It seems as though the joke about Mario in Super Mario Bros. getting high by consuming all the mushrooms he finds has been around for as long as the game itself. I can’t recall the first time I heard that joke.
Regardless of your age, whether you’re 12 or 22, you’ll probably interpret that joke as some sort of mind-blowing insight that alters how you view the Super Mario Bros. series. At some point, though, the joke turns into yet another instance of someone attempting to add edge to a family-friendly product by making some sort of flimsy hint that it’s all actually about something a little bit darker. Joking about it is entertaining, but when that hypothesis is taken as gospel truth, things start to become a bit uncomfortable.
But do you know what’s actually amusing? It appears that the famous quip about Mario getting wasted on mushrooms may not be as absurd as you might assume. Actually, a trip on supposedly “magic mushrooms” is just as perplexing and educational as learning about Super Mario’s mushroom origins.
Shigeru Miyamoto’s Confusing Statements About the Origins of Super Mario’s Mushrooms
While you’d probably assume that the best person to ask about Super Mario‘s mushroom mystery is Super Mario Bros. creator Shigeru Miyamoto, the strange fact of the matter is that Miyamoto’s official statements on that subject are a big part of the reason why this whole magic mushroom debate is as confusing as it is.
For the sad reason that it has since been removed from the internet, Miyamoto provided the following explanation for the development of the Super Mario Bros. mushroom power-up in a 2005 interview with Business Week:
Mario turned out to be too large, so we shrunk him. Then we pondered, “What if he can expand and contract? How would he go about doing that? It had to be a magic mushroom, of course! Where might a mushroom flourish? in a woods. We discussed giving Mario a girlfriend before bringing up Alice in Wonderland.
Once more, that seems like a relatively simple way to explain the entire idea. In that tale, Mario and Alice both consumed mushrooms that caused them to enlarge. To be more precise, one half of the mushroom caused Alice to “grow taller” and the other caused Mario to “grow shorter.” It really shouldn’t be that difficult to accept that the concept of Mario growing larger from eating mushrooms was inspired by Alice in Wonderland, just as we’ve all accepted that the image of Link pulling the Master Sword from a stone was 5 from the classic English fantasy story The Sword in the Stone.
However, it appears that even Miyamoto himself has found it difficult to accept that very obvious reference. In truth, Miyamoto said in a 2009 interview with the late Satoru Iwata that his Alice in Wonderland quotation might have been misunderstood.
In a previous interview, I mentioned Alice in Wonderland, Miyamoto recalled. But it appears that there was a misunderstanding because it has since been claimed that Alice in Wonderland had an influence on me. That is not true. Simply put, there has always been a connection between mushrooms and mystical worlds. I came to the conclusion that in order for Mario to become Super Mario, a mushroom was required.
When he said that he was inspired by fantastical tales like Alice in Wonderland, which used mushrooms as a sort of portal between our world and those magical realms, Miyamoto appears to be implying that people misinterpreted his statement to mean that Mario’s mushrooms were directly lifted from Alice in Wonderland.
It’s simple enough to accept the possibility that Miyamoto’s remark was misread or mistranslated by people who read it, but it still strikes me as unusual that he felt the need to make an extra effort to address the Alice in Wonderland parallel. After all, it just seems so clear that the notion that Mario eating a mushroom would be plagiarised from a tale that made that particular notion well-known. Why does Miyamoto seem so adamant about abandoning that notion?
Alice in Wonderland, Drugs, Mushrooms, Fantasy Stories, and Super Mario’s Other Influences
I’m not going to blow anyone’s mind by claiming that Alice in Wonderland is now frequently linked to drug usage, but I’ll say it anyway. The notion that the entire narrative is some sort of psychedelic journey gained popularity in the 1960s, and it has only grown since then. Everyone from your stoner college roommate to esteemed literary professors has offered some kind of interpretation of Alice in Wonderland that suggests the entire work is either about drugs, was written under the influence of drugs, or can be interpreted in a way that makes it easy to see it as an allegory for drugs. Jefferson Airplane wrote a song about it, the entire Matrix franchise is based on that idea (in its own way), and everyone from your stoner roommate in college to esteemed literary It’s safe to assume that while hearing “Alice in Wonderland,” many people’s thoughts will likely turn to drugs.
The truth is that there isn’t much proof that Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice in Wonderland, meant for the tale to be “secretly” about drugs or even that he was impaired by any major drugs at the time he wrote it. In actuality, the majority of the hallucinogenic substances that Alice in Wonderland is nowadays frequently linked with (LSD, mushrooms, acid, etc.) either wouldn’t have been available or weren’t widely used recreationally during the time that the book was written. There is no evidence to suggest that Carroll experimented with the types of hallucinogens that Alice in Wonderland is frequently associated with or was even particularly interested in the subject over other, more pervasive themes in the book. However, he was known to occasionally consume wine and theoretically could have used some opium during his life (it was a fairly common drug at the time).
As Miyamoto remarked in that 2009 interview, mushrooms have also historically been associated with other fantastical realms. Early 1800s fantasy writers like the Brothers Grimm grew captivated by the rate at which people were moving from the countryside and into cities, which is when the connection between mushrooms and magic really took off. Some people at the period worried that as more people moved from the countryside to cities, the nation’s folklore, history, and culture would be lost as well, leading to the urbanisation of even more rural areas.
In order to convey the sense of these enchanted environments where mysticism was still present, fantasy literature began to incorporate natural elements (such as mushrooms) more frequently. Shakespeare and others had experimented with the idea of a close connection between nature and magic long before that time, but that era saw a rise in the use of mushrooms as a symbol for fantasy lands.
None of those data completely refutes the widely held belief that Mario’s mushrooms are drugs, but it does support the idea that Miyamoto and the Super Mario Bros. development team considered mushrooms as a fantasy gateway device. After instance, by the time Super Mario Bros. was released in 1985, the “Alice in Wonderland is about drugs” argument had already gained widespread acceptance. By that time, it was debatable whether the notion of mushrooms in a fantastical setting was more strongly related to drug usage than to rural tradition. The Super Mario development team must have been completely aware of that association when they were creating the game.
You must first gain a better understanding of the background of “magic mushrooms” in the real world in order to respond to that question.
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