Our beloved Ganoderma Lucidum mushroom –the special ingredient that’s found in OG coffees, teas, cocoa drinks, nutraceuticals and even our personal care products –has a long and storied past. It has featured prominently in Chinese herbal medical texts, guidebooks and volumes of pharmacopeia for literally thousands of years. That made us think of other mushrooms that have played a prominent part in literary history.
From Shakespeare’s works to J.K Rowling’s popular Harry Potter books, fungi have sprouted regularly throughout literary history. Here are a few examples of how mushrooms have captured the imagination of writers: One of the first pieces of literature that springs to mind when one mentions mushrooms is Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, which takes place amidst a surreal land that is home to many amazing creatures and plenty of gigantic mushrooms. Alice comes upon a large mushroom, upon which is an equally large Caterpillar. The Caterpillar tells Alice that one side of the mushroom will make her taller and the other side will make her shorter. She breaks off two pieces from the mushroom— one side makes her shrink smaller than ever, while another causes her neck to grow high into the trees. With some effort, Alice uses the mushroom to bring herself back to normal height.
- Shakespeare seems to have had fungus in mind when he penned The Tempest. In it, Prospero observes that it is the pastime of elves to “make midnight mushrooms,” and one scholar has suggested that the fits of Caliban show that he was suffering from ergot poisoning (ergot being a type of fungus).
- In recent times, it’s no surprise to find fungal references at ‘Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry’ in the Harry Potter stories. Character Ronald Weasley shares his opinion of Severus Snape by comparing him to a poisonous mushroom when he states: “Poisonous toadstools don’t change their spots.”Also, during his Charms Ordinary Wizarding Level in 1996, Ron Weasley accidentally mutated a dinner plate into a large mushroom. And Harry, Ron and Hermione Granger depended on such free-growing foods as wild mushrooms for sustenance during their hunt for Voldemort’s Horcruxes. There are many, many more mushroom references in the Harry Potter books, but, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, we can find no reference to the wonders of Ganoderma Lucidum!
- In H.G. Wells’ tale, The Purple Pileus, a mushroom changes the course of a man’s life. Several renowned science fiction authors, including Ray Bradbury and John Wyndham, have written stories that feature mushrooms in menacing form.
- Writers often turn to mushrooms when searching for a metaphor for decay or rottenness. Examples can be found in the works of many great poets and authors, including Shelley, Keats, Tennyson, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, D.H. Lawrence, and Emily Dickinson.
- French playwright and satirist Molière went so far as to name his most famous protagonist Tartuffe—an old French word for truffle. Molière’s fondness for fungi is also reflected in the title he gave his estate, Perigord, which is the name of an area noted for its exquisite black truffles.
- Fungi continue to provide a source of material for contemporary authors. Mystery writer Sue Grafton features the poisonous death cap mushroom (Amanita phalloides) in her book “I” Is for Innocent. Incidentally, the A. phalloides is one of the most poisonous of all known mushrooms. It has been involved in the majority of human deaths from mushroom poisoning, and is believed to have caused the deaths of Roman Emperor Claudius in AD 54 and Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI in 1740. Pope Clement VII also died in 1534 after eating a death cap mushroom.
- Robin Cook, famous for his medical thrillers, has fun with a mould that produces a mind-altering drug in Acceptable Risk.