From time to time, fungal hyphae penetrate the consciousness
of artists. In the work of medieval Flemish painters, toadstools
were often associated with Hell. Victorian illustrators in England
took a more benign view, and developed a popular style that
linked fairies and toadstools. Elements of this connection persist
today. The colourful spotted cap of Fly Agaric, often associated
with a gnome or sprite, remains a favourite with children's
illustrators, designers, advertisers, and the manufacturers
of kitsch garden ornaments. The psychedelic sixties, of course,
generated a mass of artwork that owes its origins to fungus-induced
Down the ages, from Shakespeare to J.K. Rowling, fungi have
also sprouted regularly in literature. Shakespeare seems to
have had fungus in mind when he penned The Tempest. Prospero
observes that it is elves' pastime to "make midnight mushrooms,"
and one scholar has suggested that the fits of Caliban show
that he was suffering from ergot poisoning. In recent times
it's no surprise to find fungal references at "Hogwarts School
of Witchcraft and Wizardry' in the Harry Potter stories.
Writers often turn to fungi when searching for a metaphor for
decay or rottenness. Examples abound and can be found in the
works of many great poets and authors, including Spenser, Shelley,
Keats, Tennyson, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, D.H. Lawrence, and
Emily Dickinson. Raymond Briggs' cartoon creation, Fungus
the Bogeyman, a celebration of much that children like to
find revolting continues the tradition.
The best known-and perhaps most inspired-literary mushroom of
all is the one nibbled by Alice in her Adventures in Wonderland.
Eating from one side of the mushroom makes her grow larger,
eating from the other side makes her shrink. It's possible that
author Lewis Carroll knew of the properties of Fly Agaric. One
effect of this hallucinogenic fungus is to make objects appear
larger or smaller in the user's eye.
French playwright and satirist Moli╦re went so far as to name
his most famous protagonist, Tartuffean old French
word for truffle. Moli╦re's fondness for fungi is also reflected
in the title he gave his estate, Perigord, the name of
an area noted for its exquisite black truffles.
Short story writers have occasionally delved into the world
of fungi. In H.G. Wells' tale, The Purple Pileus, a mushroom
changes the course of a man's life. Several science fiction
authors, including Ray Bradbury and John Wyndham, have written
stories that feature fungi in menacing form.
Fungi continue to provide a source of material for contemporary
authors. Mystery writer Sue Grafton features the deadly poisonous
Death Cap, Amanita phalloides, in her book "I" Is
for Innocent. Robin Cook, famous for his medical thrillers,
has fun with a mould that produces a mind-altering drug in Acceptable