One cannot think of Wonderland without imagining the iconic imagery of mushrooms. The mushrooms from Alice In Wonderland have entwined the symbol of cute little fungi with freethinking counter culture, adorable family friendly cartoons, and even the creepy dark corners of Alice reimagined for the modern mind. One does always expect to spot Lewis Carroll’s caterpillar puffing away on the umbrella tops of mushrooms.
But, what about the truth behind the fiction? In the Looking Glass Wars, Wonderlanders rely on the goodness of mushrooms for a great many things. It inspires a respect for the variety and volume of fungi. The same is most certainly true for the realm of Earth.
Today we will explore the fascinating organisms that impact the day-to-day more than you might ever have realized. Hereto is a list of Wonderland’s fungi both fascinating and frightening…
Perhaps the most obvious feature of the Valley are the gigantic mushrooms from which it derives its name. In this valley, these towering mushrooms serve as homes of the sagacious Caterpillars. It is yet unknown how or why the color of the mushrooms correspond to the Caterpillar Oracle that sits upon it.
Wonderland is not the only world that owes much to the goliaths, there were once similar giant fungi of Earth in that world’s ancient past that helped to spur the very beginnings of life. Though it is tragic such giants have disappeared from one realm, if Wonderland is a reflection of other worlds then we shouldn’t be too surprised to find that these titans are far from gone.
Not all giants are visible to the untrained eye, and in certain places of Earth like the Blue Mountains of North America, where a humongous fungus reigns as the largest living thing known to their sciences. The true mass of this giant lives underroot, a vast network of mycelium that, if you were smaller than a dormouse, might appear to be a grand root network connecting the whole of the wilderness. Such a lovely landscape can hide many mysteries beneath the surface.
Though mushrooms can be delicious and nutritious, they in equal measure can be dangerous. A keen mind and well confirmed knowledge are required before consuming—lest the worst be brought to pass. The deadliness of fungi cannot be overstated, and perhaps no more a malicious mushroom exists in Wonderland than that of the poisonous pink mushroom. Though “poisoning” is the least of one’s concerns as that pink fungus “roots” itself in the unfortunate victim, strangling the heart with its explosive growth of mycelium.
Though there is a history of darker personalities using these toxic mushrooms for their own nefarious needs, in the hum-drum manner that “reality” operates on for most worlds, the truth is most victims of fungi eat them on accident. Wonderland will never forget or forgive Redd Heart for using a Pink Mushroom to murder her mother in a most vicious act of royal matricide.
While some mushrooms like the Podostroma cornu-damae my look like some prankster has left gwormmies on the forest floor, there are more mundane-looking mushrooms that carry such nefarious names as “Death Caps” and the “Deadly Dapperling” (sounds like a certain Hatter Madigan). It is the appearance of the ordinary that often allows us to lower our guards and fall into the poisonous grasp of things better left alone.
However, these fatal fungi bring about pain & destruction to the internals of their victims through chemistry while the deadly pink mushroom is much more invasive, like the spores of another fungi found in the Valley of Mushrooms…
I would not dare imagine what goes on in a Wonderlander’s mind as the spores of certain mushrooms in the Valley take hold of the body and brain. There has been ample evidence of the resulting infected becoming “Shroombies” as discovered by Wonderland operatives. More of such misadventures of Ovid Grey can be gleaned from the comic book Frank Beddor’s Looking Glass Wars – Underfire.
As nightmarish as it might seem, such mushrooms are not just a fungi grown in soil of imagination but exist in the real world. The genus of parasitic mushrooms called Cordyceps have captured the imaginations, literally and figuratively (chortle), of many Earthlanders. It would seem though that these Earth “shroombies” are more interested in being consumed than consuming others, not including the bodies of the hosts’ which are consumed in the process of the mushrooms’ lifecycle.
Familiar as a Wonderlander may be with the varied and bizarre alchemy that can be seen in the Pool of Tears, the strange imaginations of those on Earth who would willing consume the Cordyceps mushroom boggles the mind more than the Mad Hatter.
It is claimed that the mushroom is a useful remedy for serious illnesses such as cancer or issues regarding the liver and kidneys; it seems most ingest the mushroom in hopes of improved performance (as athletes or lovers), but there seems to be little evidence on any actual benefits.
But to put this darker chapter of mycology behind us, it would be good to remember that fungi are more often our friends than not.
Not all fungi you might face are a poisonous snack or a zombifying nightmare.
Retracing our steps back to the beginning (because obviously to begin at the beginning is a wise course of action), you may recall the giant mushrooms of the Valley that the sagacious Caterpillars make their homes. Well, it seems the people of Earth are on a similar path to using the versatile fungi of their home world to create everything from building materials to medicines.
The world of fungi is so entwined with the people of Earth that “citizen scientists” such as William Padilla-Brown have made it their mission to catalogue and cultivate the unimaginable potential of mushrooms. (Ah if only more people were so studious and eager to learn—Bibwit Hart would be overjoyed at the idea.)
Picture a world where your food, medicine, clothes, and even the roof over your head could all be grown cleanly. Now that is an exercise of powerful imagination!
Marco Arizpe graduated from the University of Southern California and The American Film Institute with degrees in filmmaking and screenwriting. His brand of borderland gothic horror stems from his experiences growing up in a small town where Texas and Mexico meet. Culturally steeped in a rich history of all things terrifying, Marco never fails to bring forward indigenous folklore in contemporary and fresh settings.