Saturday, May 28, 2011

Fungus Among Us

It's been a damp and rainy Spring thus far, which has led to a bumper crop of mushrooms sprouting all over the neighborhood, as my son as been keen to point out. Seeing them, I found myself remembering the first D&D module I ever owned, In Search of the Unknown, whose original and revised covers both depict adventures exploring a garden of giant fungi.

Perhaps it's because the first piece above, by David Sutherland, is one of the first D&D illustrations I ever saw, it's been forever seared into my imagination and it's exercised a powerful influence over me. And while I'd still argue that the single image that sums up "Dungeons & Dragons" to me is the cover of the AD&D Players Handbook, I can't deny that a close second is the cover of module B1.

An interesting side effect of this association in my imagination is that I also strongly associate mushrooms and other fungi with D&D, an association made all the stronger because of their regular presence in a lot of old school artwork. And of course the game itself includes so many mycoid monsters, the shrieker, violet fungi, and yellow mold being the three most iconic, never mind all the new ones introduced by Gygax as he worked up The Temple of Elemental Evil for publication.

I'm sure that, in reality, old school D&D didn't include nearly as much fungal imagery as I imagine, but the fact that it seems to have done so is, I think, significant. Mushrooms speak to me of an older literary conception of fantasy, harkening back to 19th century tales like Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Journey to the Center of the Earth. That's no surprise, of course, considering the influence such stories had on Gygax, Arneson, and other early designers. So, when I see mushrooms in contemporary fantasy art, as I do in Steve Zieser's Labyrinth Lord illustrations, it's like a code that tells me these people share the same conception of D&D that I do.

With that, I leave you with a handful of images of mushrooms and fungi from old school D&D modules, particularly from the fungus-filled In the Dungeons of the Slave Lords.





15 comments:

  1. Mushrooms are the plankton of the Dungeon ecosystem upon which feeds the giant cave cricket, which feeds the variety of giant insects and other dungeon vermin found in the editons of the monster manual.

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  2. "Magic" mushrooms also figure pretty heavily into a lot of the psychedelic art of the 70s (for obvious reasons). I remember that little mushrooms used to be on everything as a decorative motif (even children's clothing) and we were pretty much oblivious to the secret reference to the drug counterculture. Trampier's work, in particular, seems pretty influenced by the counterculture of the 1970s and I wouldn't surprise me to learn that he might have stuck some mushrooms in his drawings as a part of the 'zeitgeist' of the time.
    This is just a theory on my part, however; I have no proof. But I remember the 'mushroom' motif was EVERYWHERE when I was a kid... it was only years later that it occured to me why hippies were so into mushrooms.
    Of course, since as a kid I used to go mushroom picking with my mother it had a very different meaning to me (food).

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  3. Limpey,

    You know, I was going to make the connection to the counterculture of the 70s, but I didn't, mostly because it's something that I wasn't really aware of at the time I entered the hobby and also because, honestly, it's not something I know a great deal about, except in a very vague way. But I do suspect mushrooms were also a "code" for others as well. It certainly wasn't a coincidence that D&D had a reputation of attracting to stoners, as well as to geeks.

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  4. I don't know if it qualifies as old-school, but who could forget the campestris from Ted James Thomas Zuvich's module "Old Man Katan and the Incredible, Edible, Dancing Mushroom Band" in issue #41 of Dungeon (May/June 1993).

    The cover is here:

    http://index.rpg.net/pictures/show-water.phtml?picid=13503

    and the campestris are in the lower right corner. I can't seem to find out who the artist was (short of schlepping out to my storage unit to find my copy of the magazine, and that ain't happening).

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  5. Don't forget the cornucopia of edible fungi that provide the mainstay of those Cynidecians who inhabit the Lost City! (Though I don't think there's any illos of the mushrooms themselves.)

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  6. Erol Otus and mushrooms. Does it get any better than that? Maybe looking at Erol Otus while on mushrooms...

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  7. What? No pictures of Zuggtmoy or Jubilex?

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  8. Nice. What primed me for fungus in D&D was seeing the movie Matango as a kid http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0057295/, shortly before being introduced to D&D.

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  9. Yeah there's something very fairy tale about mushrooms isn't there. They definitely speak of the weird, rather than the heroic, which is perhaps another reason why they're such a strong "indicator" of old-school D&D, as opposed to its later incarnations.

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  10. I was going to say something like Gavin said...but he already said it. I guess I could say this: fungus tells you that you aren't in Middle-Earth anymore.

    Oh, here's some more: I certainly think the counter-culture connection is important, but let's set that aside. Because, for most of the rest of us, there is something creepy about fungus. It's gross and alien and grows on stufff, including us. Fungus is even creepier than reptiles and fish, which usually top the list of pulp-weird thing. It is capital "w" Weird, even without whisperers in the dark.

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  11. Esper: Alright, I'm sorry but I've hit my overload point for this one over the last few days. It isn't "Jubilex", it is "Juiblex".

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  12. I think there's something just unsavory about mushrooms and other fungi that we as humans experience. They are something strange in the plant world, in that they don't have the familiar green coloring we associate with grass, etc. They are strange pale things that sprout overnight. Am I wrong in saying that humans have something of a primordial, genetic aversion to mushrooms, perhaps stemming from the poisonous nature of many mushrooms?

    Personally, I like eating mushrooms, but there are many people I know who can't stand the things (my wife being one, and she's very vocal in her distaste for them).

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  13. @Faoladh: Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex Jubilex >:-)

    ps. Jubilex

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  14. "Am I wrong in saying that humans have something of a primordial, genetic aversion to mushrooms, perhaps stemming from the poisonous nature of many mushrooms?"--DRANCE

    Terence McKenna postulated a hypothesis that's just about the opposite of that -- The "Stoned Ape" hypothesis of human evolution.

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