Have you ever wondered why Mushrooms have always played such a pivotal role in every Mario game? There are Mushrooms that make Mario grow, mushrooms that give him extra lives, mushrooms he can climb, mushrooms that poison him, he rescues little mushroom people, he stomps on smaller, more villainous mushroom people, he lives in "The Mushroom Kingdom," and even his girlfriend is called "Princess Toadstool." Seriously, they're everywhere. And the last time I checked Mushrooms don't really have anything to do with Italian Plumbers, evil turtle demons, or rescuing Princesses. So, where did Nintendo get the idea to make mushrooms such an iconic aspect of their most popular franchise? The answer: classic literature.
WHY WERE THERE MUSHROOMS IN MARIO?
In a 2005 interview with Business Week, Super Mario Bros. developer, and former general manager of Nintendo, Shigeru Miyamoto stated that Mario wasn't always intended to be able to change his size. He was supposed to stay in his larger form at all times. However, gameplay issues made that difficult. So, they had to get creative.
"Mario ended up being too big, so we shrank him. Then we
thought, ‘What if he can grow and shrink? How would he do that? It
would have to be a magic mushroom! Where would a mushroom grow? In a
forest.’ We thought of giving Mario a girlfriend, and then we started
Alice In Wonderland."
The Game's Creator Says: Alice in Wonderland
For those of you who don't recall, there is a famous passage in Alice in Wonderland, where the protagonist discovers a Mushroom that will cause her to grow or shrink, depending on which half of it she eats. And, there you have it! Because a group of Japanese game designers feared gamers wouldn't be able to suspend their disbelief that a man could magically alter his size in a digital world ruled by evil turtles, they decided to provide the work of Lewis Carroll as an answer.
And here you thought it was all about drugs! Ha! That's ridiculous! Except, it's not.
But, Now He Claims Otherwise!
Miyamoto later denied his previous comments. In 2009, he stated:
"It seems there was some misunderstanding and it's since been stated that I was influenced by Alice In Wonderland. That isn't the case. It's just that there has always somehow been a relationship between mushrooms and magical realms. That's why I decided that Mario would need a mushroom to become Super Mario."
I honestly don't know why Miyamoto would backpedal like this. It's not like there are any depictions of "magic mushrooms" that are more child friendly than Alice in Wonderland. Maybe he's afraid of litigation from the Carroll estate? If that's the case, someone should really tell him those books fell into the public domain ages ago. No one's going to sue, so he can chill.
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Personally, I'm inclined to believe that Wonderland was the true inspiration for the Mushroom Kingdom. It's really quite fitting when you think about it. Just as the young Alice was transported to a magical world when she fell through her looking glass, any kid who played an NES was whisked off to similarly fabulous realms to experience their own adventures. But, what do you think? Do you believe Mario's land grew out of Alice in Wonderland? Or do you think that such a claim unfairly diminishes the originality of its creators? Let me know which side you choose in the comments below.