain Facts for Young Women on Marijuana, Narcotics, Liquor, and Tobacco, were anything but. The press was, as Stephen Gertz writes, 'a great thorn in the side of anyone trying to rationally educate the public on drugs.' Perhaps the most outrageous of its publications was On the Trail of Marihuana: The Weed of Madness, published in 1939:
The marahuana user, freed from the restraint of gravitation, bumps his head against the sky. Street lights become orangoutangs [sic] with eyes of fire. Huge slimy snakes crawl through small cracks in the sidewalk, and prehistoric monsters, intent on his destruction, emerge from keyholes, and pursue him down the street. He feels squirrels walking all over his back, while he is being pelted by some unseen enemy with lightening bolts. He will thrill you with the most plausible accounts of desperadoes who lurk in the doorway ahead, waiting with long sharp knives to pounce on him and carve him to pieces.
Imaginative stuff, Pacific Press - but my favourite passage belongs to Fundamental Truth Publishers, who in 1943 issued a booklet, The Moloch of Marihuana, by the Reverend R. J. Devine:
An ordinary man or woman becomes in the eyes of the Marihuana addict, beautiful beyond compare. Marihuana, grown by trusties on prison farms unknown to prison officials, has been taken to the inmates. Under its influence the prisoners fall desperately in love with one another; as they would with members of the opposite sex outside prison walls. One can understand the debaucheries that take place.
It seems Canada's religious leaders didn't dwell nearly as much on the threats posed by drugs; we certainly had nothing comparable to Pacific Press (our own Pacific Press dispersed propaganda of a different kind). In this land of peace, order and good government, its not really so surprising that our single widely-read work of propaganda would come from a judge. There is much to admire in Emily Murphy, she was the first female magistrate in the British Empire and shares credit in the Persons Case. Still, I find her Historica Minute (née Heritage Minute), performed by the Kate Nelligan, cringe-worthy. Oh, it begins well enough - nice set, beautifully shot, with the attention to detail we've come to expect - but then comes the line: 'I, Emily Murphy, author of the Janey Canuck books, pioneer in the war against narcotics...'

And so, attention is drawn to the fifth of the Janey Canuck books, The Black Candle. Here we find similar panicked misinformation, such as these quoted words from Charles A. Jones, for all of six months the Chief of the LAPD:
Persons using this narcotic [marijuana] smoke the dried leaves of the plant, which has the effect of driving them completely insane. The addict loses all sense of moral responsibility. Addicts to this drug, while under the influence, are immune to pain, could be severely injured without having any realization of their condition. While in this condition they becoming [sic] raving maniacs and are liable to kill or indulge in any form of violence to other persons, using the most savage methods without, as said before, any sense of moral responsibility.

When coming from under the influence of this narcotic, these victims present the most horrible condition imaginable. They are dispossessed of their natural and normal will power, and their mentality is that of idiots. If this drug is indulged in to any great extent, it ends in the untimely death of its addict.
Judge Murphy then passes on some information from W. H. B. Stewart, Superintendent of London's Bethlehem Royal Hospital, that 'the drug is used for the purpose of inducing pleasurable motor excitement and hallucinations which are commonly sexual in character among Eastern races.' This is just one of many unreferenced statements in The Black Candle, presented in support of her xenophobic world view. The author writes of 'a well-defined propaganda among aliens of color to bring about the degeneration of the white race', she tells of 'Chinese pedlars' [sic] who boast that the 'yellow race would rule the world' and 'would strike a the white race through "dope"'. According to Murphy, threats come from all sides: 'Some Negroes coming into Canada - and they are no fiddle-faddle fellows either - have similar ideas, and one of their greatest writers has boasted how ultimately they will control the white men.'

Who, one wonders, is this great writer?

The Black Candle is not just another 'Janey Canuck' book; the author departs from her tiresome travelogues to become 'Judge Emily F. Murphy'. Her billing as 'Police Magistrate and Judge of the Juvenile Court' lends an air of authority and knowledge that Rev. Devine and the Pacific Press lacked. The Black Candle was read, reviewed and discussed. The following year, the author thought enough of the work to nominate herself for the Nobel Prize in Literature (not to worry, it was awarded to Yeats). It may be long out of print, but The Black Candle lives on - its considerable influence on our narcotics legislation would be acknowledged by the Le Dain Commission.

As one whose drug of choice is supplied by the Upper Canada Brewing Company, I write without bias that The Black Candle is the most destructive book yet produced in this country.

We honour the author with a statue on Parliament Hill.

Object and Access: Still found in our larger public libraries. The first edition, one of Thomas Allen's more attractive titles, appears to have been published without a dust jacket. Not nearly as rare as some booksellers claim, decent copies can be bought for C$75. The only reprint, the ugly 1973 Coles Canadiana Collection facsimile, features a top-notch Introduction by Robert Solomon, researcher for the Le Dain Commission. Do not pay more than C$20.

1 comment:

  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.