October 18, 2021

Fantasy Fungus

         I said a couple of posts ago that when it comes to mushrooms, “for this blog it has to be block prints.”  But of course that’s not true; it can also be fantasy, and fantasy actually loves its fungus!  Here’s my most recent block print, which is one of the elemental aliens I was commissioned to illustrate (ruthenium).  I set it in a mushroom forest because that seems appropriately weird and alien.  And I’m not the only one to think mushrooms belong in the world of fantasy.  Tons of people have shared this sense that mushrooms are strange, alien, fantastical, magic, mysterious…  They appear on alien planets and have been a mark of fairyland for centuries.  Mushrooms become houses for magical creatures, tables and chairs, umbrellas, hats and skirts, island-like platforms… and that’s when they aren’t magical creatures themselves.
        In trying to find some images to share today, the problem is the ubiquity of fantasy mushroom art.  There are thousands of different illustrations of mushroom houses, from cutesy to creepy and everything in between.  There are endless parades of mushroom people, again in versions both adorable and terrifying.  I have chosen some older works, those by some of the more famous children’s illustrators, some that seemed to represent a bit of variety, and of course some I particularly like.  But this selection isn’t even close to being comprehensive.
        So the question is why there is such a prevalent sense of the appropriateness of mushrooms for sci fi and fantasy (and horror).  I think there are many reasons.  For one thing, the fact that some mushrooms are psychadelics and have been used in shamanic rituals for centuries gives them an association with magic, strange powers, and crossing into other worlds.  For another thing, they are neither animal, plant, nor mineral, 
but belong in their own strange group that can’t be categorized with normal, everyday sorts of things.  On top of that, their growth habits are unlike the plants and animals we understand better: they can pop up overnight, seemingly fully grown out of nothing; they have bizarre structures, which can change color and form in strange ways; they are associated with decay and seem to flourish in the midst of death.  Their colors can be beautiful or dull, their shapes and sizes adorable or disgusting.  They can be nourishing delicacies or deadly poison.  I think people have always simply sensed their strangeness - that they really are something quite alien.
        Thus we see mushrooms personified as sweet little fairies and babies, and shambling monsters of death and decay - and everything in between.  We see mushrooms turned into charming cottages for gnomes or dark palaces of necromancers - and everything in between.  We see mushrooms as the right and proper settings for all manner of magical tea parties and sinister goblin gatherings
 - and everything in between.  We see planets of mushrooms as horrifying or (as in one of my recent short stories) utopian - and everything in between.  The one thing that everyone can agree on is that mushrooms are no ordinary form of life.  There can be no doubt that they are magical.


[Pictures: Webs in the Mist, rubber block print by AEGN, 2021;

Mushroom Forest, illustration by Obsidian, 2006 (Image from Deviant Art);

Mushroom Town, illustration by Shinya Komatsu (Image from The Pnakotic Manuscripts);

Sophies Slip, ceramic sculptures by Renee Lewis (Image from artist’s Etsy shop CurlyFernCeramics);

“Alice meets the Caterpillar,” illustration by John Tenniel from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, 1865 (Image from Wikipedia Commons);

“The Elf and the Dormouse,” illustration from Artful Anticks by Oliver Herford 1894 (Image from British Library);

Illustration from Liliana by Apeles Mesttes, 1907 (Image from Biblioteca Digital Hispánica);

Two illustrations by Arthur Rackham from Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens by J.M. Barrie, 1906 (Images from Wikimedia Commons);
Mushroom Folk, illustration by M0AI, 2010 (Image from Deviant Art);
Postcard illustration by Heinz Geilfus (1890-1956) (Image from Weirdland TV);

Mushrooms, illustration by Andrew McIntosh, 2015 (Image from ArtStation);

Morille, illustration by Xavier Collette, 2020 (Image from xaviercollette.com);

Zangarmarsh, screenshot from World of Warcraft (Image from Wowhead);

Cover art by Robert Henneberger from The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet by Eleanor Cameron, 1954 (Image from Wikimedia Commons).]

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