January 16, 1920 — Prohibition officially begins in the USA

One of the most expensive and counter-productive intrusions of the government into the private sphere in human history, Prohibition was enabled by the 18th Amendment to the US Constitution. It banned the sale, production and consumption of alcohol throughout the United States. Naturally, it was immensely unpopular with the kind of people who like to drink alcohol, and these people, if they could not obtain their tipple legally, would do so illegally. The new law – which was also rather more heavily enforced on the poorer classes than than the richer, often by police known to drink themselves – lead to an incredible increase in the number and wealthiness of criminals, with a corresponding increase in violent crime.

Ultimately, Prohibition failed and was written out of law with another amendment to the Constitution, but the hand of organised crime had been strengthened in a way that, nearly a century later, law enforcement has still not brought back to pre-Prohibition levels.

Prohibition and Harry Potter

It may not seem like an apropos mix, but bear with me. After all, one can prohibit just about anything. Even in actual Prohibition, it could be argued what the actual thing intended to be prohibited was: a substance (alcohol), a state (drunkeness) or an activity (carousing).

But not to stray too far from either source material, I’ll assume that what’s prohibited at Hogwarts (and allied venues) are certain kinds of alchemical potions.
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Lankhmar and Prohibition

This week, I’m not so much looking at a crossover with a particular fictional source as a more generalised era in history, one so distinctive as to practically be a genre unto itself.

And one that fits very well indeed. It’s widely believed that Leiber modelled Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser on himself and his friend Harry Otto Fischer (who co-wrote one of the Lankhmar stories, The Lords of Quarmall), and their exploits knocking around New York City in their misspent youth. Which was, roughly, in the years covered by Prohibition.

Isn’t it nice when things just work?
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